Walter Pidgeon 1897-1984)

Walter Pidgeon
Walter Pidgeon

Walter Pidgeon was a Canadian actor who began his long movie career in the Silent era and went on to enjoy a period of great popularity in the 1930's and 1940's. He appeared in over 100 films including a number of top quality classics such as 'How Green is My Valley' in 1941, and 'Mrs Miniver' in 1942 and he was twice nominated for the Best Actor Academy Award, for 'Mrs Miniver' in 1942 and 'Madame Curie' in 1943.


He was born Walter Davis Pidgeon on September 23, 1897 in St. John, New Brunswick, Canada, the son of a shopkeeper. His father died when Walter was six. He had one elder brother, Larry, who became a journalist.

Early Years

After schooling in New Brunswick he attended the University of New Brunswick to study law and drama. It was in his drama classes that his powerful, baritone voice was noted as being exceptional. For the first time he considered a career in the musical theater.

He dropped out of his course in 1916 to join the 65th Battery of the Canadian Field Artillery during the first World War but he never saw action as he was seriously injured during training after being trapped between two moving gun carriages in Camp Petawawa, Ontario. He was laid up in an army hospital in Toronto for 17 months.

After the war, in 1918 he moved to Boston where he studied singing at the New England Conservatory of Music, working as a stock broker's runner to pay his way. He made his stage debut with the Boston Light Opera Company in George Bernard Shaw's 'You Never Can Tell' in 1923 and was then hired by entertainer Elsie Janis as her singing partner, appearing with her on Broadway in 'Puzzles of 1925'. Janis persuaded Pidgeon to keep his own, unusual surname, instead of the stage name, Verne, which he had started to use. Pidgeon's first wife, Edna, traveled with the company as an understudy for Janis.


In 1925, when he left the Elsie Janis tour, Pidgeon's striking good looks earned him a call from Hollywood and he was signed by producer Joseph M. Schenck. His first movie appearance was in 'Mannequin in 1926 and over the next few years he appeared in several more Silent films such as 'The Outsider' and 'Miss Nobody' in 1926, 'The Thirteenth Juror' in 1927 and 'Clothes Make the Woman' in 1928. In all these movies from the late Silent era, Pidgeon played strong supporting roles and he soon developed a reputation for reliability.


With the arrival of Sound, Pidgeon was able to put his strong, stage-trained voice to good use. He played important roles in the early Talkies, 'Her Private Life' and 'A Most Immoral Lady' in 1929, and the following year made a cameo appearance, along with Al Jolson and Ruby Keeler, in the musical 'Show Girl in Hollywood'. His first singing performance on film was later in 1930 in 'Viennese Nights' and he performed in another early musical in 'Toast of the Legion' in 1931.

Although as a singer at the outset of Sound, his career seemed to be progressing well, he in fact suffered from the rush of poor quality musicals being made at the time. The year 1930 alone saw the release of over 100 new movie musicals. The public became satiated and stayed away.

Pidgeon's movie career slowed down. He appeared in small roles in two dramas, 'The Kiss Before the Mirror' in 1933 and 'Journal of a Crime' the following year, but he returned to his first love, the stage. In 1935 he made no movie appearances and appeared in the plays 'Something Gay', 'Night of January 16th', and 'There's Wisdom in Women'. His movie career appeared to be ending just as it was beginning, but the most fruitful time of his career was just about to start.

Hollywood Star

In 1936 he appeared in two movies for Paramount, 'Big Brown Eyes' and 'Fatal Lady'. Although both films made a loss, Pidgeon's acting was impressive and he began to find movie offers coming in. He made three movies for Universal in 1937 followed by 'Saratoga' later in the year. The movie starred Jean Harlow and Clark Gable and was notable for the collapse and death of Jean Harlow, after playing a scene with Pidgeon.

He was now recognised as one of the top names in Hollywood and he began to get some good parts in quality films such as 'The Shopworn Angel' with James Stewart in 1938, 'Nick Carter, Master Detective' the following year and 'Dark Command' with John Wayne in 1940.

Pidgeon's career really took off in 1941 when he had starring roles in John Ford's "How Green Was My Valley" and Fritz Lang's "Man Hunt", both released that year. He also made 'Blossoms in the Dust', his first film with Greer Garson who was to figure large in the rest of his career.

Mrs Miniver 1942

Pidgeon starred with Greer Garson in the smash hit 'Mrs. Miniver' in 1942. The movie won six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actress, and Best Director, and Pidgeon was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar, losing out to James Cagney in 'Yankee Doodle Dandy'. 'Mrs. Miniver' was the top-grossing film of 1942 and the second biggest box-office hit of the decade, after 'Gone With The Wind'.

