MGM's resident "perfect gentleman," Canadian-born Walter Pidgeon was the son of a men's furnishing store owner. Young Walter Pidgeon planned to follow his brothers into a military career, but was invalided out of the service after a training accident. Pidgeon moved to Boston in 1919, where he worked as a banker until the death of his first wife. He gave up the world of finance to study singing at the New England Conservatory of Music, then in 1924 joined E.E. Clive's acting company. With the help of his friend Fred Astaire, Pidgeon (using the stage name Walter Verne) was hired as the touring partner of musical comedy star Elsie Janis; this led to his first Broadway appearance in Puzzles of 1925. Pidgeon was signed by film producer Joseph Schenck for a string of silent-film leading-man assignments in 1926, making his talkie debut in Universal's Melody of Love (1928). He starred or co-starred in several First National/Warner Bros. musicals of the early-talkie era, but this stage of his movie career ended when the musical craze petered out in 1931. Deciding to switch professional gears, Pidgeon returned to Broadway in order to establish himself as a dramatic actor. He returned to Hollywood in 1936, spending most of the next two decades at MGM, where he was cast opposite such stellar leading ladies as Jean Harlow, Myrna Loy, Rosalind Russell, and Hedy Lamarr. His most famous screen teammate was Greer Garson; the sophisticated twosome co-starred in seven films, including the Oscar-winning Mrs. Miniver. In the early '40s, MGM made the most of Pidgeon's popularity by loaning him out to other studios. It was on one of these loanouts to 20th Century Fox that the actor was cast in one of his favorite films, How Green Was My Valley (the 1941 Oscar winner). In 1955, the same year that he starred in the sci-fi favorite Forbidden Planet, Pidgeon hosted his home studio's TV anthology series The MGM Parade. After ending his 20-year association with MGM, Pidgeon returned to Broadway, where he starred in The Happiest Millionaire and Take Me Along. He continued accepting character assignments that intrigued him into the 1970s, notably the brief role of Florenz Ziegfeld in Funny Girl (1968). When asked if he minded that most of his screen and TV assignments were secondary ones in his last two decades, Walter Pidgeon replied that he always strove to follow the advice given to him by Lionel Barrymore: even when your character has nothing to do, do nothing magnificently.
Biography by Hal Erickson
- After WWI, worked as a bank runner while attending the New England Conservatory of Music.
- Served as president of the Screen Actors Guild from 1952 to 1957.
- Ruth, his second wife, was his secretary before they married.
- Had a bad memory for names and called those whose names he didn't remember Joe.
- Was a committed conservative Republican.
- Donated his body to the UCLA Medical School in Los Angeles.
- First Canadian actor to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor.