Greer Garson, circa 1940s
Eileen Evelyn Greer Garson
29 September 1904
|Died||6 April 1996 (aged 91)|
Dallas, Texas, US
|Resting place||Sparkman-Hillcrest Memorial Park Cemetery|
|Alma mater||King's College London|
|Occupation||Actress, singer, philanthropist|
Eileen Evelyn Greer Garson, (29 September 1904 - 6 April 1996), was a British-American actress popular during the Second World War, being listed by the Motion Picture Herald as one of America's top-ten box office draws from 1942 to 1946.
A major star at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer during the 1940s, Garson received seven Oscar nominations, including a record-tying five consecutive nominations for acting and all in the Best Actress category (1941-1945), winning the award for Mrs. Miniver (1942).
Greer Garson was born on 29 September 1904 in Manor Park, East Ham (then in Essex, now part of London), the only child of Nina (née Nancy Sophia Greer; 1880-1958) and George Garson (1865-1906), a commercial clerk in a London importing business. Her father was born in London to Scottish parents, and her mother was born at Drumalore (usually spelled as Drumalure or Drumaloor), a townland near Belturbet in County Cavan, Ireland. The name "Greer" is a contraction of "MacGregor", another family name.
Her maternal grandfather was David Greer (c. 1848-1913) from Kilrea, County Londonderry, an RIC sergeant stationed for a time in Castlewellan, County Down. In the 1870s or 1880s, he became a land steward to the Annesley family, wealthy landlords who built the town of Castlewellan. While he lived in Castlewellan, David Greer lived in a large detached house built on the lower part of what was known as Pig Street, or known locally as the Back Way, near Shilliday's builder's yard. The house was called "Claremount", and today the street is named Claremount Avenue. It was often reported erroneously that Greer Garson was born in this house (The Macmillan International Film Encyclopedia gives her year of birth as 1908 and her place of birth as County Down, Ireland).
Garson was educated at King's College, London and the University of Grenoble, where she earned degrees in French and 18th-century literature. While aspiring to be an actress, she worked at an advertising agency as a company secretary along with George Sanders, who wrote in his autobiography that it was Garson who suggested he take up a career in acting.
Greer Garson's early professional appearances were on stage, starting at Birmingham Repertory Theatre in January 1932 when she was q (the late 1930s), most notably starring in a 30-minute production of an excerpt of Twelfth Night in May 1937 with Dorothy Black. These live transmissions were part of the BBC's experimental service from Alexandra Palace, and this is the first known instance of a Shakespeare play performed on television. In 1936 she appeared in the West End in Charles Bennett's play Page From a Diary.
Louis B. Mayer discovered Garson while he was in London looking for new talent. Garson was signed to a contract with MGM in late 1937 but did not begin work on her first film, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, until late 1938. She received her first Oscar nomination for the role but lost to Vivien Leigh for Gone with the Wind. She received critical acclaim the next year for her role as Elizabeth Bennet in the 1940 film Pride and Prejudice.
Garson starred with Joan Crawford in When Ladies Meet in 1941 (a poorly received and sanitized re-make of a Pre-Code version of the same name, which had starred Ann Harding and Myrna Loy) and that same year became a major box-office star with the sentimental Technicolor drama Blossoms in the Dust, which brought her the second of five consecutive Best Actress Oscar nominations, tying Bette Davis's 1938-1942 record, which still stands.
Garson won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1942 for her role as a strong British wife and mother in the middle of World War II in Mrs. Miniver. The Guinness Book of World Records credits her with the longest Oscar acceptance speech, at five minutes and 30 seconds, after which the Academy Awards instituted a time limit.
In 1942, Garson also co-starred in the powerful, dramatic film Random Harvest with Academy Award winner Ronald Colman. Set at the end of World War I with Ronald Colman as a shell-shocked, amnesiac soldier and Greer Garson as his love interest, Random Harvest received seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture. It lost to Mrs. Miniver, and Garson won the Academy Award for that role. Colman was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in Random Harvest, and Garson could not be nominated for her role in that movie because she was already nominated for her title role in Mrs. Miniver.
