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Teresa Wright

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No Glamour Gal

by Kyle Crichton

Collier's Weekly  May 23, 1942 pages 13, 56

Teresa Wright: Good, sound acting talent instead of the usual fanfares of publicity account for her slow, steady rise in Hollywood

So far the pattern of life in Hollywood has had little effect on Teresa Wright. Her stockings are usually wrinkled around the ankles and she lives over a garage. But she takes acting as a serious business.

After Teresa Wright had appeared in Detroit with the touring version of Our Town she received a letter from a bellhop at one of the hotels. It said merely, "Please don't be angry at what I'm about to write. Your personal appearance is swell except for one thing: Your hose about the ankles are always wrinkled."

This was a decent warning and has been repeated by other Wright enthusiasts but it has had no effect. Friends have even gone to the trouble of supplying gifts of garters, supporters and special girdles. The result: nothing. The socks still wrinkle. It must be the contour of the Wright limb.

In view of this, Miss Wright's present employment with Mr. Samuel Goldwyn is in the nature of a national phenomenon. Mr. Goldwyn has previously been a high priest in attendance at the altar of glamour.

Goldwyn once spent a million dollars publicizing the charms of Miss Anna Sten, with the result that (a) the public was not charmed, and (b) Miss Sten, a good actress with a great Continental reputation, was a failure. A later experiment with Miss Merle Oberon rewarded Mr. Goldwyn's patience and confidence in a more substantial fashion, and the financial rewards were excellent until that moment when Mr. Alexander Korda removed Miss Oberon from the Goldwyn clutches by the simple device of marrying her.

The only apparent excuse Miss Wright has for being on the Goldwyn pay roll is that she is an actress. She was playing in Life With Father on Broadway when Goldwyn hired her for the part of the child in the screen version of The Little Foxes. She is now Mrs. Lou Gehrig in The Pride of the Yankees, a picture in which Mr. Gary Cooper, the gentleman gaucho, has been instructed as painstakingly in our national pastime as an infant is taught to walk. The thing becomes more involved by reason of the fact that although Miss Wright is twenty-two years of age, she has always played children.

Home is Where You Find It

Miss Wright's competence as a performer was established almost immediately by her nomination for the best assisting artist of 1941 for her work in The Little Foxes. Even this failed to glamorize her and there is little chance that anything ever will. She lives on the wrong side of the tracks in Beverly Hills and can be reached only by explorers of great fortitude. It will be found that Miss Wright lives somewhere down a driveway. Furthermore, she lives over a garage.

However, the apartment is extremely attractive and it is at this point that the caller realizes that although Miss Wright may never be another Clara Bow she most certainly has her wits about her.

"Look, the swimming hole," she says, going to the window.

There is a swimming pool. The location is quiet; the rent is reasonable. Also, Miss Wright can act. While being interviewed, she sits on a divan with her feet tucked under her. Nothing shows, especially not a wrinkle.

If Miss Wright looks and conducts herself like Helen Hayes, it is because she wants to act like Helen Hayes. That started when Teresa saw Miss Hayes in Victoria Regina and made up her mind about acting. Far from discouraging her, the family urged her on. She was going to the South Orange and Maplewood (N.J.) High School where Stanley Wood was instructing the young thespians, and Papa Wright took Mr. Wood's word for it that Teresa wasn't hopeless. Father staked her two summers' tuition at the Wharf Theater in Provincetown, where Teresa wrestled with scenery, lugged props about and looked wan and wistful.

"The least likely to succeed," was the Provincetown verdict.

But Doro Merandi of the Provincetown company liked her and when Miss Merandi went into the cast of Our Town she put in a word for Teresa, who was hired as understudy to Dorothy Maguire [sic], who created the role subsequently played by Martha Scott. By the happy chance that suddenly made pale and bedraggled females invaluable, Miss Wright was in a good spot. When Eddie Dowling started to cast the touring company, he became irate.

Thanks to Mr. Serlin

"That infernal Hollywood!" cried Mr. Dowling, expressing his resentment of a machine that invariably sucked in every talented youngster. There was nobody but Teresa and she made the rounds of New England and the Middle West.

Next summer she was with the Barnstormers Theater at Tamworth, New Hampshire, where she learned a great deal. When that was over she came back to New York and started giving readings for Life With Father, along with all other destitute actors. The boss of the play was Oscar Serlin, who had been testing director for Paramount for many years and hated the films with a stern magnificence. As opposed to that, his reverence for the stage bordered on the pathological.

