A Rose for Mrs. Miniver

A Rose for Mrs. Miniver: The Life of Greer Garson

Michael Troyan
Copyright Date: 1999
Pages: 520
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt2jcpzq
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    A Rose for Mrs. Miniver
    Book Description:

    " In this first-ever biography of Greer Garson, Michael Troyan sweeps away the many myths that even today veil her life. The true origins of her birth, her fairy-tale discovery in Hollywood, and her career struggles at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer are revealed for the first time. Garson combined an everywoman quality with grace, charm, and refinement. She won the Academy Award in 1941 for her role in Mrs. Miniver, and for the next decade she reigned as the queen of MGM. Co-star Christopher Plummer remembered, ""Here was a siren who had depth, strength, dignity, and humor who could inspire great trust, suggest deep intellect and whose misty languorous eyes melted your heart away!"" Garson earned a total of seven Academy Award nominations for Best Actress, and fourteen of her films premiered at Radio City Music Hall, playing for a total of eighty-four weeks--a record never equaled by any other actress. She was a central figure in the golden age of the studios, working with legendary performers Clark Gable, Marlon Brando, Elizabeth Taylor, Errol Flynn, Joan Crawford, Robert Mitchum, Debbie Reynolds, and Walter Pidgeon. Garson's experiences offer a fascinating glimpse at the studio system in the years when stars were closely linked to a particular studio and moguls such as L.B. Mayer broke or made careers. With the benefit of exclusive access to studio production files, personal letters and diaries, and the cooperation of her family, Troyan explores the triumphs and tragedies of her personal life, a story more colorful than any role she played on screen.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-2842-9
    Subjects: History, Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Roddy McDowall

    HALF A CENTURY AGO, in a world where the primary form of entertainment was the black-and-white motion picture and the movie star was of magical interest, the advent of Greer Garson was of major importance.

    Some actors achieve stellar position due to talent, a particular original persona, exploitation, and good fortune. Then there are others who embrace all of this, but also walk hand in hand with another component: a special need of society at a given moment—Will Rogers, Shirley Temple, Jean Harlow, James Dean are a few of these. And Greer Garson.

    Just three years after her auspicious...

  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  5. Prologue
    (pp. 1-4)

    On the evening of March 4, 1943, as waiters in the Ambassador Hotel began serving dinner to the attendees of the fifteenth annual Academy Awards ceremony, Louis B. Mayer glanced at his watch. It read 8:15. Sitting with Ronald Colman and Walter Pidgeon and their wives, Benita and Ruth, the most powerful mogul in Hollywood looked around the glittering Cocoanut Grove. His guest of honor was late. The orchestra was playing one of the nominated songs of the year, and L.B. recognized it as “How About You” from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s ownBabes on Broadway.

    America was halfway through its World War...

  6. Act One:: London
    • Chapter 1
      (pp. 7-12)

      “Tea with Greer Garson,” a visiting journalist once remarked, “is one joyous afternoon with an elusive sprite who deflects hard questions with peals of laughter. But, push her beyond the punch line, try to get her to say something deeper ... and she pulls rank on you. The imperious Garson is suddenly in charge.” Among the inquiries most frequently asked by interviewers, and seldom answered by Greer, were questions about her birth. Typically, she attempted a diversion with an offer of a second cup of tea or a Scotch scone from her silver tea service. She might mention her astrological...

    • Chapter 2
      (pp. 13-17)

      The scene is the opulent mansion of a steel magnate in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, during the spring of 1873. In the dining room the youngest member of the Scott family is teasing a newly arrived Irish maid named Mary Rafferty. “I’ve never been in Ireland,” Ted Scott declares to Mary. “Is it true or just a fable about ‘pigs in the parlor’?” With an impish smile, Mary replies, “We only have ’em in at night, sir. You sing ’em to sleep and never a grunt out of ’em till mornin’.” The scene is from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’sThe Valley of Decision,and the...