Garson was also nominated for Madame Curie (1943), Mrs. Parkington (1944), and The Valley of Decision (1945). She frequently co-starred with Walter Pidgeon, ultimately making eight pictures with him: Blossoms in the Dust (1941), Mrs. Miniver (1942), Madame Curie, Mrs. Parkington, Julia Misbehaves (1948), That Forsyte Woman (1949), The Miniver Story (1950), and Scandal at Scourie (1953).
Gable argued for "He put the Arson in Garson"; she countered with "She put the Able in Gable!"; thereafter, the safer catchphrase was selected. Garson's popularity declined somewhat in the late 1940s, but she remained a prominent film star until the mid-1950s. In 1951, she became a naturalised citizen of the United States.
She made only a few films after her MGM contract expired in 1954. In 1958, she received a warm reception on Broadway in Auntie Mame, replacing Rosalind Russell, who had gone to Hollywood to make the film version. In 1960, Garson received her seventh and final Oscar nomination for Sunrise at Campobello in which she played Eleanor Roosevelt, this time losing to Elizabeth Taylor for BUtterfield 8. Greer was special guest on an episode of the TV series Father Knows Best, playing herself.
On 4 October 1956, Garson appeared with Reginald Gardiner as the first two guest stars of the series in the premiere of NBC's The Ford Show, Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford. She appeared as a mystery guest on What's My Line on 25 October 1953 and again on 6 April 1958 to promote her appearance on stage in Auntie Mame. She also served as a panelist rather than a guest on the What's My Line episode which aired on 12 May 1957.
She returned to MGM for a role in The Singing Nun (1966) starring Debbie Reynolds. Her last film, in 1967, was Walt Disney's The Happiest Millionaire, although she made infrequent television appearances afterwards. In 1968, she narrated the children's television special The Little Drummer Boy. Her final role for television was in a 1982 episode of The Love Boat.
Garson was married three times. Her first marriage, on 28 September 1933, was to Edward Alec Abbot Snelson (1904-1992), later Sir Edward, a British civil servant who became a noted judge and expert in Indian affairs. After a honeymoon in Germany he returned to his appointment at Nagpur, a town in central India, and she chose to return to her mother and to the theatre in Britain. Sir Edward reportedly grieved at losing her and would watch multiple screenings of any film of hers that played in Nagpur. The marriage was not formally dissolved until 1943.
Her second husband, whom she married (at age 39) on 24 July 1943, was Richard Ney (1916-2004), a younger actor who had played her son in Mrs. Miniver. The relationship was under constant scrutiny owing to their 12-year age difference, and despite attempts by MGM to falsely publicize that Garson was merely three years older than Ney and to portray the image of a happy couple, the marriage was troubled. They divorced in 1947 after several attempts at reconciliation. Ney eventually became a stock-market analyst, financial consultant, and author.
In 1967, the couple retired to their "Forked Lightning Ranch" in New Mexico. They purchased the US Hall of Fame champion Thoroughbred Ack Ack from the estate of Harry F. Guggenheim in 1971 and were highly successful as breeders. They also maintained a home in Dallas, where Garson funded the Greer Garson Theatre facility at Southern Methodist University. She founded a permanent endowment for the Fogelson Honors Forum at Texas Christian University (TCU) in nearby Fort Worth. Although Buddy Fogelson never obtained a college degree, he attended TCU for two years and claimed it as his alma mater.
During her later years, Garson was recognised for her philanthropy and civic leadership. She donated several million dollars for the construction of the Greer Garson Theatre at both the Santa Fe University of Art and Design and at Southern Methodist University's Meadows School of the Arts on three conditions: 1) the stages be circular, 2) the premiere production be A Midsummer Night's Dream, and 3) they have large ladies' rooms.
