Greer Garson Brought Wit, Grace and Charm to Life
by Charles Champlin
The Los Angeles Times, April 8, 1996 page F2
Greer Garson, who died Saturday at 92, was one of the most beautiful
women in Hollywood at a time when Hollywood seemed to house most of the
beautiful women in the world. But she was more than one of the pedestal
goddesses who could not quite be trusted to speak without a script. She
was marvelously, volubly intelligent, and her gift of gab was as central
to her attractiveness as her flame-red hair, her eyes and her cheekbones.
A journalist friend of mine in Cleveland remembered how Garson had
once come to town on a war bond tour and kept a press conference enthralled
for an hour while she talked of the comparative success of invasions from
the east as compared to invasions from the west.
She could commandeer a dinner table with equal ease. While she was
getting started as an actress in London, she took a temporary job as a
picture researcher for the Encyclopaedia Britannica. One night in Hollywood
she was holding forth at a dinner table. Her old British colleague, Reginald
Gardiner, listened for a while and then said, "I don't think we should
be too awed by Miss Garson; everything she knows begins with the letter
B." She told the story on herself, with great amusement.
She also liked to tell of the night in her dressing room in London,
when she was finally in a successful play. The doorman knocked and said
there was a "Mr. Myers" to see her. She knew a hosiery salesman
of that name and, tired, told the doorman to have him come back another
night. The doorman disappeared and then reappeared, saying the gentleman
could only see her that night. He presented the gentleman's card. It was
Louis B. Mayer, in person,
come to offer her Hollywood and a new life.
One year, well after she had retired and gone to live in Dallas with
her oilman husband Buddy Fogelson, the local USA Film Festival honored
director Mervyn LeRoy. Garson came to the theater at 11 in the morning,
dressed to the nines, as for a gala soiree, to watch a screening of "Random
Harvest," one of the films, along with "Mrs.
Miniver," for which she will be longest remembered.
When the lights went up, her makeup was awash with tears. "Darn,"
she said; "I told myself I absolutely would not cry this time. But
I did; the story always makes me cry." She dried her eyes, fixed her
makeup as best she could and went on stage to pay an inevitably eloquent
tribute to LeRoy.
Television, cassettes and laser discs lend film memories a longer
life than they ever enjoyed before, when there were only a relative handful
of revival houses and university courses to retrieve the medium's classics.
But, even now, having retired early to enjoy a happy marriage away from
Hollywood, and then living on to a remarkable age, Greer Garson is known
to a generation or more largely as a name in the histories of a Hollywood
that already seems, a half-century after her great successes, almost as
remote as the silents.
It is too bad--and the generation's loss--because Greer Garson brought
grace, wit, elegance, charm and a lively Irish vigor to a place and an
industry. The films she made were of their day--the wartime fervor of "Mrs.
Miniver," the powerful sentiment of "Random Harvest"
and "Blossoms in the Dust." But there was a lot to be said for
the films of that day--and their messages of courage, caring and optimism--and,
gifted actress that she was, Greer Garson gave the messages the ring of
CAPTION: Greer Garson, shown in 1949, had intelligence and gift
© 1996 Times Mirror Company