Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Birthday Tribute to Greer Garson

I will never forget the first time I heard that voice.

"You are from the asylum, aren't you?"

It came from an unseen face. If velvet could speak, it would sound just like that. Oh, sure, I had heard the voice before, but it was not until that moment that I really, truly heard it. As the richness resonated in my ears, the soft-focus lens went to a close-up on the face belonging to the voice.

That face.

In my seventeen years of existence, I had never seen such a face. I had seen the face before, but, in the way that I had never really heard the voice, I had never really seen the face. It was magnificent. Radiant. The most exquisite thing I had ever seen. The soft, perfectly coiffed hair, the glistening eyes, the perfectly chiseled bone structure marked by high cheekbones, a beautiful jawline, and a cleft in the chin – how could anything so ethereal be real? The movie was Random Harvest (1942). The face was that of its star, Greer Garson. How could I have known what a defining moment that would be in my life? How could I have prepared myself for the inspiration I would find in this woman?

I had seen her in two films before. The first of these was The Valley of Decision (1945; a personal favorite). The second was Pride & Prejudice (1940), which I watched because I was going through an Olivier phase. But it was Random Harvest (1942) that really brought her to my attention. She was so beautiful; her voice was comparable to a piece of silk or a saucer of cream, and her every move was so, well, perfect. Bewitching. You couldn't look away out of fear that you would miss some subtle yet brilliant nuance of her acting. And then … she performed "She's Ma Daisy." In a kilt. With a Scottish accent. This charming woman, this paragon of perfection, had suddenly become a music hall performer. Vitality radiated from the top of her head to the tips of her toes. She was hilarious and brash and still just as poised and elegant as she could be.

This woman could do anything.

Greer Garson's 1939 film debut performance as Katherine Chipping in Goodbye, Mr. Chips brought her an Academy Award nomination. She brought tears to our eyes in the Technicolor treat Blossoms in the Dust (1941), schooled the proud Mr. Darcy in archery in Pride & Prejudice (1940), fought the Germans in her kitchen and gave an Academy Award-winning performance as Mrs. Miniver (1942), discovered radium as Madame Curie (1943), loved Walter Pidgeon in countless films such as Mrs. Parkington (1944), won the heart of a young Gregory Peck in The Valley of Decision (1945), made us laugh until we cried in Julia Misbehaves (1948), defied the segregation of Catholics and Protestants in Scandal at Scourie (1953), warned her husband of his impending death in Julius Caesar (1953), and threatened to bash a child's brain in Her Twelve Men (1954), among others. Be it comedy, drama, or Shakespeare, she did it all. And she did it well.

It's hard to say what has drawn me to Greer Garson for going on ten years now. Her beauty, her talent, her perfection are all undeniable, but there's something more. There's an electricity to everything she does. The way her eyes light up when she laughs, the way her jaw clenches and nostrils flare when she's upset, the truth behind everything she does – every gesture and word is filled with a great, intangible quality unlike anything I have ever seen before, and unlike anything we shall ever see again. She has inspired me as an actress and classic film buff. She has taught me that as a comedienne, beautiful and silly can go perfectly hand-in-hand. She has shown me as a person the importance of faith, compassion, strength and dedication. But most importantly, she has brought me immeasurable amounts of joy. She is a star whose luster can brighten up even the darkest nights, a source of warmth when the world around us turns cold.

Thank you, Greer Garson, for all that you have done and all that you will continue to do. You are beloved and missed more than you possibly know. Happy 109th birthday, Duchess.