Greer Garson’s warmth, charm and elegant intelligence made one of the most beloved actresses of
the classic move era.
She was born Eileen Evelyn Greer Garson in Manor Park, Essex(now
Greater London)England in 1904 the only child of George
Garson and Nancy “Nina” Sophia Greer(who died in 1958).
George Garson (1865-1906), although born in London, had
Scottish roots. He worked as a clerk. Sadly, when Greer was two years old
he died during an appendectomy. After her husband’s death Nina supported herself and
Eileen by managing townhouses that she and her husband owned.
Eileen proved to be a sickly child. She spent most of her first winters in bed, passing
the time by reading and studying. She spent the summers at her grandparent’s
place in Ireland.
In 1921, Eileen entered the King's College London where she remained for five
years earning degrees in French and 18th century literature. Then it was
off to France where she did post-graduate work at the University of
“I did not go to Grenoble with a definite scholastic aim in mind. I went–for the first time in my life–to
major in fun, and a very happy year it proved to be; fruitful too, in fun and color and romance and companionship,
if not in any solid additions to my academic credits,” she said.
While in France, she dove into a swimming pool seriously injuring her lumbar vertebrae in her
spine. She was forced to cut her stay in France short. She returned to
London where a chiropractor was able to heal the damage.
Although at one point Eileen had wanted to be a teacher, she found herself working in the research
library for the Lintas advertising agency in London. She also started
acting in local theatre productions.
Future actor George Sanders also worked at Lintas:
“I never lacked for excuses to wander into the office of that gorgeous redhead where I could feast my eyes on
her and enjoy her brilliant conversation,” recalled Sanders.
Eileen coaxed Sanders into joining her theatre group.
In January 1932 she started performing in the Birmingham Repertory Theatre. Her first stage
performance was as an American Jewish tenement girl in Street Scene.
Around this time, she was being courted by Edward Alec Abbott
Snelson. On the advice of family and friends and despite the fact that she did not
love him, Eileen married Snelson (1904-1992) on September 28th 1933.
They honeymooned in Germany. It didn’t take Greer long to discover he was
jealous, overly-possessive man. In total she was with Snelson for five days. She flew
back to London and he went to India where he had some business to attend
to. She asked for a divorce, but he refused.
She made her London stage debut in 1934 performing in The Tempest. It was
for the billing of The Tempest that she officially changed her name from “Eileen”
Garson to “Greer” Garson.
After two years of working for the Birmingham Repertory Theatre a bad bout of pneumonia forced
them to terminate her contract.
After she recovered, she then won a part in a London play called The Golden Arrow
with Laurence Olivier.
She also appeared in BBC’s early experimental television service. Among other productions she starred in a
30-minute version of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night with Dorothy Black – which was
to be the first time one of Shakespeare’s play was ever performed on TV.
In 1937, MGM head Louis B. Mayer while visiting London he saw
Greer perform in the play Old Music. He was immediately taken with
Greer and quickly offered her seven-year contract. However Greer wasn’t
interested in a film career because she felt she did not photograph well. The money and having an opportunity
to move to California which offered her mother a more agreeable climate though changed her
mind and she signed with Mayer.
On November 16, 1937, Greer and her mother set sail for America.
For a year
and a half no major roles came her way. She didn’t work at all in films as Greer refused to
act in small bit parts. She was finally given the lead in the film Dramatic School (1938),
but she had an horse riding accident and she reinjured her back. Luise Rainer got the part
She was then offered the role of Kathy Chipping in James Hilton’s Goodbye Mr.
Chips. Even though it was a relatively small part, she decided to do it. Filmed in
England, her role in Goodbye Mr. Chips won Greer her first Oscar
nomination (Vivien Leigh won the Oscar that year for her performance in
Gone with the Wind).
Also in 1939, she starred in the Remember? a minor comedy alongside Robert Taylor, Lew
Ayres and Billy Burke.
In 1940, Greer starred in Pride and Prejudice. It proved to be her
breakthrough role. No one seemed to notice that Greer, at 36 years of age, was playing the
role of a 20-year-old.
On May 8th, 1940 she finally received her divorce from Snelson.
In 1941, she starred in two films When Ladies Meet with Joan Crawford and
Robert Taylor and Blossoms in the Dust(filmed in
Technicolor) with Walter Pidgeon. In Blossoms in the
Dust, the audience got to see Greer’s flaming red hair. The film was
the biography of Edna Gladney who founded an orphanage in Fort Worth, Texas.
Her next film Mrs. Miniver received 12 Academy Award nominations - winning six:
best picture, best actress (Greer, of course) best supporting actress (Teresa
Wright), best director (William Wyler), best cinematography and best
It broke box-office records. President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill
labelled the film a great morale booster and urged people to go see it.
