Greer became one of the enduring images of middle-class respectability during WWII and famous for the quiet virtues of endurance, self possession, good-heartedness, and humility, when she played the title role in 'Mrs. Miniver' in 1942 for which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress, and which remains the best-known of all her movies. She was nominated seven times in all for Academy Awards including a record five nominations in consecutive years from 1941 to 1945, tying Bette Davis' 1938-1942 record, a record that still stands.
In the 1993 Queen's Honours List Greer was awarded the CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) for her services to drama and entertainment.
BiographyGreer was born Eileen Evelyn Greer Garson on 29 September 1904 in Manor Park in north east London. The only ambiguity about this came from Greer herself, who always claimed she was born in Ireland in 1908. Her father, who hailed from the Orkney Islands, died when Greer was just two years old. Her mother was Scottish and her unusual name "Greer" was a contraction of MacGregor, an ancestral surname.
She was a sickly child, suffering badly from bronchitis and she spent much of each winter in bed, passing the time by reading and studying. After an education at King's College London and Grenoble University in France she she worked first in a research library for an advertising agency, with the ambition of becoming a teacher. She got bitten by the acting bug when she began to appear in local amateur theatrical productions, and her natural aptitude became apparent.
Early Acting CareerGreer was accepted at the Birmingham Repertory Company in 1931 and she made her professional debut the following year in 'Street Scene'. She performed in small roles in a variety of productions including George Bernard Shaw's 'Too True to Be Good' being credited as "Greer" for the first time, after which she performed in 'The Tempest' in London at Regent's Park Open Theatre. In 1935, she first performed with Laurence Olivier in the stage production, 'Golden Arrow'.
She continued performing without any huge hits but gradually honing her craft and becoming better known amongst producers and the public. She was one of the first actresses to appear live on television when she starred in an excerpt from 'Twelfth Night' in May 1937 and in the same year she was seen by Louis B Mayer, head of MGM, in a play called 'Old Music'. Mayer was hugely impressed by her performance and signed her up to a seven year contract.
Hollywood Actress 1939She appeared in her first Hollywood film in 1939, as Katherine Chipping, bringing romance into the life of a lonely schoolteacher, in 'Goodbye, Mr. Chips', which won immediate critical acclaim and for which she received her first Academy nomination for Best Actress. The following year she was again highly praised for her performance as Elizabeth Bennet in 'Pride and Prejudice' with Laurence Olivier and in 1941, after starring with Joan Crawford in 'When Ladies Meet', she achieved major stardom with her performance as Edna Gladney in 'Blossoms in the Dust' for which she received her second Academy Award nomination.
'Mrs. Miniver' 1942In 1942 Greer won her first Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in the title role of 'Mrs. Miniver', a role with which she would forever be associated. Playing opposite Walter Pidgeon she achieved great popularity as the strong wife and mother in an idealized version of contemporary Britain. She appeared equally capable of charming a frightened German pilot or of winning the annual village rose contest, and her character mediated between classes and exemplified the emotional strength required in wartime. The movie broke box office records across America making a profit of $4.8 million for the studio, and Greer was universally praised for her performance.
Initially reluctant to play a forty year old, the thirty-three year old Greer was persuaded by Louis B. Mayer, who at one meeting dramatically read part of the script to her and appealed to her sense of patriotism.
The movie received 12 Academy Aw/ard nominations, winning Best Picture, Supporting Actress (Theresa Wright), Director (William Wyler), Screenplay, and Cinematography, as well as Greer's own Best Actress Award.
Greer was equally good as the scientist's wife who quietly refuses to take a back seat to her husband in 'Madame Curie' in 1943, for which she would get another Oscar nomination. She was also nominated the following year for 'Mrs. Parkington' and in 1945 she received a fifth nomination for 'The Valley of Decision'', which tied her with Bette Davis's record of five consecutive nominations.
