arson.com by Ed S.
Greer Garson: A biography/dialography
A work in progress
I do not intend to chronicle Greer Garson's entire life on
I wish only to share some of my personal thoughts about the
life of this wondrous woman.
If you scroll down you'll notice that I've embellished a few
incidents from Greer's life by expressing them as dialogues.
In addition, an ongoing biography in verse can be found here
The biography you should be reading
The definitive biography of Greer Garson is this
indispensable book by Michael Troyan:
How was Greer different from the rest?
Greer Garson was not one of those 17-year-old
girls who won a beauty contest and then ran off to Hollywood
to get into the movies by any means possible.
She was a mature and well-educated young woman who left her
office job to try her luck in the theatre and ran into a
stroke of luck.
When she burst onto the movie scene in 1939, the public saw
a warm and confident young lady
who was able to capture the hearts of a dour schoolteacher,
his sour colleagues, and an entire boys' school.
She is born
Greer Garson was actually older than most of the golden-era
actors and actresses who preceded her in the movie business.
She was born on September 29, 1904 in London (not 1908, not
Ireland), a day which Jane Austen had prophetically
mentioned on the very first page of "Pride and Prejudice."
She leads a normal life
Many Hollywood actresses were washed up by the age of
but when Greer was thirty-five years old she was
just getting started.
By that time, Eileen Evelyn Greer Garson had a university
degree, a post-graduate education from France, an office
job, and a marriage to a family friend who had run off to
India to start his own career.
She eventually gave up her day job to pursue her dream of
acting on the London stage.
During her period in London she was in a series of dreadful
plays, but she made quite an impact on the theatre-going
public. She worked with Laurence Olivier, she met George
Bernard Shaw, and she even appeared on television.
While she was working in that office in London, the
soon-to-be-famous actor George Sanders was also
Here is a typical water-cooler conversation from those days.
Hey Eileen. Let's go see Ronald Colman in "Bulldog
It's his first talkie!
I'm scared to.
What if his voice is high and squeaky?
No, no, I'll bet he's as dreamy as ever.
I like to picture him with a deep baritone voice
Yes, I do have a voice for talkies, don't I?
But Eileen, they wouldn't have put him in a talkie
if his voice wasn't right, would they?
I don't want to spoil my dream-Ronnie.
Well, Eileen, you can always try to imagine that
it's me speaking his words.
Say, George, why don't you come and try out for a
part in my little theatrical group?
Me? Act? I'm hoping to be office manager
They need someone with a deep voice.
You know, George, if you had Ronald Colman's
looks you'd be a shoe-in.
Well, I think I'll pass on that movie,
but let me know how Ronnie sounds.
But I have no one to go with, except for that snooty
lawyer who keeps coming around to bother you.
Just imagine if you were Ronnie's co-star and you
met him and his voice grated on your nerves.
I think I'm actually better looking than Colman, you
Talkies! Heavens, what a business to be in.
The story of my fictitious Sheila's subsequent visit to
Greer is told here
She wastes a year in Hollywood
In 1937 Greer's world changed.
Louis B. Mayer, the head of MGM, was visiting London on
business and he passed one particular evening at the theatre
watching a play called "Old Music." On the stage before him
he saw a most striking young actress, and the rest is
He eventually signed Greer to a one-year contract. She
and her mother left England to reside in Hollywood and await
her promised movie career.
At this stage of her life she wasn't about to take the
insipid walk-on roles that were offered to her in 1938. She
waited patiently for the plum role that Mayer had promised
her, but it didn't come. In the meantime she suffered a
severe back injury and came close to being released from her
contract. No one at MGM had any idea what to do with her.
Here's the sort of conversation that must've taken place
at MGM many times during that dreadful year.
Louis, what are we going to do with Garson?
LOUIS B. MAYER
Just let her sit tight for a while longer.
She's been sitting on her can for half a year
She'll get desperate soon enough.
Have you chosen her new name yet?
I've got Claudine and Anita working on some ideas.
I was thinking, what about "Rita Redlocks?"
