Retro Actor Spotlight: Teresa Wright

Teresa Wright Centennial

Giving Classical Cinema’s players another chance to shine in the limelight

Now Featuring: Teresa Wright

Of all the actors and actresses from Golden Hollywood marking their 100th birthday anniversaries, I was most excited to see Teresa’s name on the list. I have had an enormous admiration for her ever since seeing her performance in Mrs. Miniver opposite Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon. Her face was angelic with soft, delicate features and a gorgeous smile that rarely seemed to fade away. She often played characters that brought about hope in a difficult situation, showing that she had a heart all the while remaining a strong, almost unbreakable woman.

Muriel Teresa Wright was born on 27 October 1918 in Harlem, New York, and was the only child of Martha and Arthur Wright. After their separation, she moved to neighbouring New Jersey and would later attend Columbia High School, from which she graduated in 1938. In the two summers preceding her graduation, she studied drama at the Wharf Theatre in Massachusetts after receiving a scholarship. She would not go to a formal drama school such as Juilliard but would rather go directly to New York City in order to play in Broadway productions. Her first job was as an understudy to lead actress Dorothy Maguire for Our Town, later continuing under another actress when Maguire did not come back. Teresa’s first professional theatrical start as a credited actress was in Life with Father and it is there that she was spotted by producer Samuel Goldwyn who wanted to sign her the very same night*. The first project planned was a prestigious project: The Little Foxes opposite Bette Davis.  It was a rousing success and led to Teresa being nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. She had only just arrived in Hollywood and was already receiving fantastic accolades.

Teresa’s career would continue on a fast and prestigious climb with her being nominated for both films she made in 1942: The Pride of the Yankees and Mrs. Miniver for which she would win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for Mrs. Miniver.)  The next year, she would star opposite Joseph Cotten in Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece Shadow of a Doubt, a film that was her personal favourite. She had very much looked forward to working with Mr. Hitchcock, building a close relationship to him and considering working on that particular set as being with family. The pinnacle performance of her career would come in 1946 with her turn as Peggy Stephenson in William Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives, which she considered to be her best overall role. In 1947, Teresa starred in three films for studios other than Samuel Goldwyn Productions though she would return “home” in 1948 to star in Enchantment opposite David Niven and Farley Granger. That would turn out to be her last film under contract with Goldwyn who cancelled her contract after she refused to star in the studio’s next planned film. (Since signing with Goldwyn, Teresa had missed several films due to illness or to pregnancy and publicly fought Goldwyn’s harsh words against her.)

After leaving Samuel Goldwyn Productions, Teresa worked independently with various studios and often took a massive pay cut from what she had been paid whilst under contract. Most of the films were neither critical nor box office success but she continued working nonetheless. She transitioned to television and returned to the stage intermittently, always receiving praise for her performances. During her mainstream Hollywood years, she lived in Santa Monica enjoying a quiet life out of the spotlight and away from celebrity events. Most of her close friends were from outside of the film industry, allowing her and her children to maintain relatively normal lives. In her later years, she moved back East and lived the remainder of her life in Connecticut. She passed away on 6 March 2005 in New Haven, CT.

Her legacy is unfortunately largely lost to modern audiences though it is kept aflame by dedicated fans within the Classic Film community. To honour her Centennial, throughout the month of November I will be reviewing 6 of her films in addition to writing about The Best Years of Our Lives which is on the list of AFI’s 100 Greatest Films. Happy Birthday, dear Teresa! 🙂

* In the book Goldwyn: A Biography by A. Scott Berg, it is stated that Samuel Goldwyn “offered her a contract that night” (pg. 358). However, in an interview that she did with Reel Classics in 1959, Teresa was interested in playing the part of Alexandra in The Little Foxes but did not want to have a long-term studio contract. After the film wrapped and her attempts to return to the stage were unsuccessful, she then signed with Goldwyn and stayed in Hollywood. (Interview archived in the Columbia University Oral History Research Office.)

 

Here’s looking at you, Teresa

  • Nickname was “Mooch”.
  • Married two famous Playwrights: Niven Busch and Robert Anderson, both also native New Yorkers.
  • Had two children with Niven Bush: Niven Terrence “Terry” Busch and Mary-Kelly Busch. Mary-Kelly is an author of children’s and young adult books.
  • Was the first female star signed under contract to Samuel Goldwyn Productions
  • She became Goldwyn’s biggest overall star during the 1940’s.
  • Holds the record for receiving back-to-back Academy Award nominations in her first three film roles, which still stands today.
  • Was supposed to star in The Bishop’s Wife opposite David Niven and Cary Grant, which is a vehicle that Goldwyn had bought especially for her.
  • Apparently suffered a very traumatic childhood and only confided details of it to her daughter shortly before her death.
  • Her gravestone marker curiously reads “Yale University School of Medicine” in lieu of any personal information.

Teresa with first husband Niven Busch

Teresa and soon-to-be second husband Robert Anderson. Photo credit: Historic Images

Teresa at the 15th Academy Awards on 4 March 1943. Interestingly, there was no statuette given to Supporting winners at that time.