When accepting her Oscar, Greer spoke for five minutes and 30 seconds.
Because of Greer's speech, the Academy implemented a time limit for speeches.
During the filming she fell in love with and soon married the actor who played her son Richard
Ney (1915-2004). He was 28, Greer was 39. The studio was fearful that the
public would not react well to their union, but it didn’t hurt the picture’s box office appeal.
Next up was Random Harvest, which like Goodbye Mr.
Chips was based on a James Hilton novel. Her co-star was Ronald
Coleman. In it Greer performed a song and dance number. Random
Harvest received seven Academy Award nominations in total (Greer was not
She did receive best actress nominations for her next three pictures Madame Curie (1943)
with Walter Pidgeon; Mrs. Parkington (1944) also with Walter
Pidgeon and The Valley of Decision (1945) with Gregory Peck. This
gave her five consecutive best actress nominations tying her with Bette Davis (1939-1942) -- a
record that still stands today.
Greer was then partnered with Clark Gable for his first film back from serving
in World War II. The tag line for 1945’s Adventure was
“Gable’s back and Garson’s got him”. The film however flopped with
both critics and at the box office. Greer and Gable seemed to lack
chemistry and the film received mixed reviews.
On September 25, 1947 she divorced Richard Ney. Greer claimed he called her
a “has-been”, belittled her age and physical abused her during their marriage.
The quality of Greer’s movies and her popularity (along with MGM’s
popularity) dipped after World War II. The public’s taste in movies was changing. Big lavish
films were no longer in vogue. MGM decided to focus on message pictures that focused on
social issues. Women’s pictures (Greer’s specialty) were no longer their top
In 1947, she starred in Desire Me with Robert Mitchum. The production was
stress-filled as Mitchum did not get along with director George Cukor who as a
result was replaced by three more directors (Jack Conway, Mervyn LeRoy, Victor
Saville). The film was not a success. No director wanted his name attached to it and it
became the first MGM film released without a director credit.
During the Desire Me filming, Greer and co-star Richard Hart
were swept thirty feet along the shoreline by huge wave. They both suffered cuts and bruises and narrowly
missed being swept out to sea.
Her next film was the delightful comedy Julia Misbehaves (1948) with Walter Pidgeon,
Elizabeth Taylor, Peter Lawford and Cesar Romero.
It was during the Julia Misbehaves filming that she met Elijan “Buddy” Fogelson(1900-1987). They were married July 15th, 1949 shortly after Greer finished filming
That Forsyte Woman (1949) where she co-starred with Errol Flynn(with whom
she got along famously).
Happily married to Buddy, acting became less of a priority for Greer.
In 1950, Greer starred in a sequel to Mrs. Miniver (1942) called The
Miniver Story. It did poorly at the box-office and received less-than-enthusiastic reviews.
(Missing from the sequel was ex-husband Richard Ney who Greer had no interest
in making another film with.)
In 1951, she became an American citizen.
The highlight of Greer’s film work in the 50’s was
Julius Caesar (1953) which starred Marlon Brando in the title role.
Her MGM contract expired in 1954. In 1958, she replaced Rosalind Russell in
Auntie Mame on Broadway.
In 1960, she received her seventh and final Oscar nomination for Sunrise at Campobello(she
lost to Liz Taylor who won for her role in Butterfield 8). Greer played Eleanor Roosevelt.Ralph Bellamy played
Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
In 1965, the first Greer Garson Theatre was opened on the campus of the College of Santa
Fe in New Mexico. Greer and her husband donated the money for its
In 1966, she starred in The Singing Nun as Mother Prioress. She made her
last theatre-released film in 1967 when she co-starred with Fred MacMurray in The
Happiest Millionaire. In 1968, she narrated the children’s TV special The Little Drummer
Over the next years she did some television work including the movie Little Woman (1978) and a
guest appearance on The Love Boat.
Greer supported numerous civic and benevolent causes. She received honorary degrees
at various universities (and was named an adjunct professor at two universities).
In 1980, she suffered a minor stroke. In 1982, her husband Buddy was diagnosed with
Parkington’s disease. He passed away in 1987.
In 1988, Greer suffered another heart attack and went in for quadruple bi-pass surgery. In
1990, she received the Women’s International Center(WIC)Living Legacy
In 1993 the second Greer Garson Theatre was opened at the Meadows School of Arts
at Southern Methodist University. Unfortunately, Greer was too frail to
attend the dedication ceremony.
Greer Garson died from heart failure in Dallas on April 6th, 1996 at the age of
91. She’s interred at Sparkman-Hillcrest Memorial Park Cemetery.