Forget it, Howard.
Well, my wife thought of "Stella Stunbar."
We're keeping the "Garson."
Well then what about "Gloria Garson?"
It's a damn sight more feminine than "Greer."
She insists upon "Greer."
Good god! She's a prima donna already and
she hasn't even made a movie.
She's not your typical ingenue, that's for
Lamarr and Korjus were willing to take those
Send Garson's screen tests over to Sam Wood.
He's having trouble casting his female part.
You think Garson would go all the way back to
England for her first movie?
She's probably homesick by now.
That part's too small for her anyway.
She'll never take it.
She finally breaks into movies
As 1938 wore on,
Greer lost hope of ever having a career in the movies.
Myrna Loy had recently departed from MGM, and this left
a hole in a new production about a schoolmaster at an
English boys' school.
But Greer wasn't entirely happy with this opportunity,
for it entailed a relatively small amount of
screen time and it felt like a mere supporting role.
But a friend was able to convince her that she would make an
indelible impression as Kathy Chipping, and so Greer
took the job.
She did indeed make a marvelous impression in "Goodbye, Mr. Chips,"
received the first of her seven Oscar® nominations. I am not
alone in believing that her performance in this movie, and
its effect on Robert Donat's character, had a bearing on
Donat's winning the Oscar® over the strong competition in
1939, a field that included Clark Gable in "Gone With the
Wind" and Jimmy Stewart in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington."
for scenes that ended
up on the cutting room floor.)
Acting in a movie is very different from acting on the stage
(so I'm told), and Greer sometimes found it difficult to
Her co-stars Robert Donat and Paul Henreid were only too
willing to help.
My goodness, Bob, that was the most grueling thing
I've ever gone through.
Don't worry, Greer, you'll get the hang of it.
And here I thought that Noel Coward was hard
to work for.
Shooting this thing out of order is very
At least on the stage I can grow into my part
I'll ask Sam if he can shoot that scene in one take,
so you'll feel more at home.
But in our mountain scenes we'll have to do some of
our lines separately.
And we have to learn to waltz, too.
And just wait until that fireplace scene.
That's your big moment.
I'm dreading that one.
That scene is the reason I took this part in
the first place.
Don't forget, it's your money scene.
Well then don't make funny faces at me like you did
She becomes a star
MGM kept Greer busy in 1939 with "Remember?"
, a very minor comedy,
but in 1940 they finally found a breakthrough role for her
as Elizabeth Bennet in "Pride and
This popular movie convinced the public and the critics that
Greer would indeed fulfill the promise that she had shown in
"Goodbye, Mr. Chips."
As recently as the spring of 2007, Greer's co-star Marsha
Hunt said that "Pride and Prejudice" was the movie on which
she had the most fun.
She is in Technicolor
Making a movie in colour was very complex in the 1940s.
The "Technicolor" process was so expensive that MGM made
less than a handful of colour movies in 1941.
Greer's red hair and fair complexion were showcased in
one of those 1941 movies, "Blossoms in the Dust."
Greer's co-star was Walter Pidgeon, a tall and handsome
actor who apparently got his contract at MGM because he and
Louis B. Mayer had both been born in Saint John, New
Greer eventually made eight movies with Walter,
the first four each earning her an Oscar® nomination as Best
Greer already knew Walter quite well because they happened
to be neighbours, and they had worked together in several
screen tests at MGM.
I like to imagine that their relationship was similar to the
one depicted in "Mrs. Miniver,"
bond of warm friendship and respect that included a good
deal of teasing.
For example, when it was discovered that Walter Pidgeon
didn't know how to dance for the early scenes of "Blossoms
in the Dust," he and Greer may have had a conversation
something like this:
What do you mean you don't dance?
What will Mervyn say?
I'll just blame it on an old war wound.
Maybe we need to rewrite your scenes.
Can't you just dance around me?
Maybe they should find someone else to play
No, I don't really think you could get along without
Well, maybe they can build a platform for us to
stand on and someone can pull us around on it.