Her next two films were not successful but Greer then achieved a career ambition when she appeared in a romantic comedy, 'Julia Misbehaves' which re-united her with Walter Pidgeon and was well received. In 1949 she had another great hit with 'That Forsyte Woman' as Irene Forsyte, being pursued by three of the top male stars of the day, Errol Flynn, Robert Young and Walter Pidgeon (in the seventh of their nine films together).
Later CareerGreer's later film career was generally a disappointment, however, including 'The Miniver Story' in 1950, a misguided attempt to reprise her role as Kay Miniver and rekindle a then-bygone era. Her contract with MGM expired in 1954 and she appeared on screen less and less frequently.
In 1957 she returned triumphantly to the stage with 'Auntie Mame' and earned rave reviews.
Greer's last great film appearance came in 1960 when, unrecognisable in full character makeup, and distorting her voice, she played Eleanor Roosevelt in 'Sunrise at Campobello', which brought her a seventh Academy Award nomination and great critical acclaim.
Her final two movie appearances were in 'The Singing Nun' in 1966 as Mother Prioress and 'The Happiest Millionaire' in the following year and she continued thereafter to make occasional appearances on television including narration of the children's television special 'The Little Drummer Boy', which became a classic, much repeated, children's Christmas program.
PersonalGreer was married three times. Her first marriage was to a childhood friend, Edward Snelson in 1933 but it did not last beyond the honeymoon, due to his exceptional possessiveness and jealousy. The marriage was officially ended in 1943 when Greer married Richard Ney, an actor 11 years her junior, who had played her son in 'Mrs Miniver'. Ney, still trying to establish himself as a serious actor, did not deal well with his wife's greater success and objected to sharing their home with Greer's mother. They separated and were divorced in September, 1946.
The following year Greer married a Texan oil millionaire, E. E. "Buddy" Fogelson and the couple retired to their ranch in New Mexico to very successfully breed racehorses and where she immersed herself in charity work. They also maintained a house in Dallas, Texas. Buddy and Greer's generous contributions to the College of Santa Fé would be rewarded by the dedication of the Greer Garson Theatre in 1965, and later, the E.E. Fogelson Library. An honorary doctorate was also bestowed on Greer.
In 1975, Greer made her final stage performance, fittingly at the Greer Garson Theatre, in 'The Madwoman of Chaillot'. She continued to do television work, appearing as Aunt March in the mini-series 'Little Women' and on the popular series 'The Love Boat.'
Her husband was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 1982 and Greer cared for him as his health steadily deteriorated during the following years. He died on December 1, 1987 in Dallas. Following Buddy's death, Greer who had herself suffered a stroke in 1980, continued as administrator of his estate and many charities benefited including The College of Santa Fé and the Dallas Southern Methodist University.
In 1992, Greer, suffering from heart problems, moved into a suite at the Dallas Presbyterian Hospital. She continued to have visits from friends and family but she died from heart failure on April 6, 1996. She was 91. She is interred in the Sparkman-Hillcrest Memorial Park Cemetery in Dallas.
Greer Garson Academy AwardsOne Win:
Best Actress ... Mrs. Miniver (1942)
Six Unsuccessful Nominations:
Best Actress ... Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939)
Best Actress ... Blossoms in the Dust (1941)
Best Actress ... Madame Curie (1943)
Best Actress ... Mrs. Parkington (1944)
Best Actress ... The Valley of Decision (1945)
Best Actress ... Sunrise at Campobello (1960)
Greer Garson Filmography
Twelfth Night (TV short)
The School for Scandal (TV movie)
Theatre Parade (TV series)
How He Lied to Her Husband (TV movie)
Goodbye, Mr Chips
Pride and Prejudice
Blossoms in the Dust
When Ladies Meet
The Valley of Decision
That Forsyte Woman (The Forsyte Saga)
The Miniver Story
The Law and the Lady
Scandal at Scourie
Her Twelve Men