Oscar Actors: Garson, Greer–Background, Career, Awards

Greer Garson Career Summary:

Occupational Inheritance: No

Social Class: Middle; father, commercial clerk in London importing business

Nationality: UK


Family: only child



Spotting/Discovery: Louis B. Mayer spotted her; MGM contract, 1937-1954

Teacher/Inspirational Figure:

Radio Debut:

TV Debut:

Stage Debut:

Broadway Debut:

Film Debut: Goodbye Mr Chips, 1939; aged 35

Breakthrough Role: Goodbye Mr Chips, 1939; aged 35

Oscar Role: Mrs. Miniver, 1942; aged 37

Other Noms: 7

Other Awards:

Frequent Collaborator: Walter Pidgeon, 8 films

Screen Image: Noble lady; biopics

Last Film:

Career Output: small

Film Career Span: 1939-1966; 27 years, but mostly 1940s

Marriage: 3, one to actor (her junior)

Politics: Republican

Death: 91

Eileen Evelyn Greer Garson CBE (29 September 1904–April 6, 1996) was an English actress and singer. She was a major star at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer popularized during the Second World War for her portrayal of strong women on the home front.

She was listed by the Motion Picture Herald as one of America’s top-ten box office draws from 1942 to 1946.

Garson received seven Academy Award nominations, including a record-tying five consecutive nominations (1941–45) in the Best Actress category, winning the award for her performance in the title role of the 1942 film Mrs. Miniver.

Greer Garson was born on September 29, 1904 in Manor Park, East Ham (then in Essex, now part of London), the only child of Nancy Sophia “Nina” (née Greer; 1880-1958) and George Garson (1865–1906), a commercial clerk in a London importing business. Her father was born in London to Scottish parents, and her mother was born at Drumalore (usually spelled as Drumalure or Drumaloor), a townland near Belturbet in County Cavan, Ireland. The name Greer is a contraction of MacGregor, another family name.

Her maternal grandfather David Greer (c. 1848-1913 from Kilrea, County Londonderry), was an RIC sergeant stationed in Castlewellan, County Down. In the 1870s or 1880s he became a land steward to the wealthy Annesley family, who built the town of Castlewellan. While there, he lived in a large detached house called “Clairemount”, which was built on the lower part of what was known as Pig Street, or locally known as the Back Way, near Shilliday’s builder’s yard. It was often erroneously reported Greer Garson was born there (The Macmillan International Film Encyclopedia gives her place of birth as County Down, and year of birth as 1908).

Garson read French and 18th-century literature at King’s College London and did her postgraduate studies at the University of Grenoble. While aspiring to be an actress, she was appointed head of the research library of LINTAS in the marketing department of Lever Brothers. Her co-worker there, George Sanders, wrote in his autobiography that it was Garson who suggested he take up a career in acting.

Garson’s early professional appearances were on stage, starting at Birmingham Repertory Theatre in January 1932, when she was 27 years old. She appeared on television during its earliest years (the late 1930s), most notably starring in a 30-minute production of an excerpt of Twelfth Night in May 1937, with Dorothy Black. These live transmissions were part of the BBC’s experimental service from Alexandra Palace, and this is the first known instance of a Shakespeare play performed on TV.

In 1936, she appeared in the West End in Charles Bennett’s play Page From a Diary.

Louis B. Mayer discovered Garson while he was in London looking for new talent. Garson was signed to a contract with MGM in late 1937, but did not begin work on her first film, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, until late 1938. She received her first Oscar nomination for the role but lost to Vivien Leigh for Gone with the Wind. She received critical acclaim the next year for her role as Elizabeth Bennet in the 1940 film Pride and Prejudice.

Garson starred with Joan Crawford in When Ladies Meet, a 1941 poorly received and sanitized re-make of a Pre-Code version of the same name, which had starred Ann Harding and Myrna Loy.

That same year, she became a major box-office star with the sentimental Technicolor drama Blossoms in the Dust, which brought her the second of five consecutive Best Actress Oscar nominations, tying Bette Davis’s 1938–1942 record, which still stands.

Garson starred in two Academy Award nominated films in 1942: Mrs. Miniver and Random Harvest. She was nominated and won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance as a strong British wife and mother protecting the home front during World War II in Mrs. Miniver, which co-starred Walter Pidgeon.

The Guinness Book of World Records credits her with the longest Oscar acceptance speech, at 5 minutes and 30 seconds, after which the Academy Awards instituted a time limit.