Until I fall off and break a leg.
Well, maybe I'll just play those scenes with your
He's quite good-looking, you know.
Well, he does look like me, doesn't he?
This could be his big break.
No, Greer, I think those scenes really need someone
with the smooth manner of a good old Maritime boy
And Bill doesn't slap my backside all the time.
Well, he hasn't learned how to handle
temperamental actresses yet.
Maybe I should call up Louella and tell her
how you handle actresses.
She'll write up quite a column on you.
Like they say, Duchess, there's no publicity like
And your wife will find out.
Oh, she'll just tell you to slap
She becomes a super-star
When a popular actress is known for her romantic leading
roles, she probably doesn't want to portray the mother of a
Norma Shearer certainly didn't want to, and she had enough
clout at MGM to turn down the role of Mrs. Miniver when it
Greer didn't want to play the role either, but she hadn't
yet earned the power that Shearer wielded.
L. B. Mayer and director William Wyler appealed to her
British patriotism to convince her that she was right for
Mayer and Wyler were absolutely correct, for Greer won the Oscar®
for 1942 and was
remembered as "Mrs. Miniver"
the rest of her life.
(Norma Shearer made two bad movies in that year and then
dropped out altogether.)
Greer also married Richard Ney, the actor who played her
son Vin Miniver, and who was 11 years her junior.
Once Greer was on board with this movie, she and Walter
may have had a conversation like this:
You should feel lucky to get this role,
Well, I was hoping to work with Garbo this
Oh, no. Greta tells me her next one is a stinker.
I hear that Norma Shearer turned "Miniver" down,
so you're stuck with it.
Yes, and she's seeing that ski instructor.
Twenty years her junior!
The lengths some actresses will go to just to hold
on to their youth.
I'll have you know that I insisted on you
for this picture, Walter.
Well, after I got that Oscar nomination for you
last year, I think it's my turn to get
one this year.
Well, then I'll try not to steal too many of your
I don't like the name "Clem," though. Makes me
sound like a farmer.
Maybe they can change it to "Wylbur," or "Clyde."
And we have a college-age son this time.
I know. I sure hope they can rewrite that
Well, they'll have to slap some pretty heavy
make-up on me to make me look old enough.
Or younger. We also have two small
But I don't relish the idea of having to kiss a
co-star who's almost a grandmother.
She makes a masterpiece with one of her idols
In the 1920's, Greer loved to go to the movies, and one of
her favourite silent stars was Ronald Colman.
So what a dream-come-true is must've been for her to star
with him in 1942 in one of the most romantic
movies ever made, "Random
Everyone seemed to have had a wonderful time making this
movie. Colman himself said that he was sorry to see the
experience end, and it was Greer's personal favourite of all
her movies. It held the box-office record at Radio City
Music Hall for many years.
Once in a while Greer would make suggestions for improving
You know, Mervyn dear, I had some thoughts on how we
might improve the ending.
No, Greer, we already have too much as it is.
It'll be hard enough just getting it down to two
I always thought it was odd that Ronnie should just
walk up to that little cottage and open the front
door. Isn't that breaking and entering?
No one will care.
And would the key still work after all those years?
The audience will love this ending, Greer.
Oh wait, I know. What if Ronnie knocks on
the door and finds that the old vicar is living
And then what?
Oh, I don't know. The vicar could recognize him and
ask "How's the wife?"
No, we can't get Ivan back at this late date.
I'm just trying to stretch the ending out a bit
Believe me, Greer, after you leave Miss Barnes at
the inn and Ron has started to remember, the
audience will be dying for a resolution.
Well then, what about this. When Ronnie opens the
cottage door at the end, I could be standing there
inside the house waiting for him.
Go have Sydney fix your hair.
I wonder what Walter Pidgeon said to Greer after "Random Harvest" had been released.
Perhaps something like this:
Why couldn't you make that amnesia movie with me?
Well, you were off making that silly thing with Hedy Lamarr.
Silly? Do you have any idea how beautiful
that woman is?
