Greer Garson


  1. Luise Rainer, Dramatic School, 1938.        Garson’s screen debut opposite Paulette Goddard was stymied by a back injury.After four TV roles in 1937, Greer finally debuted in Goodbye Mr Chips, 1939.   
  2. Rosalind Russell, The Citadel, 1938.      The Irish Geraldine Fitzgerald and two Brits – Garson and Vivien Leigh- tested for Dr Robert Donat’s wife, Christine, in King Vidor’s take on the AJ Cronin novel.  MGM gave the rôle to Elizabeth Allan (handily living back in the UK) until rudely dropping her when Russell became available.  Metro also dumped Allan  for Garson as another Robert Donat wife in Goodbye Mt Chips. This time Allan sued for breach of contract. She won the suit, MGM sued her back and won – and then blacklisted her. She worked for everyone else, scorting 56 screen roles  by the time she retired 20 years later.
  3. Ruth Hussey, Northwest Passage, 1939.       After Larraine Day, Greer was up for Elizabeth Browne when Victor Fleming was due to direct the Kenneth Roberts novel. Production took so long to roll, four of the five stars disappeared  into other projects.  Even then, they never filmed the entire book.
  4. Joan Crawford, Susan and God, 1939.  The play (starring Gertrude Lawrence on Broadway in ‘37) was bought for Norma Shearer. But she had no wish to play a mother again and so soon Littlle Women. Garson was next in line except MGM’s head lion LB Mayer had reserved Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice for her.  So as often happened at Metro, La Crawford just moved in, lock, stock and barrel. “I’ll play Wally Beery’s grandmother, if it’s a good part.”
  5. Norma Shearer, Pride and Prejudice, 1940.  Shearer electing to be Jane Austen’s heroine was bad news for Garson. And for the public.  She was almost twice the age of Elizabeth Bennet!
  6. Joan Bennett, Man Hunt, 1940.      Bennett’s “English” accent was about as rank as Dick Van Dyke’s lousy Cockney in Mary Poppins in a (thankfully) short role – opposite Walter Pidgeon, on the run from Nazis in London after trying to kill Hitler in Bavaria, no less.  Also seen for Jerry were Anne Baxter, Virginia Gilmore, Gene Tierney.And the only real Londoner on the short list: Ida Lupino. 
  7. Norma Shearer, Pride and Prejudice, 1941,   Shearer electing to be Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennett was bad news for Garson. But having now lost Elizabeth, she was seen for for Susan in Susan and God. But no, she lost both parts.
  8. Katharine Hepburn,  Dragon Seed, 1943.     Insulting!  Pearl Buck’s book had a point – exposing Japanese atrocities in China.  MGM made it a farce, with the unlikeliest-looking Chinese family ever spawned by Hollywood. Taped eyelids for Hepburn, Walter Huston, Aline MacMahon, Akim Tamiroff… Garson and Hedy Lamarr failed their Eurasian tests for Hepburn’s Jade Tan.
  9. Judy Garland, Ziegfeld Follies, 1945.    For one sketch, Roger Edens and Kay Thompson wrote a high-camp satire of Garson’s great ladies – Madame Curie as “Madame Crematon,” inventor of the safety pin – in the form of an interview between a grand dame movie queen and dancing journalists.They sung it for her at Arthur Freed’s house. Exit: Greer, without a word.Enter: Judy, channeling Kay Thompson.
  10. Angela Lansbury, If Winter Comes, 1947.     Gone With The Wind producer David O Selznick bought the morality tale in 1939 for Fontaine and Leslie Howard – or Vivien Leigh opposite her husband, Laurence Olivier. They all passed. So did DOS, selling his rights in 1940 to UK producer Alexander Korda… who did the same to MGM, which wanted Garson and Robert Donat. Finally, the feuding Sabre couplebecame Lansbury and Walter Pidgeon.… on, for the historic first time, non-flammable film.

  11. Judy Garland, The Pirate, 1947.  MGM snapped up SN Behrman’s play for… let’s see now, more stars than in the heavens above…    So how about them Minivers: Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon? Or, Garson or Myrna Loy plus Cary Grant plus Charles Laughton…  Or, the Notorious Grant and Ingrid Bergman couple…  or William Powell and Hedy Lamarr?  Hey, we’re MGM!  Why not a musical? With Judy Garland and… er… John Hodiak? They got on real swell in The Harvey Girls. He can’t really sing ‘n’ dance? No prob – Judy and Gene Kelly! And so it came to pass. Uneasily… The Minnellis (an imploding Judy and director Vincente) were at each other’s creative throats. LB Mayer ordered the Judy-Kelly Voodoo number burnt: too torrid! (Judy-Kelly were torrid?). In fact, LB hated it all, calling it high-brow and extremely pretentious. But that’’s Kelly  – and Minnelli – in a nutshell. Metro lost $2m. Including for the first time in any Hollywood budget, paying a shrink. For Judy.

  12. Alida Valli, The Miracle of the Bells, 1947.      Garson, Barbara Bel Geddes, Jennifer Jones and ballerina Ricky Soma were in the mix for the Polish actress dying upon completion of her Joan of Ark film in Hollywood. Plus the unknown Jane Garth, who played the role on-stage. Naturally, the real screen’s next Maid, Ingrid Bergman, was also considered by producer Jesse L Lasky for this surprisingly limp version of Russell Janney’s novel. No, no,c’mon guys…   for a Polish girl,  you need… an Italian!

  13. Katharine Hepburn, State of the Union, 1948.        With Claudette Colbert suddenly pulling out (she was battered into hospital by her husband ondiscoveringher affairs with both Hepburn and Spencer Tracy), director Frank Capra rushed around for a replacement. Garson proved unavailable. That’s when Tracy suggested a “a bag of bones” called Kate.