In Random Harvest she co-starred with Academy Award winning actor Ronald Colman. The powerful, romantic World War I drama, set at the end of the war, with Colman as an amnesiac soldier and Garson as his love interest, received seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Actor for Coleman and Best Picture. The film lost in all seven categories, with the Best Picture award going to Garson’s other major film that year, Mrs. Miniver.[15] However, The American Film Institute ranked it #36 on its list of 100 Greatest Love Stories of All Time, and it was one of Garson’s favorite films.

Garson also received Oscar nominations for her performances in the films Madame Curie (1943), Mrs. Parkington (1944), and The Valley of Decision (1945). She frequently co-starred with Walter Pidgeon, ultimately making eight pictures with him: Blossoms in the Dust (1941), Mrs. Miniver (1942), Madame Curie, Mrs. Parkington, Julia Misbehaves (1948), That Forsyte Woman (1949), The Miniver Story (1950), and Scandal at Scourie (1953).[16]

Garson was partnered with Clark Gable after his return from war service in Adventure (1945). The film was advertised with the catch-phrase “Gable’s back, and Garson’s got him!”. Gable argued for “He put the Arson in Garson”; she countered with “She put the Able in Gable!”; thereafter, the safer catchphrase was selected.

Garson’s popularity declined somewhat in the late 1940s, but she remained a prominent film star until the mid-1950s. In 1951, she became a naturalized citizen of the US.

She made only a few films after her MGM contract expired in 1954.

In 1958, she received a warm reception on Broadway in Auntie Mame, replacing Rosalind Russell, who had gone to Hollywood to make the film version. In 1960, Garson received her seventh and final Oscar nomination for Sunrise at Campobello in which she played Eleanor Roosevelt, this time losing to Elizabeth Taylor for BUtterfield 8.

Greer was a special guest on an episode of the TV series Father Knows Best, playing herself.  On 4 October 1956, Garson appeared with Reginald Gardiner as the first two guest stars of the series in the premiere of NBC’s The Ford Show, Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford. She appeared as a mystery guest on What’s My Line on 25 October 1953 and again on 6 April 1958 to promote her appearance on stage in Auntie Mame.

She also served as a panelist rather than a guest on the What’s My Line episode which aired on 12 May 1957.

She returned to MGM for a role in The Singing Nun (1966) starring Debbie Reynolds. Her last film appearance was in the 1967 feature, Walt Disney’s The Happiest Millionaire, although she made infrequent TV appearances afterwards.

In 1968, she narrated the children’s television special The Little Drummer Boy.

Her final role for TV was in a 1982 episode of The Love Boat.

Garson was married three times. Her first marriage, on 28 September 1933, was to Edward Alec Abbot Snelson (1904–1992), later Sir Edward, a British civil servant who became a noted judge and expert in Indian affairs. After a honeymoon in Germany, he returned to his appointment at Nagpur, a town in central India, and she chose to return to her mother and the theatre in Britain. Sir Edward reportedly grieved at losing her and would watch multiple screenings of any film of hers that played in Nagpur. The marriage was not formally dissolved until 1943.

Her second marriage, July 24, 1943, was to Richard Ney (1916–2004), a young actor who had played her son in Mrs. Miniver. The relationship was under constant scrutiny owing to their 12-year age difference. MGM tried to publicize that Garson was merely 3 years older than Ney and to portray the image of a happy couple, but the marriage was troubled. They divorced in 1947 after several attempts at reconciliation. Ney eventually became a stock-market analyst, financial consultant, and author.

Her third marriage in 1949, was to millionaire Texas oilman and horse breeder, E.E. “Buddy” Fogelson (1900–1987).  In 1967, the couple retired to their Forked Lightning Ranch in New Mexico. They purchased the US Hall of Fame champion Thoroughbred Ack Ack from the estate of Harry F. Guggenheim in 1971, and were successful as breeders. They also maintained a home in Dallas, where Garson funded the Greer Garson Theatre facility at Southern Methodist University. She founded a permanent endowment for the Fogelson Honors Forum at Texas Christian University (TCU), Buddy Fogelson’s alma mater, in nearby Fort Worth.

In 1951, Garson became a dual citizen of the United Kingdom and the United States. She was a registered Republican and in 1966 was asked to run for Congress on the Republican ticket against Democrat Earle Cabell but declined. She was a devout Presbyterian.

