A Granny Who Really Gets Around
by Blake Green
Newsday November 13, 1991 page II 59
There are actors who won't watch their own films, but Teresa Wright
isn't one of them. The reason she'll not be sitting in front of her television
set tonight to see herself playing Myra Holcombe, the grandmother in PBS'
"Lethal Innocence" (WNET / 13 at 9; WLIW / 21 at 11), is that
she'll be doing one of her other granny stints -- this one on Broadway in
"On Borrowed Time."
"Oh, I'll get around to it," Wright says of viewing the
"American Playhouse" drama. A grandmother in real life as well,
the 73-year-old actress, stylish in plaid, was having her mid-afternoon
usual -- soup and salad -- at Gallagher's Steak House in Manhattan before
going over to the Circle in the Square Theater where the play is running.
The 90-minute drama, which was filmed last spring, is about a Vermont
town that adopts a family of Cambodian refugees in the mid-'80s. Airing
only a few days after the arrival of the United Nations' peacekeeping force
in Phnom-Penh, it is a somber reminder of the genocide and mayhem to which
Cambodians have been subjected by more than a decade of civil war. In the
drama, which is based on actual events, many U.S. officials are portrayed
as insensitive and bumbling. The production co-stars Blair Brown ("Days
and Nights of Molly Dodd") and Brenda Fricker ("My Left Foot").
"I thought it was brave to present that view, to come right
out and say it," says Wright, who plays the one character able to
reach and befriend a young Cambodian psychologically scarred by his experiences.
In it, as well as the play in which she is "Granny" to
George C. Scott's "Gramps," Wright plays the nice-lady type.
It's consistent with the image of most of her characters during a long
stage and screen career that began in the late '30s.
By the time she was 24, Wright had been nominated for three Academy
Awards, including the one she won for "Mrs.
Miniver" in 1942 -- the same year she was also nominated for "Pride
of the Yankees," in which she played Lou Gehrig's wife, Eleanor.
There were no more Oscar nominations but many other roles, including Alfred
Hitchcock's "Shadow of
a Doubt" (1943) and William
Wyler's "The Best
Years of Our Lives" (1946), her favorite movies.
"But while I loved doing them," she says of these early
movies, "I was so very young. I feel I grew as an actress, therefore
my performance in 'Miracle Worker' (for television) was a lot better."
Sam Goldwyn brought
Wright to Hollywood in 1941 for Wyler's
"The Little Foxes."
"It wasn't so much fun at the time, but I'm very grateful for the
experience, he made such wonderful pictures," she says of the notorious
producer who suspended the actress several times. "I had two children
while I was under contract and each time I stopped working, all of which
aggravated Mr. Goldwyn
no end. He fired me for refusing to go on a publicity trip."
When she agrees to take a role, Wright says she wants to feel she
can "understand how this woman must feel so the outside of me is not
too at odds with the inside of what she would be." While so many characters
have been sweet, understanding women -- and some of them borderline sappy -- "what I like to find in a character is that she has both a soft
side and a harder, tough side. Cardboard characters are no fun. There's
no place you can go in cardboard, no depth."
The current grannies both have possibilities -- "if we knew more
about them." In both scripts, Wright's character dies -- "that's
something I seem to do a lot of these days," she says laughing.
A native New Yorker who lives in Connecticut, Wright says she always
wanted to be an actress. "My father was an insurance man and traveled
a lot, my mother was not around, so I was parked with a lot of people,
friends and relatives. Very early I got to know a lot of different lifestyles
and I think that's good for an actress. "
Wright was in "Death of a Salesman" with Scott in 1975
and was last on Broadway in 1980 in "Morning's at Seven," another
play by Paul Osborne who also wrote "On Borrowed Time." Both
were reasons why she says she jumped at the chance to do this play. "And
it's a comedy. There's nothing like hearing an audience laugh. Oh, it's
nice to make people cry, but nicer to make them laugh.
"I much prefer the theater, but I do less and less of it. I
feel my age," says Wright, who looks chipper but says she has a recurring
"weird inflammatory thing that keeps flaring up [she's had pneumonia
seven times] and I shouldn't get tired or stressful -- lots of luck in this
"Especially in winter I'm so terrified of getting sick and not
being able to perform," she says. "Maybe I'll become just a summertime
actress. " Meanwhile, she gets to the theater early -- about two hours
before the proverbial curtain rises. "Not to get myself into the role,"
she says with a laugh. "I know the person, I just want enough energy
to play her."
© 1991 Newsday