    • Chapter 3
      (pp. 18-23)

      It was at a house party in London in 1917 that the fourteen-year-old Eileen first attracted the attention of a Cambridge law student named Edward Alec Abbot Snelson. His family also lived in Essex, and the two young people met frequently at local events. To Eileen he was “dark and powerful looking, with a determined chin, rather heavy black eyes and beautiful hands.” He was a brilliant student and had a particularly fine singing voice. The vaguely sentimental friendship was encouraged by both families. “It was delicately understood that Alec admired me,” Greer recalls, “and his mother told mine that...

    • Chapter 4
      (pp. 24-31)

      In December 1931 an anxious Eileen Garson hurried down Station Street, clutching a new silver fox coat her mother had presented as a congratulatory gift. By the time she arrived at the door of the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, she was late. It was a habit that Nina had tried to curb by awakening Eileen at an especially early hour, but to no avail. As she scurried inside, she had little time to gaze upon the theater’s exterior. It was, in the words of alumnus Sir Cedric Hardwicke, “a trim little theatre ... its exterior walls beautifully kept, in sharp contrast...

    • Chapter 5
      (pp. 32-41)

      “When a young man has money and leisure and determination, he can do quite a bit with a girl who is ill, and discouraged.” Greer remarked of that fateful summer of 1933. By the time Alec Snelson arrived, Nina had taken rooms for her recuperating daughter at Kiln Cottage, Piddinghoe, Sussex, at three guineas a week. He took rooms at a nearby hotel. The sick young woman that he encountered, who tried to impress him with a few Birmingham press notices, made him all the more determined that marriage and not acting should be her future career. “There I was...

    • Chapter 6
      (pp. 42-49)

      After that triumphant opening night ofThe Golden Arrow,Greer found her life to be “exactly like a film that, running backwards, is suddenly reversed and begins to run forward.” James Bunting, one of the producers ofGolden Arrow,was the first to offer her a screen test. On June 18, 1935, he wrote: “I have made arrangements with my company, and we would be very glad to give you a full and comprehensive test on Friday afternoon of this week, if that is convenient to you. The test would be made in the vicinity of Wardour Street, and would...

    • Chapter 7
      (pp. 50-58)

      Greer’s meteoric stage career confounded London’s theater critics, who pointed out her less-than-inspired choice of plays.Star Spotter Backstageremarked: “Fame built on failures, extraordinary, but Greer Garson’s must be unique, discovered as a new star in ‘The Golden Arrow’ at the Whitehall which failed, she then played in ‘Vintage Wine’ with Hicks, but only for a few weeks. Then looked like having a winner in ‘Accent on Youth’ at the Globe, that failed too. Then followed the ill-fated ‘Butterfly on the Wheel’ at the Alhambra. Shortly after, ‘A Page from a Diary’ at the Garrick was also short-lived. Three...

    • Illustrations
      (pp. None)
    • Chapter 8
      (pp. 59-66)

      “London’s hotels, snack bars, theatres, cinemas, tubes, buses, flatlets, lodging houses, art shows, antique dealers’ shops, bridle paths, and sidewalks are full,” reported theNew Yorkerin the summer of 1937. “London is now unlike any London since the war. The city’s passion for going to the play has particularly profited.” It was a wonderful time to be on the stage, and by August Greer was riding the crest of her theatrical success. TheLondon Expresscontinued to call her “The Most Sought After Young Actress in London.” Her portrait by A.K. Lawrence now hung in the Royal Academy. Songs...

  7. Act Two:: Hollywood
    • Chapter 9
      (pp. 69-83)

      In the beginning of the 1954 film,Her Twelve Men,Greer Garson’s voice is heard narrating a near autobiographical montage of colorful, dreamlike images. “When I was a child;” she intones, “and given to daydreaming, I had many visions of myself as a grownup .... Always I was glamorous, heroic and beloved. But dreams have a way of ending quite suddenly. You can wake up and find yourself, as I did ... starting life over again on my way to a place I’d never been, to do something I’d never dreamed of doing, and trying not to show ... how...