Oscar was in no rush. Miss Wright thought she was revealing Spartan courage when she gave her first reading, but after she was on the fifth round she looked at Serlin piteously, anxious merely that she should be shot like a wounded rodeo pony and put out of her misery. Oscar had made up his mind that a blonde should play the role. Teresa was a brunette. Oscar fidgeted and finally decided that it made no difference whether a blond or a brunette played the role. Teresa was in and later she had a lot more to thank Serlin for, because he made her screen test when the Goldwyn offer arrived and gave her even better advice about her contract, which is unique in cinema history. Here are a few portions of the Serlin-indicted work:

"Clause 39. The aforementioned Teresa Wright shall not be required to pose for photographs in a bathing suit unless she is in the water. Neither may she be photographed running on the beach with her hair flying in the wind. Nor may she pose in any of the following situations: In shorts, playing with a cocker spaniel; digging in a garden; whipping up a meal; attired in fire-crackers and holding skyrockets for the Fourth of July; looking insinuatingly at a turkey for Thanksgiving; wearing a bunny cap with long ears for Easter; twinkling on prop snow in a skiing outfit while a fan blows her scarf; assuming an athletic stance while pretending to hit something with a bow and arrow."

Faced with these restrictions the Goldwyn publicity staff kept Miss Wright at a distance and caused her some uneasiness. Her competitors were getting their pictures in the papers; she was only appearing on the screen. She approached Mr. William Hebert, Goldwyn publicity head, about the matter.

"Friends have told me I have a very nice figure," she said demurely but insistently.

Mr. Hebert called in the photographers. Interviewers were also coaxed into presenting an appearance but in several cases this created an assorted amount of ill will when they arrived with licorice sticks and ice-cream cones under the illusion that they were to visit Baby Sandy.

Hardier souls who came with less enlightenment and greater discernment found her a very nice girl, a touch on the unexciting side. When they asked her pointedly about her personal life she said, "I want to be a good actress above everything."

At this juncture the Goldwyn press representative would invariably offer his stock of information.

"Miss Wright is five feet two and weighs 110 pounds. She has wavy brown hair and greenish-blue eyes."

The interviewer would look at Miss Wright and confirm this. Miss Wright would then laugh very merrily.

"If you want to write something entirely original," she would say, "just put in that I hate the hours."

It seemed that although Miss Wright had been reared in Jersey, she had been born in New York. She felt that six o'clock in the morning was an improper hour to be abroad. It had been even worse when she was over at M-G-M making Mrs. Miniver under the direction of William Wyler.

"Mr. Wyler likes you to be perfect," said Miss Wright.

She demurred rather tartly about taking the role of Mrs. Gehrig but the studio executives convicted her of contradiction out of her own mouth. She felt that audiences would not accept her in an older role after what she had been playing, but they reminded her of one of her romantic periods. When she was appearing in Life With Father she received a mash note from a well-known and elderly actor.

"I saw you Saturday night in the play and really thought you were terrific," he wrote. "The last time I saw you was in Pasadena where you were with the King Players or something of the sort and that was so long ago it doesn't seem possible that an old dame like you could play a young girl like Mary Skinner and get away with it. You were swell. Call me up and come to dinner with me. I'm at the Blank Hotel."

Hollywood Has Its Way

She didn't ring him and missed the meal but she made the mistake of telling the Goldwyn office about it. They used it against her. She had never been in Pasadena, she was not an old dame, and the gentleman was obviously under a misapprehension, but the studio pointed out that if she could fool a man of his astuteness there would obviously be no difficulty in convincing the public that she was her own age.

On the personal side, a little snooping revealed that Miss Wright will soon enter into a formal engagement with Mr. Niven Busch, a writer. This removes her rather definitely from competition and accounts for the fact that she is not seen in Hollywood night clubs and is as little known as any human could be in that torso factory. She has a pretty taste for good painting and good photographs but confines her reading to her craft, boning up on plays with the thought that she will eventually return to Broadway, as is permitted in her contract. She was back last spring for another Serlin masterwork called The King's Family. Mr. Serlin directed this himself and it died rather grimly in Boston before reaching New York. Miss Wright was frank about the matter.

"This small episode gave me pause," she said.

What this seems to mean is that Teresa Wright will follow the line of most actresses who have a Broadway fixation and a juicy Hollywood contract: She will see Broadway on an average of about once every nine years.

Close scrutiny of the public prints will afford conclusive proof of the trend of the Wright thought. Even the faintest glimpse of the Wright ankle in a studio publicity shot will be evidence that Teresa has gone the way of all flesh. Hollywood will have her.

The End

© 1942 Collier's Weekly

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