His partnership with Garson continued with 'Madame Curie' in 1944 for which he again received a Best Actor Award nomination. In all Pigeon went on to partner Greer Garson in eight movies, including 'Mrs. Parkington' in 1944 and 'That Forsyte Woman' in 1949.

During the 1950's Pidgeon's successful and prolific career continued. He co-starred with Dick Powell and Kirk Douglas in 'The Bad and the Beautiful' in 1952 and the following year in 'Million Dollar Mermaid', he played the father of Esther Williams. Also in 1953 he appeared in his eighth and final film with Greer Garson in 'Scandal at Scourie'. After co-starring with William Holden and Barbara Stanwyck in 'Executive Suite' in 1954 he appeared in the classic sci-fi movie 'Forbidden Planet' in 1956.

Later Career

In 1956 Pidgeon took a break from moviemaking and made a return to Broadway where he had a successful run of 271 performances starring in 'The Happiest Millionaire'. In 1959, he again had a starring role on Broadway in the musical 'Take Me Along' for which he was nominated for Broadway's Tony Award as Best Actor (Musical). His co-star, Jackie Gleason actually won the award.

In common with many other Hollywood stars, Pidgeon embraced the new medium of television, appearing on the small screen for the first time in the TV movie 'Swiss Family Robinson' in 1958, and he continued making regular appearances for the rest of his career on shows such as 'Rawhide', 'Dr. Kildare', 'Burke's Law' and 'The F.B.I.' He also appeared in many TV movies such as 'How I Spent My Summer Vacation' in 1967, 'The Mask of Sheba' in 1970, 'Murder on Flight 502' in 1975 and 'The Lindbergh Kidnapping Case' in 1976.

Pidgeon's movie career restarted in 1961 in 'Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea' and he continued in character, elder statesman roles in such films as 'Advise and Consent' in 1962, 'Funny Girl' in 1968 and 'Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood' in 1976.His last movie was with Mae West, also in her final movie appearance, in 'Sextette' in 1978. Pidgeon then retired from acting.


Pidgeon married twice. His first wife was Edna Pickles, known as Muriel, an actress whom he married in 1922. She died in childbirth in 1926 at the birth of their daughter, also called Edna. His mother Hannah relocated to California to help him care for his daughter.

In 1931 Pidgeon married his secretary, Ruth Walker, the marriage ending with his death.

The Canadian-born Pidgeon became a U.S. citizen in 1943 and he was an active President of the Screen Actors Guild for five years from 1952.

After suffering a series of strokes, Walter Pidgeon died on September 25, 1984 in Santa Monica, California. He was 87 years old.

Walter Pidgeon Academy Awards

No Wins:
Two Nominations:
Best Actor ... Mrs. Miniver (1942)
Best Actor ... Madame Curie (1943)

Walter Pidgeon Filmography

The Outsider
The Desert Healer
Miss Nobody
Marriage License?
Heart of Salome
The Thirteenth Juror
The Gorilla
The Gateway of the Moon
Woman Wise
Turn Back the Hours
Clothes Make the Woman
Melody of Love
The Voice Within
Her Private Life
A Most Immoral Lady
Show Girl in Hollywood
Lady of the Rose
Sweet Kitty Bellairs
The Gorilla
Viennese Nights
Going Wild
Toast of the Legion
The Hot Heiress
The Kiss Before the Mirror
Journal of a Crime
Good Badminton (Short)
Big Brown Eyes
Fatal Lady
She's Dangerous
Girl Overboard
As Good as Married
My Dear Miss Aldrich
A Girl with Ideas
The Girl of the Golden West
The Shopworn Angel
Too Hot to Handle
Listen, Darling
Society Lawyer
6,000 Enemies
Stronger Than Desire
Nick Carter, Master Detective
I Take This Woman (scenes deleted)
The House Across the Bay
It's a Date
Dark Command
Phantom Raiders
Sky Murder
Flight Command
Man Hunt
Blossoms in the Dust
How Green Was My Valley
Design for Scandal
Mrs. Miniver
White Cargo
The Youngest Profession
Madame Curie
Mrs. Parkington
Week-End at the Waldorf
Holiday in Mexico
The Secret Heart
Cass Timberlane
If Winter Comes
Julia Misbehaves
Command Decision
The Red Danube
The Forsyte Saga