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Teresa Wright (1918-2005)


Teresa Wright
Teresa Wright
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Teresa Wright Teresa Wright was an American actress who became extremely successful in the 1940's and 1950's. She had a long acting career although she only appeared in 28 films and all her most successful films were at the start of her career. She had starring roles in several movie classics and, uniquely, she was nominated three times for Academy Awards in her first three films, a feat still unequalled. She won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance in her second movie, 'Mrs Miniver' in 1942. As well as her successful movie career Teresa built up an excellent reputation as a stage actress and later in her career made frequent appearances on television.

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Biography

She was born Muriel Teresa Wright on October 27, 1918, in Harlem, New York City. Her parents separated when she was very young and and she was brought up by relatives in New York and New Jersey. She was educated at Rosehaven School in Tenafly, New Jersey and then Columbia High School in Maplewood, New Jersey, where she first displayed her acting talent with lead roles in school plays.

After graduation in 1937, she played for two years in summer stock at the Wharf Theatre in Provincetown, Massachusetts. She already knew that she wanted to be a professional actress and she changed her name, dropping the Muriel, after discovering that there was already a Muriel Wright working professionally on stage.

Her stock work led to Broadway in an understudy role as Emily in 'Our Town' and, in 1939, to the part of Mary Skinner in 'Life With Father' at the Empire Theatre, New York, which she played for two years. During this time she was seen by producer, Sam Goldwyn who was impressed by her unaffected, sensitive style and invited her to Hollywood and signed her to a 7 year contract.

Hollywood

Teresa insisted on some highly unusual clauses in her contract, refusing to take part in any of the usual 'glamor' publicity photos to which young starlets were subjected. It was a sign of the seriousness with which she viewed her acting career and the fact that Goldwyn agreed to it shows how highly he thought of the young actress.

Teresa had one of the most successful debuts in the history of Hollywood. She was nominated for an Academy Award for each of her first three films. Her first movie role was as the daughter of Bette Davis in The Little Foxes in 1941 for which she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress. The following year she was nominated for the Best Actress Award for her performance as Gary Coopers wife in The Pride of the Yankees. Also in 1942 she won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress playing Greer Garsons daughter-in-law in the wartime drama, Mrs. Miniver. Teresa remains unique to this day as the only performer to receive Oscar nominations for her first three films.

Teresa continued to appear in high quality films with top co-stars. In 1943 she performed beautifully as the young girl who discovers her much loved uncle is a murderer, in Hitchcock's A Shadow of a Doubt, co-starring Joseph Cotten.

Battling Goldwyn

The remainder of Teresas movie career was blighted by her dispute with Sam Goldwyn. Teresa maintained her stance from the start that she should be judged on her acting ability alone, and she had to fight the powerful Goldwyn for new and better roles. Surprisingly the only movie she made directly for Goldwyn was Mrs Miniver. All the others made whilst she was under contract were on loan to other studios. So, in 1944 she was loaned out again to the newly formed independent studio, International Pictures, to make Casanova Brown, a disappointing comedy. Although she co-starred with Gary Cooper the movie was poorly received.

After taking time off to have her first child, Teresa was next seen in 1946 in one of Hollywood's great classic films 'The Best Years of Our Lives', as the daughter of a returning ex-serviceman played by Fredric March. She received glowing reviews and the film won the Best Picture Oscar and was a massive box office hit. It was the most successful and prestigious film of her career but it did not prove to be a springboard to future movie success.

In 1947 Teresa went on loan yet again, this to time to Paramount, and appeared in two movies with Ray Milland, who was riding the crest of a wave after the success of 'The Lost Weekend' in 1945. 'The Imperfect Lady' and 'The Trouble with Women' both fared badly. After a good performance in a western, Raoul Walsh's 'Pursued' in 1947 with Judith Anderson and Robert Mitchum, and again on loan, this time to Warner Brothers, Teresa made what was to be her last movie under her Goldwyn contract.

End of Contract

'Enchantment', made in 1948, was one of the few films that Teresa made for Sam Goldwyn Productions. A wartime romance, co-starring David Niven and Farley Grainger, it was regarded as overly sentimental and was not well received, although Teresa, herself, was praised for her performance. Before the film was released, Teresa refused to do promotion work for it in New York, claiming that she was unwell. In a highly public disagreement with Goldywn, her contract, with several years left to run, was terminated. Unfazed, Teresa issued a statement welcoming the termination and looking forward to working for producers who would treat her with more respect.