Well, Ronnie is gorgeous too.
But he's so short.
He's been one of my idols since I was a girl.
And that funny accent of his.
I melt every time he opens his mouth.
Well, Reggie and Bram Fletcher managed to be in
both of our movies.
I think Merv should've waited for me.
I wonder how Ronnie would've been as Clem Miniver.
You know, Duchess, I believe I'm good for your career.
Well, don't worry, Walter.
I think there's a little spot for you in my next
I'm not playing your husband again, am I?
Well, I wouldn't want to get typecast as your
What's this one about?
I'm in the mood to be a private detective this time,
or maybe a pirate.
We'll be playing scientists.
She wins Nobel Prizes as well as Oscars
With the recent success of biopics for scientists Louis
Pasteur and Thomas Edison, MGM thought that Marie Curie
deserved the same treatment.
So Greer's next movie was "Madame
, in which she plays the brilliant Marie Sklodowska
and Walter plays the brilliant Pierre Curie.
They were both rewarded with their second Oscar®
nomination in a row.
This movie was based upon the biography written by their
daughter Eve, suitably dramatized to make Greer and Walter
look good and to give them a sweet but nerdy courtship.
Eve Curie lived to be almost 103 years of age and
died just last October! (October 2007)
for scenes that ended
up on the cutting room floor.)
She is a regular at the Oscars
During the remainder of the war years Greer made another
movie with Walter Pidgeon
for which she received yet another Oscar® nomination.
And then the very next year she received her sixth
nomination for "The Valley of
with Gregory Peck.
Greer was now the undisputed Queen of MGM.
The war is over and times are changing
When the Second World War ended in 1945, Clark Gable
returned from active service to resume his movie career at
And what better way to celebrate this long-awaited event
than to pair the King with the Queen?
Unfortunately, MGM didn't write a great movie for them, but
they did write a great tag line, one that Greer and Gable both
"Gable's back and Garson's got him!"
Even though I love this movie ("Adventure"
), I have to admit that
it really wasn't worthy of Greer and Gable. The critics
hated it and the public avoided it. The small profit that
the movie made was not up to Greer's usual standard and it
was essentially her first failure.
She never again duplicated the success of those war years.
Greer and Gable didn't hit it off when this movie was made.
Gable preferred the company of co-star Joan Blondell.
Joan, I can't figure out this Garson broad.
Well, Clark, stop treating her like a dame.
Thank god I have you and Lina to keep me
Greer just has high standards, that's all.
She's stuffy if you ask me.
Look, Clark, she seems to get a nomination every
year, so if you play your cards right maybe
you'll get one too.
I deserve an award for putting up with
those stupid "love"-scene-screens.
Just let her make this picture her way.
And she helped that Donat bastard to beat
me in '39. She owes me one.
She is swept out to sea
Her next movie, "Desire Me,"
almost the nail in her coffin in more ways than one.
Where does one begin to list the troubles that ensued
during the making of this movie?
The script was constantly under revision or rewrite.
One of her co-stars, Robert Mitchum, was grumpy because
he had lost the male lead role to Richard Hart.
Mitchum and director George Cukor didn't like each other.
Cukor was eventually fired. Another director was
Mitchum was also grumpy about having to work with such a
"high-brow" actress like Greer, for he had just finished
an even worse experience with Katherine Hepburn on
The new director was fired. Another director was assigned.
Greer was swept out to sea
and almost drowned.
The newer director was fired. Another director was assigned.
Greer's marriage to Richard Ney was falling apart.
This movie lost money.
It is a well-known story that Robert Mitchum would choose
his lunch with very little regard for his co-star in the
romantic scenes that he might have to shoot in the
Here is how I like to imagine Greer's reaction to his choice
George, he's done it again.
Oh, come on, Greer. I can't tell Mitchum what to eat
Yesterday it was Roquefort cheese!
Mitchum doesn't listen to me. You know that.
Can't Arthur force him to eat his lunch in our
Look, Greer, things aren't going well between Arthur
I think I'm going to be canned soon.