    • Chapter 10
      (pp. 84-98)

      The room grew suddenly still. The warm late afternoon sun was beginning to fade, and gloom surrounded them. Nina broke the silence, noisily setting down her teacup and turning distressed eyes upon her daughter. Greer only stared blankly at Michael Levee, no longer listening to him as he continued to explain contract details. All her worst fears were realized; Laurence Olivier’s unhappy tales of Hollywood suddenly came flooding back. Levee gently reminded them that Mayer did have the right to drop any of his actors every six months. It was all there in the fine print. The mogul had promised,...

    • Chapter 11
      (pp. 99-118)

      “Greer garson, as a sign of her accomplished stardom inGoodbye, Mr. Chipshas been presented with a nice new dressing room by MGM;” theSunday Timesreported on August 13, 1939. “A prelude we may hope to a nice new part in a nice new picture:” By that time Louis B. Mayer, eager to cash in on the newfound popularity of his protégée, had already cast Greer inRemember?The slapdash screenwriting effort by Norman Z. McLeod, who would also direct the film, and Corey Ford concerned the effect of a memory-erasing drug called Memothene upon a young couple’s...

    • Chapter 12
      (pp. 119-136)

      A new constellation of stars was appearing in the MGM heavens in 1941, displacing many of those who had been at the studio since the silent days. In a year when Greta Garbo departed the lot after sixteen legendary years, stars such as Hedy Lamarr, Lana Turner, and Judy Garland, who were featured inZiegfeld Girlthat year, were indicative of the future. New meteors such as Katharine Hepburn, inWoman of the Year,and Ingrid Bergman, inDr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,were trailing stardust, while the careers of Jeanette MacDonald and Norma Shearer, MGM’S still-reigning queen, had stagnated....

    • Chapter 13
      (pp. 137-156)

      “The screen’s main function, I believe, is to give the world beauty and romance;” Greer said in 1976, “to make us forget our own troubles for a time and send us out of the theater with a lift of the heart. For sheer make-believe romance you cannot top James Hilton’sRandom Harvest.It was the happiest film I ever made. I know I am prejudiced but I think it is one of the half dozen greatest love stories.” After adaptingGoodbye, Mr. Chipsfor the screen, Hilton had surprised his wife and English friends by settling permanently in California. After...

    • Chapter 14
      (pp. 157-170)

      “Here am I, possibly the only natural redhead in Hollywood, mildewing away the years in shawls, shrouds, and chignons in unrelieved black and white;” Greer complained in 1943. “I hope thatMadame Curiewill be my last heavy dramatic role I shall play for some time:” The comment was not so much an indictment of the film, which fascinated her, as a sign of her growing antagonism toward Louis B. Mayer. She had run up against the barbed wire of Donington Hall that Constance Collier had complained about. She was trapped in a Hollywood stereotype and keenly aware that she...

    • Chapter 15
      (pp. 171-176)

      “We are here to interview a lady,” announce a group admiring pressmen to the butler of an imposing Hollywood household, “known to you because of her ability as the glamorous, amorous lady they call—” “She’s expecting you, gentlemen:” the butler interrupts. The scene is from “The Great Lady Gives an Interview:” a classic musical send-up of a film star in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s 1945 filmZiegfeld Follies.Although performed by Judy Garland in the film, Kay Thompson and Roger Edens, two of the studio’s top musical collaborators, had originally written it for Greer Garson. The witty satire of a haughty actress...

    • Chapter 16
      (pp. 177-190)

      In January 1943 mgm’s College of Cardinals gathered to decide on a Greer Garson picture for 1944. Among their choices were two recent bestsellers (Louis Bromfield’sMrs. Parkingtonand Marcia Davenport’sThe Valley of Decision),two remakes (If Winter Comes,an English tearjerker by A.S.M. Hutchinson, andGaslight,a period thriller to costar Charles Boyer), as well as two Broadway plays (S.N. Behrman’s swashbuckling satireThe Pirateand Noël Coward’sBlithe Spirit).When Benjamin Thau related the news to Greer, she was intrigued with Joseph Pasternak’s desire to cast her and Cary Grant inThe Piratein roles that Lunt...

