Friday, July 12, 2013

Walter Pidgeon and Greer Garson - A Dynamic Duo

The Classic Movie Hub and Once Upon a Screen are co-hosting The Dynamic Duo blogathon, a thrilling collection of posts from over 50 different blogs highlighting the most memorable teams ever to grace the silver screen - and the small tele. Our choice of pair is handsome Walter Pidgeon and the always graceful Greer Garson. 


Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon were the epitome of enduring love. In the majority of their films together they played married couples, a husband and wife perfectly balanced : Garson's dignified but gentle and kind nature opposite Pidgeon's strong and stable nature. They were a match made in MGM Studio's heaven and were one of Hollywood's most durable box-office teams. Off screen they were life-long friends. ''I did eight pictures with that gal and we never had a bad word between us,'' Pidgeon once told an interviewer.

In 1937, during a trip to London, MGM's head Louis B. Mayer's noticed Greer Garson in a dramatic play called "Old Music", and being very much impressed with her demeanor he quickly signed her to a contract. MGM had recently scored successes with Boys Town and Men of Boys Town, two films dealing with child welfare, and so, in 1940, Louis B. Mayer decided that adapting Ralph Wheelwright's best selling novel "Blossoms in the Dust" would be a great follow-up film and an excellent vehicle to showcase his new lovely leading lady, Greer Garson, who had triumphed as Robert Donat's wife in Goodbye Mr. Chips ( 1939 ) and opposite Laurence Olivier in Pride and Prejudice ( 1940 ).
 

Garson would be teamed with Walter Pidgeon, one of MGM's most seasoned actors, having gone through the fire of refinery by starring in a string of successful B films as detective Nick Carter. The rugged Canadian had first met Ms.Garson in a screen test and had quipped, "I'll bet we're starring together and running this studio before you know it!". Prophetic words.

Blossoms in the Dust was a heartwarming drama about Edna Gladney, a welfare worker for children who was spurned on in her maternal efforts to help children find a good home through the premature death of her own dearly loved son. The film had an air of gentility and quiet gallantry which set the tone for Garson and Pidgeon's subsequent teamings, most notably Mrs. Miniver, their second film together and one of their most fondly remembered films today.

The Minivers were an average British couple who braved the Blitz heroically, remaining courageous and hopeful even when the deaths of those near and dear to them hit hard. Although war and its ravaging effects was spreading like wildfire across Europe and Great Britain, the Miniver's proved that bravery and stability still remained in England, if not in the land at whole but within each citizen's hearts. 



Independently the fight could be daunting, but together they became an indestructible rock. As a couple, they depended on each other and drew off of each other for strength and encouragement. This was to be one of their strongest assets as a team.

Mrs. Miniver was an enormous critical and box-office success. Movie-goers around the world thrilled to it and President Roosevelt was so impressed with the film - and its propaganda value - that he ordered millions of leaflets containing the vicar's speech near the end of the picture to be scattered over occupied Europe by Allied warplanes. 


Mrs. Miniver was followed by the equally successful Madame Curie ( 1943 ), an autobiographical account of the Curie's quest to discover radium. Walter Pidgeon claimed this was his favorite film to make, and in his opinion, one of his best performances. 

While they portrayed the ideal married couple on screen, off screen there was no romantic involvement between the actors. Walter Pidgeon was wed in 1931 to his second wife, Ruth Walker and they remained happily married until his death in 1984. Greer Garson's first marriage had ended during the honeymoon. The same year that Madame Curie was released, 
Garson wed Richard Ney, the young actor who had played her son in Mrs. Miniver. Despite the fourteen year age gap, they had fallen in love during the making of the film but due to pressure from MGM postponed their nuptials until after Miniver's release. The marriage would not last. Within four years they were divorced. It was not until she met E.E Fogelson during the making of Julia Misbehaves that she found lasting love. They were married until his death in 1987. 



Garson and Pidgeon's next project together was an adaption of Louis Bromfield's novel "Mrs. Parkington". Set in the late 1800s, it followed the life of an Irish girl in America, from her early days helping her mother run a hotel out west, to her marriage to the illustrious Major Parkington, and their rise to becoming one of the most powerful industrialists in the states. It also followed - in the years ahead - what became of their children and grandchildren. This allowed Greer Garson to be "aged" from a young woman to an elderly matriarch in her eighties. Pidgeon was excellent as the rambunctious Major, ready to face any challenge that may come to America, but unaware of the tempest brewing within his own home.  


Walter Pidgeon was busy in the mid 1940s making films such as Weekend at the Waldorf, The Secret Heart and If Winter Comes while Greer Garson made The Valley of Decision and the ill-fated Adventure. By 1948, the powers-that-be at MGM thought it was time to re-team the golden couple, but fearing the public's disinterest in noble portrayals, they decided to cast the duo in a comedy - Julia Misbehaves. This proved to be a mistake. Although the film had a great cast including Elizabeth Taylor and Peter Lawford, Garson was much too prim for the flippant role of a mother who abandons her children and home-life for the stage. Her new hairstyle was not nearly as flattering either!

And so, the following year they returned to the splendor of the Gilded Age in That Forsyte Woman, an adaptation of John Galsworthy's novel "A Man of Property", part one of his epic Forsyte Saga. Errol Flynn gave one of his best performances as Soames Forsyte, the wealthy heir who dearly loved Irene ( Garson ) but, once again, it was gentle Walter Pidgeon who won her hand at the end. 




Television was slowly creeping its way into America's living rooms and the big movie studios were seeing their cash-flow slipping away. With nostalgic fortitude, MGM turned to trying to recapture its past magic with re-releases of its former box-office successes as well as turning to sequels. The Miniver Story was one such try which also proved to be a failure. It's somber tone was not welcome when audiences were clambering back to the theatres to watch grand musicals in glorious Technicolor. 

Their last picture together would be in "Scandal at Scourie" made three years later. This color melodrama returned to the theme of their first film - orphans. This time, instead of aiding orphans, they were fighting for the opportunity to keep a little girl that caught their fancy. 



Walter Pidgeon and Greer Garson were both extremely talented actors and, unlike many other actors of the era, were very much in real life the characters they portrayed so often onscreen. This brought to their characters and the pictures themselves an honesty that kept them from becoming trite.  

Garson once defined in an interview what she considered a film ought to achieve,  " I think the mirror should be tilted slightly upward when it's reflecting life -- toward the cheerful, the tender, the compassionate, the brave, the funny, the encouraging, all those things -- and not tilted down to the gutter part of the time, into the troubled vistas of conflict."

As a couple onscreen, Walter Pidgeon and Greer Garson often showed us how to live life by looking on the brighter side, ever remaining hopeful despite what conditions you face, and always helping your fellow man knowing that he often faces similar struggles.


To read about more Dynamic Duos check out the complete list of participating blogs at Once Upon a Screen, or The Classic Movie Hub. 

20 comments:

  1. Walter Pidgeon and Greer Garson make a great partnership! The only films with them together that I've seen so far are 'Mrs Miniver' and 'That Forsyte Woman', but I'd love to see more - your piece has reminded me that I recorded 'Blossoms in the Dust' a while back but haven't watched it yet, so I will do so soon!

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    1. I'm glad this post inspires to watch more of their films! Yes, check out Blossoms in the Dust, it's very touching.

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    2. Be sure to watch Madame Curie. In my opinion, their best acting together in any movie they made. I love that movie!

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  2. They were indeed the perfect couple. My favourite will always be Mrs Miniver.

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    1. I agree, Mrs.Miniver is a true gem of a film and I think most people feel it's their best work together.

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  3. Lovely look at two of my favourite movie stars. The last time I saw them together was many years ago on the AFI salute to William Wyler. They looked very happy in each other's company, teasing each other as only real old friends can do.

    PS: I think the world owes "The Miniver Story" a second look.

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    1. Thank you for saying that Caftan Woman! I was thinking as I was writing about the film..."it's been an awfully long time since I've seen that film, maybe it's better than I remembered". Actually, every film deserves second looks. So many movies I dismissed when young seem so much better now ( and vice versa in some rare cases! ).

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    2. "The Miniver Story" grows better with more viewings. Greer's understated performance is affecting and haunting. My favorite scene? In the doctor's office.

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  4. Wonderful tribute to both Walter Pidgeon and Greer Garson. I was happily surprised to read Pidgeon`s quote about not having a bad word between them in the 8 movies they made together.

    Thanks for including this in the Blogathon. :)

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    1. Thank you! Yes, that would of been sad had they disliked each other off screen and we were just watching them "act" kindly towards each other. Although, even the best of actors never truly are able to mask their feelings. You can really tell that Garson and Pidgeon counted each other dear.

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    2. Miss Garson said has said the same thing about Walter...no cross words..ever!

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  5. I enjoyed your post -- and what a great duo to highlight! I've always enjoyed the performances of Garson and Pidgeon, but never knew they were friends in real life as well. My favorites are Mrs. Parkington and The Valley of Decision. Blossoms in the Dust is the only one I've never seen -- I will have to hunt it down.

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    1. Yes, try and find Blossoms in the Dust if you can. Although sad, it's a great film and has alot of fine moments. We're glad you enjoyed our post!

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  6. Re Pidgeon's comment about Garson - she is also on record as having said about him " ..A darling man, a darling man, solid gold!". One of thier favourite forms of teasing each other was sharing limmericks they'd made up themselves (they were famous for it at MGM) and some of them were actually quite naughty. G did one for P when he was doing Weekend at the Waldorf -
    "There was a young maid from Peoria
    Who was had by Sir Gerald DuMaurier,
    And five other men,
    Then Sir Gerald (again),
    And the band at the Waldorf Astoria."

    P passed that one on to LB Meyer which rather shocked him (that G had made it up! He was a bit prim and didn't like to think that G wasn't always ..). Then P did a very naughty one for G when she was doing Random Harvest (and if you don't know what it refers to then you haven't seen the film - one of the greatest ever!) -
    "If my skirt gets any shorter
    Said Greer Garson with a blush
    There’ll be two more cheeks to powder
    And a lot more hair to brush!"

    I bet that one made her squeal. They were such good buddies.

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    1. Oh, my! Where did you find those!? I know they joked around a lot.

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  7. I don't know if you remember me, but I'm a former member of the CFU. I wanted to say that I enjoyed very much your blog about what is one of my favorite on screen couples!! I've seen six of their movies by now. I haven't seen Madame Curie and Scandal at Scourie yet. But you know, while I enjoyed all of them (though I found a little strange the plot in That Forsyte Woman), my favorites are the two Miniver movies and Julia Misbehaves!! But don't worry!! I enjoyed your blog very much!! And I'm glad you gave this tribute to this couple!! It was a very caring article! Oh did you know that Greer Garson on the MGM lot was known as "the day-time Mrs Pidgeon"? I think that's awfully cute!!

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    1. You MUST watch Madame Curie! It's one of their best if not the best!

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  8. Best MGM's loveteam! I love the mrs.miniver,julia misbehaves & scandal at scourie. I havent seen madam curie but i'd bet its good too.

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  9. I adore all their other films, and I've seen all of them, but 'Julia Misbehaves' holds a special place in my heart. It's just so delightfully fun! I love seeing them joke around with each other and the scene in the cabin gets me every time. So romantic! It's the movie I watch whenever I'm sick or sad. It's my happy place =)

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