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Actress Greer Garson on TCM: The 1940s’ ‘Queen of MGM’

actress Greer GarsonActress Greer Garson was the 1940s’ Queen of MGM: Turner Classic Movies’ “Summer Under the Stars” series devotes a whole day to the Pride and Prejudice and Mrs. Miniver star.
  • TCM’s “Summer Under the Stars” schedule – Aug. 14: Turner Classic Movies will be airing 12 titles starring Greer Garson, the 1940s’ Queen of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer lot.
  • This Greer Garson article includes a brief overview of three of her TCM films: When Ladies MeetThe Law and the Lady, and The Valley of Decision.

TCM’s ‘Summer Under the Stars’ schedule on Aug. 14: Focus on red-haired, aristocratic British beauty Greer Garson, the 1940s’ ‘Queen of MGM’

Ramon Novarro biography Beyond Paradise

Turner Classic Movies’ “Summer Under the Stars” schedule – Aug. 14: TCM will be presenting 12 titles starring Greer Garson, Norma Shearer’s successor as the Queen of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer lot.

Regal but gracious in looks and manner, and gifted with a silvery voice that added a soothing lilt to her line delivery, the English-born Garson was both a major box office draw and a prestige performer: Random Harvest, Mrs. Miniver, and Adventure were among Hollywood’s biggest hits of the 1940s, while Garson was personally honored with six Best Actress Academy Award nominations between 1939–1945 (winning once for Mrs. Miniver, 1942)[1].

That near-annual Oscar record[2] – six nominations over the course of seven years – is matched only by another studio queen of that era, Warner Bros.’ Bette Davis, who received six nods between 1938–1944.

And yet Garson’s stature as a film legend isn’t as imposing as that of Davis or Katharine Hepburn or Joan Crawford or Greta Garbo. But it should be.

Even though it’s true that we live in an era where someone as formally ladylike as Greer Garson could never, ever become a mainstream, box-office-friendly star, those unfamiliar with her work owe it to themselves to check her out on TCM, as Garson, even within the limitations of her MGM persona, could be an outstanding actress. Besides, there’s the historical element: She is a representation of womanhood that has gone the way of the dodo birds.

Garson’s best showcase, Mervyn LeRoy’s marvelously absurd Random Harvest, isn’t part of the TCM schedule*. But any of the other titles is worth a first look, while several are deserving of a second (or a third…) visit, among them Robert Z. Leonard’s masterfully Hollywoodized 1940 transfer of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, with Garson, then in her mid-30s, convincingly playing the 20-year-old Elizabeth Bennett.

Below is a brief overview of three Greer Garson movies: When Ladies Meet, The Law and the Lady, and The Valley of Decision. (See TCM’s Greer Garson “Summer Under the Stars” schedule further below. Most titles will remain available for a while on the Watch TCM app.)

* Random Harvest will be aired on Ronald Colman Day, Aug. 15.

When Ladies Meet (1941)

A profitable hit, Robert Z. Leonard’s When Ladies Meet works in two ways: As a fantastic actresses’ showcase and as a historical Hollywood curiosity, representing the change of the guard at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Although top billing went to Joan Crawford, a star since the late silent era and with only two more years to go at MGM, When Ladies Meet actually belongs to third-billed Greer Garson (Robert Taylor is the second name in the credits), soon to become the Culver City studio’s top female star.

Aptly cast and lovingly photographed, Garson exudes intelligence and warmth in the role first played on the big screen by the 1930s’ personification of noble womanhood, RKO’s patrician blonde Ann Harding, who starred in Harry Beaumont’s 1933 version while on loan to MGM.* (With less screen time, future superstar Myrna Loy had Crawford’s part.)

Bear in mind that the 1941 movie starts out a bit slowly, but don’t give up on it. Once the spotlight falls on Crawford and Garson, who just happen to be sharing the same Connecticut house and the same Herbert Marshall (romantic interest to the former,** husband to the latter), When Ladies Meet becomes irresistible.

Anita Loos and S.K. Lauren were credited for this adaptation of Rachel Crothers’ 1932 play.†

Curiously, the 1933 and the 1941 versions received one Oscar nomination apiece, in both instances for Best Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons in 1933; Gibbons, associate art director Randall Duell, and set designer Edwin B. Willis in 1941 (in the Black and White subcategory).

* Coincidentally, Robert Z. Leonard reportedly shot retakes for the Ann Harding version.

** Two years earlier, Joan Crawford had found herself in a similar situation in The Women (also cowritten by Anita Loos), in which she (temporarily) gets Norma Shearer’s husband.

† On Broadway, the cast consisted of Selena Royle as the wife, Frieda Inescort as the lover, and former silent era star Herbert Rawlinson as the husband. Frank Morgan was miscast as the husband in the 1933 movie.

The Law and the Lady (1951)

Though hardly one of the more renowned Greer Garson star vehicles, the witty, great-looking The Law and the Lady is one of her very best efforts.

Garson, in fact, is excellent as a lady’s maid (referred to as a “girl” at one point, though the actress was 46–47 at the time)* who joins forces with a con artist and jewel thief, played with flair by recent British import Michael Wilding, a handsome, capable performer who, after becoming a superstar in Britain following a series of hits opposite Anna Neagle, should have enjoyed a far more rewarding Hollywood career.†

Unfortunately, The Law and the Lady bombed in the domestic market (it performed somewhat better elsewhere), which meant no more Garson-Wilding pairings. A cinematic tragedy.

It was also a tragedy that Michael Wilding wasn’t around in Hollywood in the early 1940s. Even if eight years younger than Garson, he would have been an ideal leading man for her in place of the not unlikable but stolid Walter Pidgeon.

Directed by Edwin H. Knopf (brother of publisher Alfred A. Knopf), The Law and the Lady has no connection to William Wilkie Collins’ 1875 novel of the same name. Instead, it was MGM’s third version of Frederick Lonsdale’s 1925 play The Last of Mrs. Cheyney, following those starring Norma Shearer (1929) and Joan Crawford (1937). (Lilli Palmer would also star in a German-made 1961 version of the story.)

* Greer Garson had played women from “the lower classes” before – e.g., Mrs Parkington, The Valley of Decision.

† Check out the Joan Crawford musical Torch Song, in which Michael Wilding is great in what otherwise would have been a thoroughly forgettable role.

Greer Garson The Valley of Decision Gregory PeckGreer Garson in The Valley of Decision, with Gregory Peck: This 1945 period drama earned Garson her sixth Best Actress Oscar nomination. Peck was a Best Actor nominee that same year, but for John M. Stahl’s The Keys of the Kingdom at 20th Century Fox.

The Valley of Decision (1945)

A mashup of Upstairs Downstairs and How Green Was My Valley (minus the coalminers), Tay Garnett’s romantic drama The Valley of Decision stars Greer Garson as an Irish housemaid who begins a liaison with the handsome son (Gregory Peck, nearly 12 years her junior) of her boss (How Green Was My Valley Oscar winner Donald Crisp), owner of a steel mill in 1870s Pittsburgh.

The issue here isn’t confined to class disparities, as labor unrest and the cruelty of unbridled capitalism are brought to the fore as well. Ultimately, Garson’s heroine finds herself in an awkward spot: On one side, the family of the man she loves; on the other, her own striking family and friends.

Labor unrest, of course, is a topic that those around in the 2020s can readily relate to, as “post”-pandemic strikes seem to be taking place in every professional field all over the globe, from actors and writers in Hollywood to air transport personnel in Italy, metalworkers in Argentina, and health workers in South Korea. As they say, the more things change…

A huge box office hit, The Valley of Decision earned Garson her fifth consecutive (sixth overall) Best Actress Oscar nomination. She lost to her When Ladies Meet costar, Joan Crawford, for Warner Bros.’ Mildred Pierce.

Note: TCM’s The Valley of Decision print does not do justice to this MGM release (cinematography by Joseph Ruttenberg); even so, watching a subpar print is better than not being able to watch the movie at all. Regardless, it’s a disgrace that in all these years the powers-that-be at Warner Bros. (which owns most of the MGM film library) haven’t taken the trouble to restore one of the biggest commercial successes of the 1940s.

Immediately below is TCM’s Greer Garson movie schedule.

TCM’s ‘Summer Under the Stars’ schedule: Greer Garson

Aug. 14, EDT

6:00 AM When Ladies Meet (1941)
1h 48m | Comedy
Director: Robert Z. Leonard.
Cast: Joan Crawford, Robert Taylor, Greer Garson, Herbert Marshall, Spring Byington, Rafael Alcayde, Mona Barrie.

8:00 AM The Law and the Lady (1951)
1h 44m | Romance
Director: Edwin H. Knopf.
Cast: Greer Garson, Michael Wilding, Fernando Lamas, Marjorie Main, Hayden Rorke, Margalo Gillmore, Rhys Williams.

9:45 AM Adventure (1945)
2h 5m | Adventure
Director: Victor Fleming.
Cast: Clark Gable, Greer Garson, Joan Blondell, Thomas Mitchell, Tom Tully, John Qualen, Richard Haydn, Lina Romay, Philip Merivale, Harry Davenport.

12:00 PM The Valley of Decision (1945)
1h 51m | Romance
Director: Tay Garnett.
Cast: Greer Garson, Gregory Peck, Donald Crisp, Lionel Barrymore, Preston Foster, Marsha Hunt, Gladys Cooper, Reginald Owen, Dan Duryea, Jessica Tandy, Barbara Everest, Marshall Thompson, Geraldine Wall, John Warburton, Russell Hicks, Arthur Shields, Dean Stockwell.

2:15 PM Julia Misbehaves (1948)
1h 39m | Comedy
Director: Jack Conway.
Cast: Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon, Peter Lawford, Elizabeth Taylor, Cesar Romero, Lucile Watson, Nigel Bruce, Mary Boland, Reginald Owen, Henry Stephenson, Aubrey Mather, Ian Wolfe, Fritz Feld, Phyllis Morris, Veda Ann Borg.

4:00 PM Pride and Prejudice (1940)
1h 57m | Romance
Director: Robert Z. Leonard.
Cast: Greer Garson, Laurence Olivier, Mary Boland, Edna May Oliver, Maureen O’Sullivan, Ann Rutherford, Frieda Inescort, Edmund Gwenn, Karen Morley, Heather Angel, Marsha Hunt, Melville Cooper, Bruce Lester, E.E. Clive.

6:00 PM Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939)
1h 54m | Drama
Director: Sam Wood.
Cast: Robert Donat, Greer Garson, Terry Kilburn, John Mills, Paul Henreid, Judith Furse, Lyn Harding, Austin Trevor, David Tree.

8:00 PM Mrs. Miniver (1942)
2h 14m | War | Family Drama
Director: William Wyler.
Cast: Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon, Teresa Wright, Dame May Whitty, Reginald Owen, Henry Travers, Richard Ney, Henry Wilcoxon, Helmut Dantine.

10:30 PM Mrs. Parkington (1944)
2h 4m | Romance
Director: Tay Garnett.
Cast: Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon, Edward Arnold, Agnes Moorehead, Cecil Kellaway, Gladys Cooper, Frances Rafferty, Tom Drake, Peter Lawford, Dan Duryea, Hugh Marlowe, Selena Royle, Fortunio Bonanova, Lee Patrick, Rod Cameron, Tala Birell, Hans Conried.

12:45 AM That Forsyte Woman (1949)
1h 54m | Romance
Director: Compton Bennett.
Cast: Errol Flynn, Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon, Robert Young, Janet Leigh, Harry Davenport, Aubrey Mather, Gerald Oliver Smith, Lumsden Hare, Halliwell Hobbes, Matt Moore, Marjorie Eaton.

2:45 AM Blossoms in the Dust (1941)
1h 40m | Drama
Director: Mervyn LeRoy.
Cast: Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon, Felix Bressart, Marsha Hunt, Fay Holden, Samuel S. Hinds, Kathleen Howard, William Henry, Henry O’Neill, John Eldredge, Clinton Rosemond, Theresa Harris, Marc Lawrence.

4:30 AM Scandal at Scourie (1953)
1h 30m | Drama
Director: Jean Negulesco.
Cast: Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon, Agnes Moorehead, Donna Corcoran, Arthur Shields, Philip Ober, Rhys Williams, Margalo Gillmore.

“Actress Greer Garson on TCM: The 1940s’ ‘Queen of MGM’” notes

Seventh and final Oscar nomination

[1] Greer Garson’s Oscar acceptance speech is supposed to have lasted an eternity, though she would later assert that no, it didn’t last that long.

Following a 15-year Academy Award hiatus, she would go on to receive her seventh and final Best Actress nod for her performance as Eleanor Roosevelt in Vincent J. Donehue’s 1960 drama Sunrise at Campobello. Bypassed at the Oscars, Ralph Bellamy played FDR.

What about Meryl Streep?

[2] In case you’re wondering, that’s one Oscar record in the acting categories that doesn’t belong to Meryl Streep.

Greer Garson and Bette Davis were both nominated five years in a row (1941–1945 and 1938–1942, respectively). Streep’s max is three consecutive years (1981–1983).

And unlike Garson and Davis, during no seven-year period has Streep received six nominations. (Every seven years, her maximum number of nods has been five.)

Greer Garson “Summer Under the Stars” schedule via Turner Classic Movies.

Greer Garson early 1940s publicity shot: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Greer Garson and Gregory Peck The Valley of Decision movie image: MGM.

“Actress Greer Garson on TCM: The 1940s’ ‘Queen of MGM’” last updated in September 2023.

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