    • Illustrations
      (pp. None)
    • Chapter 17
      (pp. 191-207)

      Looking back on it while secluded within the peaceful confines of Quail Haven in early November 1947, Greer realized that the origins of the destructive forces that tore her marriage apart, seriously damaged her career, and even threatened her life could be traced to the spring of 1945.

      She was in her dressing room at MGM. Apartment D in “Stars’ Row” was described as “a swanky affair ... all done in sea shells. The lamp is made of sea shells, and the backs of the chairs are decorated with sea shells, and over Miss Garson’s couch is a fishing net:”...

    • Chapter 18
      (pp. 208-222)

      “I’ve always loved the letters i get from fans:” Greer said shortly after her reappearance at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in the winter of 1947. “One note read, “Don’t worry Greer, I am writing a Western for you that’s sure to bring you back.’ Well, it wasn’t a Western I wanted after my Humpty-Dumpty. I wanted a rip-snorting comedy to play. No more queens; the queen’s crown had slipped slightly. “To gratify the wish of his emotionally fragile star, L.B. Mayer purchased a comedy, Margery Sharp’sThe Nutmeg Tree,for $18,490, provided a generous $2,706,000 budget, and surrounded Greer with a supportive creative...

  8. Act Three:: Dallas
    • Chapter 19
      (pp. 225-238)

      Greer arrived at the train station in Lamy, New Mexico, at ten o’clock on the morning of July 15, 1949. Buddy was there with a welcoming committee of friends that included New Mexico Governor Thomas J. Mabry. Avoiding the publicity of a downtown church wedding, they took her to the Santa Fe home of Buddy’s friend, Dr. Fletcher A. Catron, the former assistant U.S. attorney for the District of New Mexico. There, shortly before noon, she became Greer Garson Fogelson. Among the other guests who witnessed the wedding ceremony, conducted by New Mexico Supreme Court Justice James B. McGhee, were...

    • Chapter 20
      (pp. 239-254)

      On August 23,1950,Varietyreported: “Under Dore Schary’s regime at the Metro studio, the day of the long-term contract for most producers, directors and scripters is in the twilight. Schary has already slashed the studio’s overhead substantially by his policy of a strictly limited number of longterm pacts. In many cases, same policy applies to thespers as well as the production execs and technicians.” By the end of the year, Schary allowed a number of MGM’s brightest talents to depart the studio. Among them were Judy Garland, Ethel Barrymore, Frank Sinatra, Ann Sothern, Lena Horne, Angela Lansbury, Mary Astor, Edward...

    • Chapter 21
      (pp. 255-271)

      On June 25, 1951, after finishingThe Law and the Lady,Greer had treated Nina to a Hawaiian getaway. Although the press had been told it was merely a short vacation, the Garsons had visited Honolulu on business; they met with Marjorie Lawrence, the Australian opera singer whose meteoric career was nearly destroyed by a crippling attack of infantile paralysis in 1941. Although confined to a wheelchair, Miss Lawrence had inspired audiences with a triumphant comeback and a best-selling biography entitledInterrupted Melody.She had sent an advance copy to Greer, one of her favorite actresses, during the filming of...

    • Chapter 22
      (pp. 272-285)

      At dusk, Greer, dressed in a form-fitting fuchsia gown with a sable collar and gold slippers, finally sat down and relaxed in her favorite white armchair. It was January 18, 1958. The curtains of her thirtieth-floor Hampshire House suite were open, revealing a breathtaking view of the twinkling lights of New York’s Central Park and the Wollman Memorial Ice Rink. She was prepared to meet a writer fromCueto discuss her latest project. Buddy was out of sight, quietly studying business reports in the bedroom. He had purchased two apartments in the building for Greer and Nina in the...

    • Chapter 23
      (pp. 286-300)

      “I always hedged whenever a member of the press asked me what I considered the greatest moment of my career, “Greer remarked in the spring of 1960. “But since filmingSunrise at CampobelloI no longer hedge about the answer. The role of Eleanor Roosevelt has intense, personal meaning for me. I consider portraying her to be a great privilege.”

      The play,Sunrise at Campobello,produced by the Theatre Guild, originally opened at the Cort Theatre in New York on January 30, 1958, and featured Ralph Bellamy as Franklin Roosevelt, Mary Fickett as Eleanor Roosevelt, and Henry Jones as Louis...

    • Chapter 24
      (pp. 301-316)

      When Greer arrived back in Santa Fe on October 29, her melancholy reverie about the fate of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer faded into excited anticipation. On the eve of the opening of the Greer Garson Theatre, the college announced the formation of a Theatre Guild, with its patroness as the honorary chairman. The final architectural touches were still being added to the theater, as a variety of performances began inside. There was a U.N. Day program and a concert by the Santa Fe Symphony. The official 1965-66 theatrical season began withAll by Myselfon November 15, starring Anna Russell. In honor of...

    • Illustrations
      (pp. None)
    • Chapter 25
      (pp. 317-325)

      On January 29, 1973, at 7:30 P.M., on CBS Television, Greer and Gil Stratton hosted “The Thoroughbreds,” a nostalgic thirty-minute look back at Holly-wood’s love affair with Santa Anita’s racetrack. Stratton talked about the great riders, horses, and races, while Greer provided a glimpse of the movie colony of the 1930s and 1940s at the track and the fashions that they had inspired there. Although she admitted that she could not speak with authority on the subject, “I speak with beginner’s enthusiasm!” Don Page, in his review in theLos Angeles Times,wrote: “The show does its job. If you...

    • Chapter 26
      (pp. 326-336)

      ON JULY 23, 1974, the Fogelsons celebrated their silver wedding anniversary at Chasen’s in Beverly Hills. Mervyn and Kitty LeRoy were there, and Aunt Evelyn. “When I left Hollywood to marry Buddy, and live with him on a working cattle ranch, our friends gave us six months,” Greer said. “We came of such different worlds, he with his business affairs and loving the life of his ranch in New Mexico, and I the bloomin’ movie star.” When an article had appeared in theNational Enquirerdeclaring that the Fogelsons were about to get a divorce, Greer had been furious. “She...

    • Chapter 27
      (pp. 337-354)

      In April 1980 the Fogelsons were in Los Angeles. Greer had been invited to serve as president and host of the D.H. Lawrence Festival that took place in Taos, New Mexico, that summer. It was a celebration of the distinguished British author’s visits to the state in the 1920s and his literary legacy. The woman who had invited him, Mabel Dodge Luhan, who owned a ranch fifteen miles north of Taos, had inspired Neil Adams to write a screenplay based on her life and the various artists and writers that she had brought to New Mexico. It was a project...

    • Chapter 28
      (pp. 355-365)

      In 1989, Joseph Dispenza faced a major problem. “I had approached the College about starting a film program as part of its undergraduate liberal arts curriculum in 1986,” Dispenza recalls. “he College agreed, and in the fall of the next year I took nine students into the world of the cinema. The program grew rapidly; by the end of the first two years fifty students were film majors. The sudden expansion in enrollment meant we would need more space.”

      On the far side of the campus, beyond the Greer Garson Theatre and the E.E. Fogelson Library, stood the physical education...

  9. Epilogue
    (pp. 366-370)

    In a 1991 Interview with Philip Wuntch of theDallas Morning News,Greer had offered this reflection upon her life: “I’ve always lived by a few golden rules. Do as you would be done by. Be of good cheer. Strive to be happy. If you want to do it, you can do it. You just have to be open to life’s surprises at every age. I know I’ve been blessed. My mother always said that no one has the automatic right to riches or beauty. But she felt everyone had the automatic right to occupational happiness. We can choose to...

  10. The Performances of Greer Garson
    (pp. 371-404)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 405-438)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 439-442)
  13. Index
    (pp. 443-463)