A very wonderful favorite of mine, Greer Garson is this month’s Star of the Month on TCM. I first watched the movie she was most known for, Mrs. Miniver, as a kid visiting my grandmother in Miami one summer. She had it on VHS because it was one of her favorites. It didn’t do much for me at that time, but watching it again as an adult hit me hard. And now as a parent, it affects me even more! Of course I have searched to watch more of her films since then. In my opinion, she never had a flop.
Ms. Garson was born in Essex, England in 1904. She is of both Scottish and Irish heritage, so no doubt her flaming hair is a direct result of that conglomeration! She began acting on the London stage in 1932. Louis B. Mayer discovered her there and brought her to the States in 1937. However, it would be another year until she starred in her first movie, Goodbye Mr. Chips, only because Myrna Loy dropped out of production. She received her first Oscar nomination for her role and subsequently was nominated 5 more consecutive times, tying Bette Davis’ record which still stands today.
She won her Oscar for Mrs. Miniver. From TCM’s biography: At first, Garson didn’t want to accept the role of the unflappable matriarch, facing hardships cheerfully but resolutely in wartime England. One of her objections was that the character had a grown son. But Garson finally agreed to take the role. (She also, incidentally, went on to marry the actor who played her son, Richard Ney, though the marriage lasted only 4 years.) The performance resonated with audiences on both sides of the Atlantic. Queen Elizabeth herself, the wife of George VI (and mother of Queen Elizabeth II), wrote to the actress: “You made us feel more brave than we actually were by your performance. To you, we will all be eternally grateful.”
This is one film that I cry at every time. Singing hymns in the bombed out church, her daughter-in-law a recent civilian casualty of the war, knowing her son was still going to face perilous danger, all while fighter planes fly by over head. Dang. Another of her films that get that waterworks going is Random Harvest. By chance she meets a soldier that survived WWI but has lost his memory of whom he is. Of course they fall in love, get married and have a child. He leaves to attend to some business and survives an accident that brings his past back to memory. She finds out what happened to him and who he really is; the owner of a successful steelworks. Getting a job as his personal assistant, she hopes her presence will spark his memory of their life together. He keeps a key that, unbeknownst to him, is the key to their home in the country. She never breaks her pretense to tell him who she is and you can see the pain on her face when he comes so close to figuring it out on his own. I think Greer should have won an Oscar for this role, too.
Greer was a constant co-star with Walter Pidgeon. They made eight films together. They were so handsome together. I would have liked to see them as a real life couple! In 1951 she became a naturalized citizen of the United States. After that her contract ended with MGM and she focused her talents on television, as did most of the movie stars of her era. You might also recognize her voice as the narrator in 1968′s The Little Drummer Boy.
In 1949 she married for the third and last time, a Texas oil man and horse breeder. They retired to their New Mexico ranch in 1967 but maintained a Dallas address. There she funded the Greer Garson Theatre facility at Southern Methodist University. She donated millions for the construction of the theatre at both the Santa Fe University of Art and Design and at SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts on three conditions: 1) the stages be circular, 2) the premiere production be Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and 3) they have large ladies’ rooms!
Keith Carradine made a promo for Greer’s Star of the Month on TCM. His description is fitting and brilliant of everything she was and what she leaves for us today. I couldn’t have said it any better!