When I found out a few weeks ago that Greer Garson was going to be TCM's Star of the Month for March, I was overjoyed. For those of you who do not know, this woman is my favorite actress -- has been since I was around 17 years old. And yet, my love for her was not instantaneous.
I had seen her in a couple of films prior to the onslaught of love, those films being Pride & Prejudice (1940) and The Valley of Decision (1946). I loved her in both, but I must have been too obsessed with Debbie Reynolds at the time to become enamored with anyone else. (Don't worry, Debbie, I still love you.) It was not until I saw Random Harvest (1942) that I completely, unabashedly fell head-over-heels with her.
If you've never seen Random Harvest, stop whatever you're doing and buy it. Right now. For those of you who have seen this classic, you know about Greer Garson's entrance. Aside from Bette Davis' shooting that guy in the beginning of The Letter, it may be the greatest film entrance of all time. Ronald Colman, playing the tongue-tied, shell-shocked WWI veteran who just peaced out of an asylum, is standing in a tobbaconist's shop (yes, definitely the first place I would go if I just rolled out of the looney bin), and all of a sudden you hear this voice. The voice, in tones of liquid velvet, asks, "You are from the asylum, aren't you?" You have just enough time to process the fact that this individual should be doing books on tape when the camera goes into a soft-angle close up of the face attached to the voice. That face. The incredible false eyelashes, the perfectly chiseled cheekbones, the cleft in her chin -- everything about her is just exquisite. After I picked my jaw up off the floor that fateful day, I actually watched the movie and couldn't believe what I was seeing. The story of Random Harvest is that of a chorus girl (Garson) who falls in love with and marries this amnesiac soldier (Colman), only to undergo more tragedy than I can even put into words. It has the potential to be schmaltzy, sappy, and completely unrealistic. But Greer Garson plays Paula Ridgeway in a way that makes her believable. There isn't a false note in Garson's portrayal. You believe her, you believe her improbable circumstances, and you root for her life to stop sucking so much. It was after watching that movie that I realized what an incredible performer she was. Regal and stiff-upper-lip she may have been, but she is also one of the warmest, most accessible personalities to have ever graced the silver screen. There's a reason why she was the Queen of MGM from 1939 to 1945. I've seen nearly every single thing she's ever been in, and while some of the films were mediocre (Adventure, I'm talkin' to you), she never turned in a mediocre performance.
Ironically, her performance in Random Harvest is one that was overshadowed by another film she made that year, Mrs. Miniver. She won the Academy Award for her portrayal of Kay Miniver, and rightly. It takes one heck of an actress to win an Academy Award for playing a housewife. And that's exactly what Greer Garson was -- one heck of an actress. She could have stood onscreen and read the phone book and it would still be one of the finest performances ever recorded. And, contrary to popular belief, she was versatile. Go watch her play an Irish maid in The Valley of Decision or a screwball actress in Julia Misbehaves. Look at her performance as Eleanor Roosevelt in Sunrise at Campobello or as a frontier girl (and brunette, no less!) in Mrs. Parkington. If you take the time to investigate her body of work, you will see what an incredible actress she truly was. (Oh, and let's not forget that time that she took over the role of Auntie Mame on Broadway when her friend, Rosalind Russell, left the stage to go film the movie. WHERE IS THE FOOTAGE OF THIS? I need to hear the words, "But darling, I'm your Auntie Mame!" issue forth from Greer Garson's mouth.)
Greer Garson was also a generally remarkable person. Most actresses peak in their 20s. In fact, the average age of the winner of the Academy Award is 26 according to something someone posted on Twitter last weekend. (Obviously, I'm not fact checking this because I'm just assuming all of the film buffs I follow on Twitter know what they're talking about. Apologies in advance if I'm wrong.) Garson didn't even make her first film until she was 34 years old. She went through two failed marriages, one of which ended after being subjected to verbal abuse and mental cruelty (Richard Ney, God rest his soul, should be glad I never met him in a dark alley) before finally marrying her soul mate, oil magnate Buddy Fogelson, at the age of 44. She loved the theatre (she first began acting on the London stage) and gave a great deal of money to the theatre program at Southern Methodist University in Texas to help fund the arts. She loved her fans, particularly the young ones, as evidenced by her cameos as herself in The Youngest Profession (aka my life story) and "Father Knows Best."
Greer Garson was intelligent, beautiful, witty, warm, and talented -- everything that every woman should aspire to be. The world is a better place for having once been home to this incredible individual. Make sure to catch as many of her films as you can every Monday this month on TCM this month, starting this Monday, March 4th, at 8 PM. You won't regret it.