The actress suffered a back injury during her first 18 months at MGM while waiting for a role Mayer deemed worthy of her, and was nearly released from her contract. Her back was injured again while filming Desire Me in Monterey on 26 April 1946 when a wave knocked her and co-star Richard Hart from the rocks where they were rehearsing. A local fisherman and extra in the film rescued Garson from the surf and potential undertow. She was bruised and in shock and required by doctors to rest for several days. The injury to her back would require several surgeries over the coming years.
From the early 1970s, interest was renewed in the stars of Hollywood's golden age, as their films received regular TV airings, and more facts about performers came to light as opposed to the information that the studios had circulated about them. Around this time, a somewhat plausible 1908 year of birth for Garson began to appear in print. This date achieved wide credence until after Garson's death when obituaries revealed she had actually been born four years earlier in 1904.
Garson lived her final years in a penthouse suite at the Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas, where she died from heart failure on 6 April 1996 at the age of 91. She is interred beside her husband in the Sparkman-Hillcrest Memorial Park Cemetery in Dallas.
|1939||Goodbye, Mr. Chips||Katherine Chipping||Nominated - Academy Award for Best Actress|
|Remember?||Linda Bronson Holland|
|1940||The Miracle of Sound||Herself||Colour test for Blossoms in the Dust|
|Pride and Prejudice||Elizabeth Bennet|
|1941||Blossoms in the Dust||Edna Kahly Gladney||Nominated - Academy Award for Best Actress|
|When Ladies Meet||Mrs. Claire Woodruff|
|1942||Mrs. Miniver||Mrs. Kay Miniver||Academy Award for Best Actress|
|Random Harvest||Paula Ridgeway|
|1943||The Youngest Profession||Herself - Guest Star|
|Madame Curie||Marie Curie||Nominated - Academy Award for Best Actress|
|1944||Mrs. Parkington||Susie "Sparrow" Parkington||Nominated - Academy Award for Best Actress|
|1945||The Valley of Decision||Mary Rafferty||Nominated - Academy Award for Best Actress|
|1947||Desire Me||Marise Aubert|
|1948||Julia Misbehaves||Julia Packett|
|1949||That Forsyte Woman||Irene Forsyte|
|1950||Screen Actors||Herself||Short subject, uncredited|
|The Miniver Story||Mrs. Kay Miniver|
|1951||The Law and the Lady||Jane Hoskins|
|1953||Scandal at Scourie||Mrs. Victoria McChesney|
|1954||Her Twelve Men||Jan Stewart|
|1955||Strange Lady in Town||Dr. Julia Winslow Garth|
|1956||The Little Foxes||Regina Giddens||TV Movie|
|1960||Sunrise at Campobello||Eleanor Roosevelt||Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Drama, |
National Board of Review Award for Best Actress,
Nominated - Academy Award for Best Actress
|Captain Brassbound's Conversion||Lady Cicely Waynflete||TV Movie|
|1963||Invincible Mr. Disraeli||Mary Anne Disraeli||TV Movie|
|1966||The Singing Nun||Mother Prioress|
|1967||The Happiest Millionaire||Mrs. Cordelia Biddle|
|1968||The Little Drummer Boy||"Our Story Teller"||Credited as Miss Greer Garson|
|1974||Crown Matrimonial||Queen Mary||TV Movie|
|1976||The Little Drummer Boy, Book II||"Our Story Teller"||Credited as Miss Greer Garson|
|1978||Little Women||Aunt Kathryn March||TV Miniseries|
|1986||Directed by William Wyler||Herself||Documentary|
|1955||Producers' Showcase||Elena Krug||For "Reunion in Vienna"|
|1956-1960||General Electric Theater||Various||3 Episodes|
|1957||Telephone Time||Liza Richardson|
|Father Knows Best||Herself|
|1962||The DuPont Show of the Week||Juliette Harben|
|1968-1970||Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In||Guest Performer||5 Episodes|
|1970||The Virginian||Frances B. Finch|
|1982||The Love Boat||Alice Bailey|
|1946||Academy Award||Brief Encounter|
|1946||Lux Radio Theatre||Mrs. Parkington|
|1952||Lux Radio Theatre||The African Queen|
|1953||Suspense||'Twas the Night Before Christmas|