Can we at least put off those kissing scenes until
She finally gets to try screwball comedy
The great comedienne Lucille Ball had always wished to
perform dramatic roles, and likewise Greer had always wished
to play comic roles.
Her big chance came in 1948 when she was once again teamed
with Walter Pidgeon in the comedy "Julia Misbehaves
This movie made a small profit, but it really doesn't rank
alongside the great screwball comedies of the golden era.
For fans of Greer, though, it's an absolute delight.
While "Julia Misbehaves" was being made, the most
significant thing that happened to Greer was to meet the
rich Texan who would become her third husband. His name was
Peter Lawford was one of Greer's co-stars in "Julia
Misbehaves," and one day he brought his good friend Buddy
to the set.
Peter, why did you drag me all the way out here?
I thought we were going to that new bar on Melrose.
I have a surprise for you.
Can't you stay away from your movie set for more
than two hours?
Wouldn't you like to meet Greer Garson?
What do you mean "who"?
Who is she, your new girlfriend?
No, Buddy. She happens to be the most famous redhead
in the entire world.
Oh, is that her down there? Yes, very pretty.
Now let's go. I'm thirsty.
My god, Buddy. When was the last time you saw a
Okay, Peter. So now I've seen her. Bring her to
dinner tonight if you wish.
No, that's not Greer you're looking at.
That's her stand-in.
Wow, look at that little number over there laughing
with those cameramen.
Are all the female crew members prettier than
the stars are?
Would you like to meet that girl?
You know her?
That's Greer Garson.
Greer's last notable film (until perhaps 1960) was "That Forsyte Woman"
, taken from
John Galsworthy's great series of novels. She of course
played the delectable Irene, who is pursued at various times
by Errol Flynn, Walter Pidgeon, and Robert Young.
This time it's Robert Young who gets to kiss her the most.
In fact I'm not even sure if Errol or Walter ever get to
kiss her at all in this movie.
There was some concern over how the Queen of MGM would get
along with the Knave of Warner Brothers.
Here is how I like to imagine Flynn's conversation with his
manager just before he met Greer.
Errol, have you been drinking?
No, of course not. ...Well, maybe a little bit.
Now, look, she'll be here soon.
You can't treat her like one of your nubile
starlets, you know.
Look Fred, when have you ever known me to ---
Mister Gordon won't give you the Soames role if you
upset Miss Garson.
I'm not playing that limp-wristed Bosinney-ninny.
Then let's start things off on the right foot with
Miss Garson, shall we?
I'll show that bastard Warner what I'm capable of.
Just think of the alimony that you're still paying.
You need this job.
Don't worry, Fred.
Remember, I've met the King and Queen of England.
Oh, here she is.
Best behaviour, now.
...Oh, Miss Garson, how do you do?
I'd like to present Mister Errol Flynn.
[He slaps Greer on the rump.]
She tries to rekindle the Miniver magic
After this string of disappointing movies, it was
thought that perhaps the public would like to see what had
become of the Minivers after the war had ended.
This resulted in "The Miniver
One problem here was that one of the central characters in
"Mrs. Miniver," namely their son Vin, had been played by
Greer was not about to do a movie with Ney, since she had
divorced him only a couple of years earlier.
Maybe you should've played Soames.
Even Flynn couldn't save that movie.
Robert Young was a good kisser, though.
Yes, I pity the poor fellow, being saddled with
that tedious duty.
You know, Walter, I heard Sidney talking about
making another Miniver movie.
Say, that's an excellent idea.
We could concentrate on my character this
time. We might not even need you.
I wonder if they can get Bogey to play
We could call it "Mister Miniver Wins the War
Maybe you could play Mr. Foley this time.
We need a good slogan though, like "Pidgeon's back
and Garson's nagging him."
But what do we do about Vin?
Well, Dickie is probably available.
We could just explain that after the war, Vin
Miniver ran off to Hollywood and married Greer
Full-time rancher and part-time actress
B-movies in the 1950's