Robert Osborne on Greer Garson
Still, in many ways, it's amazing that the beautiful, red-headed and British-born Garson was able to carve out a screen career at all. She was constantly plagued by illness, and she got a very late start in films at a time when Hollywood studios always preferred signing newcomers as young as 14 (Judy Garland), 17 (Lana Turner) and 19 (Ava Gardner) in order to allow time for a lengthy star buildup and, hopefully, a long payoff period. By contrast, when Garson first arrived in Hollywood she was twice Turner's age--34!--having been spotted in a play in London by MGM boss Louis B. Mayer who, captivated, signed her to a MGM contract. If being 34 wasn't bad enough, her first screen test indicated she wasn't photogenic. After that she was left to sit, doing nothing, for a full year while the studio tried to decide what could be done with her.
Eventually she did receive one offer, a chance to do a brief comedy turn with the Marx Brothers in 1937's A Day at the Races. As much as she wanted to work, Garson figured that stooging for the Marx boys would be career suicide for anyone who had serious hopes of a future in films, so she passed. (Esther Muir eventually did the role, disappearing soon after.) Then came an offer Garson happily accepted, the lead in an MGM drama called Dramatic School, but a sudden illness kept her from doing it. Luise Rainer ended up in the part, the film flopped and it hastened the end of Rainer's life in Hollywood; chances are it would have snuffed out Garson's as well. Eventually, however, came a silver lining and the best kind of Hollywood ending: Myrna Loy, set to play the role of the schoolmaster's wife in MGM's Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939), opted to instead be loaned out to do a biggie at Twentieth Century-Fox, The Rains Came (1939). With that, Garson was soon recruited to take over as Mrs. Chips and the rest is history.
It's a history we'll be putting on display every Monday this month, showing 23 Garson films in all and spicing them with background stories about this fascinating lady, such as why the year of her birth (1904) was always considered Top Secret, why she begged to not do the film which won her the Academy Award® (Mrs. Miniver, 1942), the ruckus she caused when in 1943 she married the young man who had just played her son in that Miniver film (Richard Ney, 12 years her junior).
She was always full of surprises, a lady abounding with charm, talent and one of the most beautiful speaking voices in the history of film. We hope you'll be able to join us--and the glorious Greer--often this month for the (immense) pleasure of her company.
by Robert Osborne