Greer Garson

Active - 1939 - 1986  |   Born - Sep 29, 1904 in Manor Park, Essex, England  |   Died - Apr 6, 1996   |   Genres - Drama, Comedy, Romance

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Biography by Hal Erickson

Irish-born actress Greer Garson graduated with honors from the University of London and finished her post-grad work at the University of Grenoble in France. For many years, she worked efficiently as supervisor of an advertising firm, spending her spare time working in community theater. By age 24, Garson decided to take a risk and try a full-time acting career. She was accepted by the Birmingham Repertory, making her first stage appearance as an American Jewish tenement girl in Street Scene. Her London debut came in 1934 in The Tempest, after which she headlined several stage plays and musicals. While vacationing in London, MGM mogul Louis B. Mayer happened to see Garson in Old Music; entranced by her elegant manner and flaming red hair, Mayer signed the actress to an MGM contract, showcasing her in the Anglo-American film production Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939).

Garson became MGM's resident aristocrat, appearing most often as co-star of fellow contractee Walter Pidgeon. It was with Pidgeon that she appeared in Mrs. Miniver (1942), a profitable wartime morale-booster which won Oscars for Garson, for supporting actress Teresa Wright, and for the picture itself. Legend has it that Garson's acceptance speech at the Academy Awards ceremony rambled on for 45 minutes; in fact, it wasn't any more than five or six minutes, but the speech compelled the Academy to limit the time any actor could spend in accepting the award. Though not overly fond of being so insufferably ladylike in her films, Garson stayed at MGM until her contract expired in 1954; it was surprising but at the same time refreshing to see her let her hair down in the 1956 Western Strange Lady in Town. In 1960, Garson received her seventh Oscar nomination for her astonishingly accurate portrayal of Eleanor Roosevelt in Sunrise at Campobello. After that, Garson was given precious few opportunities to shine in films, though she was permitted to exhibit her still-vibrant singing voice in her last picture, 1967's The Happiest Millionaire.

Following her marriage to Texas oil baron Colonel EE. "Buddy" Fogelson, Garson retired to a ranch in Santa Fe, NM, where she involved herself with various charities. Occasionally Garson returned to make guest appearances on television in ventures ranging from Hollywood Squares, to The Crown Matrimonial, a Hallmark Hall of Fame production. She had to give up even these performances in the early '80s due to chronic heart problems. In 1988, Garson underwent quadruple-bypass surgery. She died of heart failure in Dallas on April 6, 1996.

Movie Highlights

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  • Made her stage debut in 1932 in a production of Street Scene at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre.
  • Small-screen debut was in the BBC's Play Parade in 1937. Received a career boost from her Oscar-nominated turn as Katherine in 1939's Goodbye, Mr. Chips, her first film role. Appeared alongside fellow actor Walter Pidgeon in eight motion pictures, the first being 1941's Blossoms in the Dust. Holds the record for longest Oscar acceptance speech for her 1943 Best Actress award for Mrs. Miniver.