Reading the paper this Saturday morning and checking the television schedule for tonight, I began laughing. My favorite channel–that would be TCM, Turner Classic Movies–is showing a string of Greer Garson movies tonight. No, it’s not her birthday. That would be September 29 (and the year 1904). I think I know what happened.
TCM found out that I just last night finished reading a biography of Greer Garson. “A Rose for Mrs. Miniver: The Life of Greer Garson” by Michael Troyan was pure fun. It’s a $22 paperback, so don’t tell my wife. In fact, I picked it up twice over several months at the local World War II Museum bookshop before deciding to spring for it. Glad I did.
What started this for me was seeing the 1941 movie, “Mrs. Miniver,” some years ago. Thereafter, like a few million others, I was smitten. First, it’s about the most fascinating moment of the 20th century, that period when England stood virtually alone against Hitler. (There might be something else going on in my choice of that period; it’s basically 1940, the year I arrived on the planet.)
Secondly, there’s a historical angle: the movie aroused the American public as nothing else had to understand the British situation and get off the fence of neutrality. Queen Elizabeth was to tell Greer Garson later that her film had rallied worldwide support for Britain more than any other one thing.
The movie won a handful of Academy Awards the next year, and that has always perplexed the professional critics who do not understand the emotional impact a movie can make when it connects with a critical moment in history.
Mostly, however, when I saw “Mrs. Miniver,” I fell in love. And who would not? What a woman.
Let’s see; how to put this. She was gorgeous, of course, but more than that. Charming, cultured, bright, sunny, strong, and sweet come to mind. Furthermore, it turns out that Greer Garson was all of that in real life. For the rest of her days–she died on April 6, 1996–fans would call her Mrs. Miniver.
I’m not sure why, but TCM is not showing “Mrs. Miniver” tonight. However, starting after supper, the five Greer Garson pictures they’re running are: Pride and Prejudice, Goodbye Mr. Chips, Valley of Decision, Random Harvest, and Blossoms in the Dust. The best, the two most likely to reduce you to tears, are “Goodbye Mr. Chips” (Greer’s first movie) and “Random Harvest.” Alas, you have to stay up much too late to see the second, and this on a Saturday night.
People were always calling Greer Garson ‘gracious.’ She said, “Gracious is a word that has haunted me all my life. I abhor it. The only things I’m allergic to are the words ‘gracious’ and caraway. I would much rather be thought of as zesty, mischievous or serene, although I’m not at all serene, I’m afraid.”
Raised in England and Ireland, she came to America after a stage career in London. She did some rather foolish things, I will grant, including marrying Richard Ney who played her son (I was distressed the first time I heard this) in “Mrs. Miniver.” He was of course much younger than she, but it was wartime, they were in love, and the marriage dissolved in bitterness after the war. The marriage that really worked for her, however, was to Dallas oilman Buddy Fogelson. This one lasted the rest of their lives.
Greer Garson became a believer. A real solid Christian, I mean, whose life was characterized by worship, generosity and good works. She shared scriptures with her friends, and when a priest did not have the Bible with him to read her favorite Psalm, she quoted it for him verbatim. She was Presbyterian, and Ruth Bell Graham’s brother, Clayton Bell, was her pastor for many years and eventually did her funeral.
1n 1950, someone thought it would be a great idea to make a sequel to “Mrs. Miniver,” which they called “The Miniver Story.” Bad idea. I’ve not seen it, but Michael Troyan and others agree with the viewing public who did not buy tickets to see it, that it was not well thought out. The worst thing they did was to let Kay Miniver die in the flick. Wonder whose brainchild that was. “Oh, let’s kill her. People will love that.” Hollywood. They can do such good things, then turn around and be so imbecilic.
Interesting, the last third of the biography covers the charitable works Greer and Buddy Fogelson did over the decades. They gave away a vast fortune to colleges and needy friends and worthwhile ministries. I don’t know what I was expecting, but this discovery was a delight.
Greer Garson used to lament that she had not been blessed with children. It occurs to me that while having children can be a great blessing, it can also suck the life and energy out of one’s spirit. We’ve all seen parents bring up ungrateful offspring who demanded constant maintenance for the rest of their lives, leaving no time or energy for outside pursuits other than earning a living. So, instead of having a couple of children of her own, she blessed countless hundreds of young people by her encouragement, her gifts, and her time.
Jan Struther wrote the book “Mrs. Miniver” which inspired the movie. I actually have a copy of that old book, but there’s not a lot to it. Her book gave someone the idea and the characters, but the movie picks up where the book leaves off.
When she was approaching the time of her death, Greer Garson told a friend, “When I think about dying, it is nothing to worry about. It happens, but it is not truly the end of the world.” Sounds like a Christian, doesn’t she?
Jan Struther wrote an epitaph for herself, one which Michael Troyan finds fitting for Greer Garson. I recommend it as a pretty good one for the rest of us.
“One day my life will end and lest
Some whim should prompt you to review it,
Let her who knows the subject best
Tell you the shortest way to do it:
Then say, ‘Here lies one doubly blest.’
Say, ‘She was happy.’ Say, ‘She knew it.'”
Being a Christian–one of those Bible-thumpers who takes God’s word seriously–I find Heaven getting more and more interesting all the time. No telling who all’s going to be there. I can’t wait.
But I shall.