London born of Irish ancestry, Greer attended the University of London with the intention of becoming a teacher. Of course her career path changed after receiving good reviews during some local theatre performances prompting her to take the London stage in her late 20's full time after completing her post Grad degree at the University of Grenoble in France . After a few years of success in theater which started out with her successful run in The Tempest there was buzz about Greer from across the pond as Hollywood came calling with offers in American films.
It's been well documented that Louis B. Mayer discovered Greer on the stage while vacationing in London, prompting him to sign her to an MGM contract in 1938. With her flaming red hair and eloquent mannerisms, the studio felt she would be perfect as the free spirited intellectual who brings Robert Donat's character to life in "Goodbye Mr. Chips" 1939. I don't know any lover of Classic film who hasn't seen the movie, as well as giving it it's due for showcasing the life of a teacher, all while falling in love with him as he looks back on his career in London. Both Greer and Donat shine under the helm of director Sam Wood. (I actually re-watched the film during TCM's month of Oscars, prompting me to dig out Greer's autograph and here we are! But moving on). The film was nominated for 7 Academy Awards, winning for Best Actor.
With all of Greer's talent I can only imagine her delight in finding herself in such a successful film right out of the gate during a year that Hollywood exploded with movies like Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Dark Victory, Wuthering Heights and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington to name just a few. Just to be nominated that year alongside Bette Davis, Vivien Leigh, Greta Garbo and Irene Dunne must have been surreal for the bright eyed Brit. Greer also appeared in "Remember" opposite the dashing Robert Taylor and Lew Ayres that same year, solidifying her place in Hollywood as a star. (I'm assuming to the delight of Mayer who had great timing for his vacations abroad).
with Lew Ayres and Robert Taylor in "Remember" 1939
with Ayres and Taylor in a scene from the film
In just her second year in Hollywood, Greer won the role of Elizabeth Bennett in the screen adaptation of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" opposite Laurence Olivier (the BEST Mr. Darcy in my opinion which is quite okay since I doubt Colin Firth reads this blog, although I would love that). "Pride and Prejudice" is my favorite period piece followed by "Marie Antoinette" but please don't send me angry emails all of you GWTW lovers. Although Greer has her critics I loved her in the film, especially her interactions with Olivier. She was a very prim and proper little firecracker if there is such a thing.
This would be Greer's only picture during 1940 but what a wonderful film it was. Greer was also married during this time but separated from Edward Abbot Snelson. They married in 1933 while Greer was still residing in London but the relationship dissolved soon after although Greer would not get a divorce until 1943. Snelson remained in the UK and would later become a respected judge and an expert on Indian and Pakistani affairs. His tireless work as a civil servant would lead to his being knighted years later.
in costume for "Pride and Prejudice" 1940
with Maureen O'Sullivan in "Pride and Prejudice"
Greer starred in "Blossoms in the Dust" in 1941 which garnered her a second Oscar nomination for Best Actress although she lost out to Joan Fontaine for her role in "Suspicion". This would be her first pairing with Walter Pidgeon which would prove to be a very successful on screen union for years to come. Greer plays a Texas wife who finds solace in founding an orphanage after losing her own son in the romantic drama. Her second film that year was "When Ladies Meet" where she gets involved in a love triangle with Joan Crawford and Robert Taylor. (She holds her own in scenes with Joan which is a feat in itself).
with Robert Taylor in "When Ladies Meet" (cover your eyes PETA).
I love this picture of Greer!
Most actresses have an 'off' year now and again but Greer continued to find success on screen with "Mrs. Miniver" in 1942. Greer reunited with Walter Pidgeon in the war drama that would bring her a much deserved Oscar win. For those of you who aren't really a Greer Garson fan you might be asking yourself who she beat out for the Academy Award since she was a British woman born into a middle class family playing a British woman from a middle class family, not a huge stretch.
Not only is the film visually appealing with it's war sequences but it hit home with a lot of American's who themselves were fearful of WWII. Greer's character was relate able and superbly portrayed. Oh, and to answer your question she beat out Bette Davis, Kathryn Hepburn, Rossalind Russell and Teresa Wright for her Oscar win. Ironically, Teresa Wright won the Oscar for her supporting role in Mrs. Miniver and the film also took home the award for Best Picture.
Greer doing a little pool maintenance at her Hollywood home
You might think Greer had reached the pinnacle of stardom with her role in "Mrs. Miniver" but she also starred in "Random Harvest" the same year opposite Ronald Coleman who won an Oscar for his role in the film. The film was also one of the 10 nominated for Best Picture that year, receiving 7 nominations in all.
I have heard several comments about there being too many films in the Best Picture category this year but it wasn't uncommon nor the first time in Oscar history. The romantic drama takes place after WWI with Coleman playing an amnesic vet who falls in love with Greer's character, a music hall star.
click on Greer's autograph from my collection and photos for a large view
as "Mrs. Miniver" 1942
MGM gave Greer another great script in 1943 titled "Madame Curie", her only film that year and one that would garner her and her co-star Walter Pidgeon another Academy Award nomination. I can only imagine how other actresses must have been feeling about the "Duchess" (Greer's nickname by now) getting so many stellar scripts thrown her way. I'm a huge fan of biopic films so "Madame Curie" is right up my alley and one I truly enjoyed. Greer steps into the role of Madame Curie flawlessly with the help of Pidgeon playing Pierre Curie. Greer also found love in 1943, marrying the actor Richard Ney as soon as her divorce from Sir Edward Snelson became final. Greer and Ney met during filming of "Mrs. Miniver" where he plays her son in the film. Greer was 39 and Ney was 27 when they married. (More on their tumultuous relationship a bit later).
with Walter Pidgeon in "Madame Curie" 1943
another scene from Madame Curie
Seeing her continued box office appeal not to mention financial success for the studio, MGM cast Greer in "Mrs. Parkington" in 1944 opposite Pidgeon. Her only picture that year, it would take viewers on a journey through her character's life as she experiences romance, scandal, humiliation and heartbreak. Of course it shouldn't come as a surprise that she was nominated for her performance yet again. She would lose out to Ingrid Bergman for "Gaslight" that year. (I can't help but wonder if other actresses had a few snarky comments about Garson always being amongst the nominees like it was a forgone conclusion during that period).
Greer with Walter Pidgeon in "Mrs. Parkington" 1944
In 1945 Greer would star in two films, the drama "The Valley of Decision" opposite Gregory Peck then Victor Flemings romantic drama "Adventure" co-starring Clark Gable and Joan Blondell. Greer was nominated for yet another best actress Oscar for her role in "The Valley of Decision" but she lost out that year to Joan Crawford for her comeback role in "Mildred Pierce". Garson would take 1946 off from acting to try and save her marriage to Ney which would be in vain as they would divorce the following year. They would go through a very nasty public divorce where Greer would testify about his physical and mental abuse, citing that he called her a "has-been" and belittled her age.
during happier times with husband and fellow actor Richard Ney
Greer went back to work in 1947, starring in only one picture that year, another romantic war drama, "Desire Me". The film co-starred bad boy Robert Mitchum. There would be no Oscar nods that year, I'm sure to the delight of leading ladies everywhere. Even though Garson carried the film on her very experienced shoulders she couldn't save it. It was ripped apart by critics and was so bad that George Cukor removed his name from the credits. Greer almost lost her life and received serious injuries during filming when a rogue wave carried her out to sea. The injuries that she sustained would cause her chronic pain and require several surgeries over the next few of years.
Now free from Ney, Greer also found love again with Texas oil man and horse breeder E. E. "Buddy" Fogelson She would marry the millionaire in 1947 shortly after her divorce was final from Ney. She would also continue acting and appear in one film the following year "Julia Misbehaves" alongside Walter Pidgeon, the talented Elizabeth Taylor, Peter Lawford and Cesar Romero.
with James Cagney at the Ambassador Hotel announcing the Oscar nominees via a live radio broadcast
Continuing her tradition of doing one or two pictures a year, Greer starred in "That Forsyte Woman" in 1949 opposite Errol Flynn, Walter Pidgeon, Robert Young and Janet Leigh. The movie achieved moderate success but Greer's focus was on her recent marriage and her new life in Dallas, Texas when not filming by this time.
In 1950, she would reprise her role as Mrs. Miniver in "The Miniver Story" opposite Walter Pigeon and co-starring John Hodiak. The film picks up after WWI with the Miniver's living in London while going through the struggles of those affected by war and poverty. The film really does work as a continuation with excellent performances by Garson and Pidgeon who take up where "Mrs. Miniver" left off without a misstep.
Continuing to receive top billing, Garson starred in "The Law and the Lady" in 1951. The comedy co-starred Michael Wilding and Fernando Lamas and Marjorie Main. I haven't seen the picture but with Main in it I can't imagine that it would be that bad. Perhaps if anyone reading this has had the pleasure of seeing it you will share your opinion of it. Garson would reunite with Walter Pidgeon one last time in 1953 for "Scandal at Scourie". They certainly achieved great success with their 8 films together, making classics that will be remembered by cinema lovers for decades to come. (Lets hope anyway that our future generations value great films and keep showing them for future generations). Luckily there are some great organizations, projects out there that dedicate their time and expertise into restoring and preserving films so that we can continue to enjoy them.
Garson's second film of 1953 was "Julius Caesar" co-starring Marlon Brando, James Mason and John Gielgud. With Joseph L. Mankiewicz at the helm, the historical drama garnered 6 Oscar nominations, winning one for Art Direction under the guidance of Cedric Gibbons. This would also be one of the first films where Greer took a supporting role playing Calpurmia thus not receiving top billing. The picture was a box office success and without trying to sound shallow I just keep thinking about how gorgeous Brando was in that costume which showed off his perfect physique. Marc Antony never looked so good! (No offense to Richard Burton of course). And to think Mankiewicz wanted Paul Scofield to play Marc Anthony but lucky for us Brando's screen test blew him away.
Before semi retiring, Garson starred in "Her Twelve Men" opposite Robert Ryan before taking sporadic roles on television when not committing herself to her husbands horse breeding business during the late 1950's. In 1966 she would find herself back on the silver screen in "The Singing Nun" which starred Debbie Reynolds and Ricardo Montalban. Her last film would be the romantic comedy "The Happiest Millionare" with Fred MacMurray in 1967. She would retire to her ranch "Forked Lightening" in New Mexico full time in 1967 with her husband Buddy. This would be the beginning of a new chapter in her life as a successful horse breeder. Then there was her dedication to the Garson Theater Facility in Dallas Texas where her and her husband kept a second home. Of course Greer being the consummate performer and having a lifetime love of acting couldn't resist appearing on the television show Love Boat in 1982. This would be her last acting role.
Greer passed away from heart failure at her home in Dallas, surviving her husband by nine years. She was laid to rest next to her husband Buddy Fogelson at Sparkman-Hillcrest Memorial Park cemetery in Dallas Texas. You can view her grave site HERE. Greer appeared in 25 films and close to 20 television shows during her career. Although she didn't have the quantity of films that other stars of her era have on their resumes I think we can all agree that the quality more than makes up for it. I think that it can be said that MGM was very good to her and she certainly delivered some stellar performances that will be cherished as long as theres a way to watch her films.
Greer Garson Fun Facts:
She holds the record for consecutive Oscar nominations with Bette Davis at 5 years in a row.
The Oscar that she won for her role in "Mrs. Miniver" was destroyed by a fire at her home and later replaced by the Academy.
She was disappointed that MGM would not cast her in more comedies and jealous that another redhead named Lucille Ball was cast in those roles, leaving her to dramas and period pieces. Later on Ball would admit that she was disappointed that she wasn't cast in more dramas.
She was tutored by Laurence Olivier during her theatre days in London.
She donated millions of dollars for the construction of the Greer Garson Theater at Sante Fe University of Art and Design. Of course she had three stipulations before signing on to the project. 1. It must have a circular stage 2. The first production must be A Midsummer Night's Dream and 3. That it have a large ladies room.
Clark Gable's first film after returning from WWII was in "Adventure" with Garson. The movie's catch phrase was "Gable's back and Garson's got him! (I actually have this original print ad but it's too large to scan on my scanner. I'll have to see if I can scan it in two parts then add it later). Sadly for Gable the film was a huge flop, ending his reign as "The King of Hollywood".
She replaced Rossalind Russell on Broadway in Auntie Mame in 1958.
She was offered the role of Joan Collin's mother in the hit night time soap opera "Dynasty" but turned it down.
In 1938 she suffered from malnutrition from going on a crash diet to keep up with the "Hollywood streamline figure".
She confided that she was practically held hostage by her first husband during their honeymoon in Austria. Upon returning to London she moved out and her husband moved to India. (Awww! Thats a sad story as Austria is my favorite European country to visit, so beautiful and peaceful. Not that any country is appropriate for being held hostage by a controlling mad man).
My unnecessary pics of my trip to Austria and the Alps (Point being both beautiful and peaceful without a need for being held hostage).
Upon seeing Greer's dress mannequin, Lana Turner once commented that she had very large hips. (I'll be nice here and refrain from commenting about Lana but having 'gusty' hips would have been the least of her worries).
Greer often stated in interviews that she was working on adopting two children, although that never materialized. She never had children of her own but her and her husband Buddy adopted his brothers three children after his sudden death.
Although it was rumored through the years that her Oscar acceptance speech for "Mr. Miniver" lasted an hour it actually only lasted 5 minutes which is still an Academy record.
In her final years at MGM studios Joan Crawford was handed weak scripts in the hopes that she'd break her contract. She held out in hopes that she would get the lead in "Madame Curie" and "Random Harvest" which both went to Greer Garson. Fed up, Joan left MGM soon after.
Thanks for joining me for a look at Greer Garson's career and please leave a comment on her films, any info you want to add on Greer, Austria or even Lana Turner and her figure! Ha Ha