For the rest of her movie career, Teresa worked on a freelance basis and the quality of her pictures fell, as did the payment she received. She appeared in one more classic movie, 'The Men', in 1950, directed by Fred Zinnemann and co-starring Marlon Brando in his debut film. The movie got excellent reviews but Teresa received $20,000 instead of the $125,000 she would have received as a studio actress.

From then on, with very few exceptions, Teresa's films were disappointing. 'Something to Live For' and 'California Conquest' in 1952, 'Every Minute Counts' in 1953, and 'Track of the Cat' in 1954 were all routine and forgettable although Teresa herself was invariably praised for her acting.

Typical was 'The Actress' in 1953 when, aged 34, she played to perfection a middle-aged housewife married to Spencer Tracy and mother of Jean Simmons (only 10 years younger.) Although her acting was sublime the movie sank at the box office.

'The Search for Bridey Murphy' in 1956 when she played a housewife being regressed in time under hypnosis was an interesting and unusual film and Teresa received her usual good reviews, but 'Escapade in Japan' in 1957 and 'The Restless Years' the following year were drab and unoriginal. In 1958 Teresa decided to retire from movies to concentrate on stage and television.

Stage and Television

Teresa did not appear on stage during the first spectacular ten years of her movie career but she returned to it in the early 1950s, beginning in regional theater in plays such as 'Salt of the Earth' in 1952 in New Haven, 'Bell, Book, and Candle' in Phoenix the following year and 'The Heiress' in Palm Springs in 1954. In 1957 she appeared once more on Broadway, performing for a year in William Inge's 'The Dark at the Top of the Stairs' and she continued to perform regularly on stage for the rest of her acting career.

Theatrical highlights include many classics such as 'Mary, Mary' in 1962, 'I Never Sang for My Father' in 1968, 'The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds' in 1972, 'Mornings at Seven' from 1980-1982 and a 1987 production of Shakespeare's 'Alls Well that Ends Well'. She also appeared in successful Broadway revivals including 'Death of a Salesman' in 1975 and 'On Borrowed Time' in 1991, both co-starring George C. Scott.

Teresa embraced the new medium of television from 1951 when she appeared in the live drama series Lux Video Theatre and for many years she was a frequent and popular performer on the small screen on other drama series such as Robert Montgomery Presents in 1952, The Star and the Story in 1955 and 1956, The United States Steel Hour from 1954 to 1962, The Wide World of Mystery in 1976 and The Love Boat in 1982.

During her long television career Teresa received three Emmy nominations for The Miracle Worker in 1957, The Margaret Bourke-White Story in 1960 and for a brief guesting role on Dolphin Cove in 1989.

Return to Movies

Although Teresa retired from full time movie work in 1958 she made several big screen appearances in character roles later in her career including 'Hail, Hero!' and 'The Happy Ending' in 1969, 'Roseland' in 1977, 'Somewhere in Time' with Christopher Reeve in 1980, 'The Good Mother' in 1988 and her final movie appearance, 'The Rainmaker' in 1997.

Personal

Teresas life was not fertile territory for gossip columnists. She was not a party girl and she stood out as one of the few actresses who did not try to use her beauty to advance her career. Quite the contrary, from the start of her career she insisted on being judged on her acting ability alone, completely shunning the traditional glamor role. She never appeared in the role of seductress or sex kitten, but rather the traditional, supportive and devoted wife or daughter.

She married twice. Her first husband was Niven Busch, a story editor for Sam Goldwyn. They were married in 1942 and had two children, a son in 1944 and a daughter in 1947. The marriage ended in 1952.

In 1959 Teresa married playwright and screenwriter, Robert Anderson, author of 'Tea and Sympathy' and 'I Never Sang for My Father'. Although they divorced in 1978, the couple remained close friends until Teresa's death.

Teresa Wright died on March 6, 2005 of a heart attack, in hospital in New Haven, Connecticut. She is interred at the New Haven Evergreen Cemetery.


Teresa Wright Academy Awards

One Win:
Best Supporting Actress ... Mrs Miniver (1942)
Two Unsuccessful Nominations:
Best Supporting Actress ... The Little Foxes (1941)
Best Actress ... The Pride of the Yankees (1942)


Teresa Wright Filmography

1940
1941
The Little Foxes
1944
Casanova Brown
1945
1947
Pursued
Mrs. Loring's Secret
The Trouble with Women
1948
Enchantment
1949
1950
The Capture
The Men
1951
1952
Something to Live For
California Conquest
The Steel Trap
1953
Every Minute Counts
The Actress
1954
Track of the Cat
1955
1956
The Search for Bridey Murphy
1957
Escapade in Japan
1958
The Restless Years
1959