Garson was recognized for her philanthropy and civic leadership. She donated several million dollars for the construction of the Greer Garson Theatre at both the Santa Fe University of Art and Design and at Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts on three conditions: 1) the stages be circular, 2) the premiere production be A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and 3) they have large ladies’ rooms.

The actress suffered a back injury during her first 18 months at MGM while waiting for a role Mayer deemed worthy of her, and was nearly released from her contract. Her back was injured again while filming Desire Me in Monterey on 26 April 1946 when a wave knocked her and co-star Richard Hart from the rocks where they were rehearsing. A local fisherman and extra in the film rescued Garson from the surf and potential undertow. She was bruised and in shock and required by doctors to rest for several days. The injury to her back would require several surgeries over the coming years.

Garson lived her final years in a penthouse suite at the Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas, where she died from heart failure on 6 April 1996, at the age of 91.

Garson received an honorary Doctor of Arts degree from Southern Methodist University in 1991.

In 1993, Queen Elizabeth II recognized Garson’s achievements by investing her as Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).

Garson received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on 8 February 1960 located at 1651 Vine Street in Los Angeles, CA.


1939 Goodbye, Mr. Chips Katherine Chipping Nominated – Academy Award for Best Actress
Remember? Linda Bronson Holland
1940 The Miracle of Sound Herself Colour test for Blossoms in the Dust
Pride and Prejudice Elizabeth Bennet
1941 Blossoms in the Dust Edna Kahly Gladney Nominated – Academy Award for Best Actress
When Ladies Meet Mrs. Claire Woodruff
1942 Mrs. Miniver Mrs. Kay Miniver Academy Award for Best Actress
Random Harvest Paula Ridgeway
1943 The Youngest Profession Herself – Guest Star
Madame Curie Marie Curie Nominated – Academy Award for Best Actress
1944 Mrs. Parkington Susie “Sparrow” Parkington Nominated – Academy Award for Best Actress
1945 The Valley of Decision Mary Rafferty Nominated – Academy Award for Best Actress
Adventure Emily Sears
1947 Desire Me Marise Aubert
1948 Julia Misbehaves Julia Packett
1949 That Forsyte Woman Irene Forsyte
1950 Screen Actors Herself Short subject, uncredited
The Miniver Story Mrs. Kay Miniver
1951 The Law and the Lady Jane Hoskins
1953 Scandal at Scourie Mrs. Victoria McChesney
Julius Caesar Calpurnia
1954 Her Twelve Men Jan Stewart
1955 Strange Lady in Town Dr. Julia Winslow Garth

1956 The Little Foxes Regina Giddens TV Movie

1960 Sunrise at Campobello Eleanor Roosevelt Golden Globe for Best Actress-Drama,
National Board of Review Award for Best Actress, Oscar Nom
Pepe Herself Cameo
Captain Brassbound’s Conversion Lady Cicely Waynflete TV Movie
1963 Invincible Mr. Disraeli Mary Anne Disraeli TV Movie

1966 The Singing Nun, Mother Prioress

1967 The Happiest Millionaire Mrs. Cordelia Biddle

1968 The Little Drummer Boy “Our Story Teller” Credited as Miss Greer Garson

1974 Crown Matrimonial, Queen Mary TV Movie

1976 The Little Drummer Boy, Book II “Our Story Teller” Credited Miss Greer Garson

1978 Little Women, Aunt Kathryn March TV Miniseries

1986 Directed by William Wyler Herself Documentary

Box Office Ranking

Year US Rank UK Rank
1942 9th
1943 6th 1st
1944 6th 3rd
1945 3rd 3rd
1946 7th 4th
Television appearances
Year Title Role Notes
1958 What’s My Line Mystery Guest Airdates: October 25, 1953
April 6, 1958
1955 Producers’ Showcase Elena Krug Episode: “Reunion in Vienna”
1956-1960 General Electric Theater Various 3 Episodes
1957 Telephone Time Liza Richardson
Father Knows Best Herself
1962 The DuPont Show of the Week Juliette Harben
1968-1970 Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In Guest Performer 5 Episodes
1970 The Virginian Frances B. Finch
1982 The Love Boat Alice Bailey Episode: “The Tomorrow Lady”
Radio appearances
Year Program Episode/source
1946 Academy Award Brief Encounter[39]
1946 Lux Radio Theatre Mrs. Parkington[40]
1952 Lux Radio Theatre The African Queen[41]
1953 Suspense ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas