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Actress Greer Garson Dies After Lengthy Illness

April 6, 1996 GMT

DALLAS (AP) _ Greer Garson, the gallant leading lady whose portrayal of a courageous British housewife in ``Mrs. Miniver″ rallied Americans to support Britain during World War II, died Saturday of heart failure.

Miss Garson died at about 1:30 a.m. at Dallas Presbyterian Hospital, said John L. Roach, a friend and attorney for the family.

``Until the last few days, when she became critical, she was very lucid and very bright,″ said Roach. ``It was very peaceful.″

Although some reference books list her age as 87, Roach and a hospital spokeswoman said she was 92. They said she was born Sept. 29, 1903.


The Irish-born, red-haired actress won an Academy Award for her role as Mrs. Miniver in the 1942 drama about a family’s survival during Germany’s blitz bombings of England.

She also was nominated for six other Oscars, in films such as ``Goodbye Mr. Chips,″ ``Madame Curie″ and ``Sunrise at Campobello,″ her 1960 comeback in which she played Eleanor Roosevelt.

In a 1990 Associated Press interview, she deplored the violence of many modern films and added: ``I think the mirror should be tilted slightly upward when it’s reflecting life _ toward the cheerful, the tender, the compassionate, the brave, the funny, the encouraging, all those things _ and not tilted down to the gutter part of the time, into the troubled vistas of conflict.″

More recently, she donated millions to colleges and other institutions. She gave $10 million to build the Greer Garson Theater and film archive at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, where she lived with her late husband, the oilman E.E. ``Buddy″ Fogelson.

Miss Garson was born in County Down, Ireland, to a family with no theater background. But her interest in acting and public performance started early.

She gave recitations in the town hall at age 4, and participated in Christmas plays in her home.

She worked Encyclopaedia Britannica and an advertising agency even though she hoped to become a teacher.

In 1932, Miss Garson made her professional acting debut at the Birmingham Repertory Theater, following her graduation from the University of London and studies at the University of Grenoble.

MGM boss Louis B. Mayer signed her to a film contract after watching her perform on the London stage during a visit to England in 1937. She ended up not doing anything for a year.


``It was the most difficult and unhappiest year of my life,″ she once said. ``I decided once I was fortunate enough to get away from Hollywood, it would take wild horses to drag me back.″

She happily returned to England for ``Goodbye Mr. Chips,″ which brought her first Oscar nomination. In the film, she portrayed a woman who draws a scholarly man, played by Robert Donat, beyond the walls of academia.

And Miss Garson did return the United States, where she made ``Remember?″, a 1939 comedy with Robert Taylor.

By this time, she had become too successful for Hollywood to ignore.

She appeared in ``When Ladies Meet″ starring Joan Crawford; ``Pride and Prejudice″ with Laurence Olivier, with whom she had worked in London theater; and ``Blossoms in the Dust″ with Walter Pidgeon.

Miss Garson stepped in and went on to take an Oscar after Norma Shearer turned down the title role in ``Mrs. Miniver.″

Other Oscar nominations came for ``Mrs. