Monthly Archives: March 2013

GREER GARSON: PART 1

th60American film mogul Louis B. Mayer ‘accidentally’ discovered Greer Garson in London when he went to the wrong stage play in 1938. He was immediately charmed by her and ventured backstage to meet her and her mother after the performance. Soon Greer found herself under contract to Mr. Mayer’s studio in Hollywood. In fact, it was such a quick deal that Greer barely had time to notify producers of the stage play that she had to bow out, because Mr. Mayer now legally was in charge of her services. She and her mum were quickly on a flight to Los Angeles.

1mgmAfter arriving in sunny California, Greer reported to the studio lot in Culver City where she underwent a series of screen tests. Unfortunately, the tests did not help her get cast in any MGM pictures right away. In fact, her career floundered, because Mr. Mayer was busy with his more important female stars: Greta Garbo, Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford and Myrna Loy. Most of the studio directors that had seen her screen tests found Greer too old for ingenue roles and quite frankly, a bit too tall. There was also a problem with photographing her face, though Mr. Mayer insisted that the best make-up and lighting could take care of that.

Tomorrow: Greer’s career in Hollywood is nearly over before it starts…


GREER GARSON: PART 2

While Greer was trying to get cast in her first film at Metro, she began to experience chronic back pain. In her younger days, she had suffered a terrible injury, and every so often, she experienced excruciating backaches. Her mother continued to look after her during this time, but Greer was beginning to feel depressed. She needed to work in order to get her mind off the pain, and being under contract for Mr. Mayer was not what had been promised.  However, things would soon change.

th-1GOODBYE, MR. CHIPS (1939) with Robert Donat & John Mills

Back at the studio, most of the actresses that were suitable for the small but significant part of a schoolteacher’s wife in an upcoming adaptation of James Hilton’s book, Goodbye, Mr. Chips!, graciously turned it down.

In fact, Mr. Mayer’s first choice for the role of Mrs. Chips was Myrna Loy, but Myrna definitely did not want to do it. Sam Wood, the director assigned to the project, had the unenviable task of finding an actress already under contract who would be willing to take a stab at the part. He spent hours going over screen tests, and he came upon Greer’s, which had been filmed eleven and a half months earlier, after she first moved to California.

Meanwhile, Greer had only two weeks left on her contract. She and her mother had initially signed a one year agreement. Thinking they had reached a dead end, they had already begun to pack and were about to go back to England to resume stage work, when Sam Wood hired her for GOODBYE, MR. CHIPS. The ironic thing was that the movie would be shot in England anyway, so what did Greer have to lose?  She said yes.

1chipWith encouragement from her mother and insights about the character, Greer made the most of her screen time. She portrays a young woman who warms up a cold-hearted teacher played by Robert Donat. This was their only film together. Donat would receive the Oscar for his performance, and Greer would receive her first nomination.

Tomorrow: A new contract for Greer…


GREER GARSON: PART 3

Mr. Mayer, who had allowed his protege to languish for almost a year, credited himself with discovering Greer Garson. The original contract had ended, and he was not about to let her get away. Again, he played up to Greer and her mother, and convinced this great new actress to sign a second contract and stay at MGM.

1remREMEMBER? (1939) with Robert Taylor & Lew Ayres

In order to capitalize upon her success (and Oscar nomination) in GOODBYE, MR. CHIPS, the studio rushed Greer into a movie that was not best suited to her talents. She performed admirably in the farce REMEMBER?, despite a far-fetched script.

This was the first of two pictures that Greer made with the studio’s hot male star, Robert Taylor. Norman Z. McLeod was the director of this story about a couple that gets amnesia and conveniently forgets they had fallen out of love. REMEMBER? did not do well at the box office. Greer voiced her apprehensions about the project before filming took place but was coaxed into doing it.

th-6PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (1940) with Laurence Olivier & Mary Boland

MGM intended to star Norma Shearer in this picture with Clark Gable. When those plans fell through, Laurence Olivier was cast, and word reached Louis B. Mayer that Vivien Leigh was desperate to costar with Olivier in Mayer’s high-polish adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel. However, the studio boss decided that this vehicle was perfect for Greer, who was already becoming typecast in genteel parts.

Greer plays one of five husband-hunting sisters in the story, and the film performed very well at the box office. The project marked the only time that Greer worked with Laurence Olivier on screen. However, they had previously done stage work together back in England. In fact, Olivier was the one who helped her get her first lead role on the London stage.

Tomorrow: Greer’s first film in Technicolor…


GREER GARSON: PART 4

th-2BLOSSOMS IN THE DUST (1941) with Walter Pidgeon & Marsha Hunt

Although she had made a color test a year earlier, this is the first time audiences would glimpse Greer and her gorgeous red hair in Technicolor. Journalists often described her hair color as burnt orange, but it was actually red. Growing up, Greer hated having red hair and dreamed of changing it. She wanted to dye it raven black, but she realized her original natural hair was custom made for Technicolor. It became a source of pride for her, especially when she met fans in public.

The actress earned her second Oscar nomination for her work in BLOSSOMS IN THE DUST. It was the first time she had played a mother on screen. This film began her illustrious association with frequent costar Walter Pidgeon. They would make nine pictures together at MGM.

th-5WHEN LADIES MEET (1941) with Joan Crawford & Robert Taylor

Next, Greer starred with Joan Crawford in MGM’s WHEN LADIES MEET. Robert Taylor once again played the romantic lead. It was a remake of an earlier MGM hit, and Greer was assigned Ann Harding’s old role.

At this point, audiences were becoming more familiar with Greer as a movie presence.  Mr. Mayer was carefully casting her in productions with other big-name stars to increase the likelihood of her appearing in hits and to ensure that she is developing a following.  But at this point in the game, the fact remains that the studio is making pictures that feature Greer Garson.  Of course, soon all of that would change, and MGM would be making Greer Garson pictures.

Tomorrow: the role of a lifetime; and a monumental award…


GREER GARSON: PART 5

th-21MRS. MINIVER (1942) with Walter Pidgeon & Teresa Wright

Because of her performance in MRS. MINIVER, Greer Garson is forever associated with the role of a heroic, self-sacrificing mother.  She became the number one actress almost overnight, and she held this position during the war years, appearing in a succession of MGM hits tailored to her specific talents.

There seemed to be no end to the accolades.  President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill both voiced approval of MRS. MINIVER and believed the film was in the best interests of the movie-going public.  Meanwhile, Greer was selected to appear on the cover of Time magazine, and she was featured in countless other publications on a regular basis.

She had reached the top of her profession, and her hard work had paid off.  She consistently ranked atop movie polls in the U.S. and in many countries abroad.  But the icing on the cake was even more delicious: Greer received her third Oscar nomination for playing MRS. MINIVER, and this time she was named the best actress.

A very proud Mr. Mayer said that he wanted to put Greer’s trophy on display in his office.  Of course, Greer kindly refused.  Mayer showed his respect for Greer’s achievement by having her sit next to him that year in the studio cast photo.  If you look carefully at the image, you will notice that on one side is Katharine Hepburn, and on the other side is Greer.

th-20Originally MRS. MINIVER was intended for Norma Shearer, but she disliked the idea of playing the mother of a grown son on screen.  Shearer’s own son, Irving Thalberg Jr. was just 12 years old at the time.  Later that year Norma Shearer left MGM and motion pictures altogether.  Greta Garbo had also retired, and Joan Crawford would soon move over to Warner Brothers.  This paved the way for Greer to assume the throne as The First Lady of MGM.

Tomorrow:  Greer falls in love with her much-younger costar, Richard Ney…tongues wag, and Mr. Mayer attempts his hand at damage control…


GREER GARSON: PART 6

Just as Norma Shearer had done before her, Greer Garson also objected to the idea of playing the mother of a grown son in MRS. MINIVER.  The actress could easily appear older on screen, as she had done in BLOSSOMS IN THE DUST– that was not the problem.  Instead, Greer voiced different concerns.  Liberties had been taken with the story, and Greer felt it did not make sense that the Minivers would have very young children and then one much older who was coming home from college.  MGM’s screenwriters had made this change and aged one of the boys in order to facilitate a romantic storyline featuring Teresa Wright.  Despite Greer’s objections to this, she was convinced by Mr. Mayer to take the part.

1neyThe actor hired to play the Miniver son was Richard Ney, and he had recently visited the lot to see a friend and wound up being put under contract at MGM.  This was his first important role.

Since Ney was new to the studio, he did not understand the pecking order and while everyone else put Greer up on a pedestal, he was much more casual and conversational with her.  She welcomed his candidness, seeing it as a refreshing change and the chance to develop a more personal bond with a costar.  However, Ney had been instantly smitten with Greer, and he wasted no time revealing his romantic intentions towards her.  In front of others, he began to openly pursue her.  Flattered by the attention, she was overtaken by his charms, and they began an unusual courtship during filming.

th-17Greer was 37 years old when MRS. MINIVER was filmed, and Ney was 26.  Mr. Mayer quickly learned about the off-camera relationship between Greer and Ney.  He insisted that no publicity about it reach audiences until after MRS. MINIVER had completed its theatrical run.  He felt it would be distasteful for movie patrons to learn Mrs. Miniver and her son were in love.  And that they were planning to get married.

Tomorrow: The Garson-Ney marriage is in trouble.


GREER GARSON: PART 7

At first, Greer Garson and Richard Ney kept their relationship private.  Greer was not in the habit of being a secretive person, but she did value her privacy.  She was also honoring Mr. Mayer’s wishes that the romantic feelings she had developed for a somewhat younger costar be kept from the public as much as possible.

Not long after filming was completed on MRS. MINIVER, Ney’s movie career would be put on hold when he went off to the war.  The distance did not diminish his feelings for Greer, and while he was on a two-day leave from the military in 1943, the couple married.  This was Greer’s second marriage.  She been married in England, but the union was short-lived.  When Mr. Mayer hired Greer, she was still married, but now she had finally obtained a divorce and wed Ney.

th-14Hollywood gossip spun out of control.  It was speculated that the marriage would not survive due to the age difference between Greer and Ney.  While away at war, Ney had grown a moustache.  He did not shave it off when he came back from overseas duty, possibly to make himself look older and more compatible with Greer.

Despite on-going reports of an imminent break-up, the two managed to remain married for several years.  They seemed to be happy and still in love around the time of their third anniversary in 1946.  However, tales persisted that the couple was about to separate.  To quell the rumor mill, MGM’s publicity department arranged for magazine articles to be written and photographers to be sent to the Garson-Ney beach home.  The goal was to reassure everyone that the marriage was not in danger of collapse and that it was, indeed, successful.  Of course, this would not be the truth.

th-16There were serious troubles, and one of the greatest obstacles was the fact that Greer was more successful than Ney in the industry.  In order to advance his own film career, when Ney returned from the war, he left MGM.  He immediately found employment at 20th Century Fox and other studios. Perhaps he wanted to get out from under his wife’s shadow?

Tomorrow: Greer is cast with Ronald Colman…Mr. Mayer wants the actress to show off her legs, but not too much.