  14. Hedy Lamarr, Samson and Delilah, 1948.
    Cinemperor Cecil B DeMille’s 1935 plan been Henry Wilcoxon with Joan Crawford, Larraine Day, Dolores Del Rio, Paulette Goddard, Jane Greer or Miriam Hopkins….  Next in line, producer David O Selznick envisaged Kirk Douglas and Marlene Dietrich… By ’48, CB got serious.  He sought a mix of Vivien Leigh, Jean Simmons and “a generous touch of Lana Turner”  from among … Jeanne Crain, Linda Darnell, Rhonda Fleming (the Queen of Babylon, 1954), Ava Gardner, Greer Garson (Mrs Miniver!!), Susan Hayward  (1951’s Bathsheba), Rita Hayworth (the future Salome), , Jennifer Jones (St Bernadette in 1943), Patricia Neal, Maureen O’Hara, Nancy Olson (too demure), Jean Peters, Ruth Roman, Gail Russell, Ann Sheridan, Gene Tierney… even such surprises as comical Lucille Ball (!) and song ‘n’ dancer  Betty Hutton.  Plus the Dominican Maria Montez (perfect!), Italian Alida Valli and two Swedes: Viveca Lindfors and Marta Toren.  But CB had already fancied Lamarr for his unmade epic about the Jewish queen Esther (played by Joan Collins in 1960).  Here’s a Samson review signed Groucho Marx: “No picture can hold my interest where the leading man’s bust is larger than the leading lady’s!”  (

  15. Jennifer Jones, Madame Bovary, 1949.     What, after all those years of being the ultra faithful Mrs Miniver!Her lover would have been James Mason, not Louis Jourdan. Instead, Mason played Flaubert, himself.
  16. Barbara Stanwyck, East Side West Side, 1949.    Metro bought Marcia Davenport’s novel for $200,000 in September 1947. For, a year later, Garson, Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert. Two years later, Mervyn LeRoy was directing Baraba Stanwyck, James Mason and Ava Gardner.  So it flows.
  17. Bette Davis, All About Eve, 1950.
  18. Jean Simmons, Young Bess, 1952.          MGM first bought Margaret Irwin’s book in 1945 – with Garson or Deborah Kerr in mind for the young Queen Elizabeth I.   Simmons nearly lost the throne (opposite her husband, Stewart Granger, as Thomas Seymour) for being… too pretty. 
  19. Eleanor Parker, Interrupted Melody, 1955.    Having fully researched the role, Greer was set for  the biopic of Australian opera diva Marjorie Lawrence (1907-1979), making a comeback after polio. Then, she was not. Then again, she was. Finally, fed up wth a year of MGM prevarication, she won release from her contract in March 1954. And Parker (and not Lana Turner!!) started shooting one month later!
  20. Agnes Moorehead, The Story of Mankind, 1956.   Ronald Colman’s final film (idem for the Marx Bros) is one of the worst ever made… totally destroying  Henrik Van Loon’s witty history of the human race. With, Harpo as Sir Isaac Newton, Dennis Hopper as Napoleon Hedy Lamarr as Joan of Arc, Peter Lorre as Nero, Virginia Mayo as Cleopatra, Vincent Price as The Devil … Garson wisely passed Elizabeth I to Moorehead. They were all offered $25,000 for a single day’s work. Whether they got it is the history of mankind…

  21. Leslie Caron, The Doctor’s Dilemma, 1958.    Gabriel Pascal was appointed “sole director” by George Bernard Shaw after their 1938 Pygmalion triumph.Pascal wanted to star “my red-haired Circe” but GBS would not allow his surrogate son (another of Alexander Korda’s clever Hungarians) to move toHollywood.
  22. Jane Wyman, Bon Voyage! 1962.      “But we’ve seen Paris…!” said Garson and James Cagney when Walt Disney invited them to head the Willard family heading from Terre Haute, Indiana to a once-in-a-lifetime holiday in France.
  23. Simone Signoret, Ship of Fools, 1964. Not the comedy implied by the tile (all the more so if Cary Grant had accepted  a profferred role)  but a Grand Hotel At Sea  of 30s’ stereotypes  on  a cruise liner going the wrong way – from Mexico to the newly Nazi Germany. Surprisingly, the embodiment of British pluck, dear old Mrs Miniver, herself, had talks (like Marlene Dietrich) with director Stanley Kramer about playing a  drug-addled Condesa back home… to jail.
  24. Bette Davis, The Nanny, 1965.        For the last Hammer film in black and white, writer-producer Jimmy Sangster’s titular choice was Mrs  Miniver, herself.. “I went to Santa Fe and met with Greer, and she said she liked the script, and everything was fine. When I got back to London, we had a message from Los Angeles saying that Greer Garson didn’t think the script would do her career much good. I didn’t like to say she didn’t have a career in those days.”. Nor did Bette Davis realty, simply cashing in often as possible in her new guise of the Grand Dame of Horror.  The New York Times said in this one “the scenes are stacked rather than blended, so that the picture becomes bony and a bit pretentious.”
  25. Maureen O’Sullivan, Never Too Late, 1965.     Spencer Tracy was the only thought for Harry. arry in Opposite one of a dozen choices for his wife – pregnant at 50, ho ho! From Rosalind Russell to Katherine Hepburn (“but I’m too old for Edith?”). Plus Fontaine, June Allyson, Lucille Ball, Anne Baxter, Susan Hayward, Deborah Kerr, Eleanor Parker, Ginger Rogers, Ann Sheridan. Ultimately, Warner Bros went with the Broadway hit’s duo: Paul Ford and O’Sullivan.

 Birth year: 1904Death year: 1996Other name: Casting Calls:  25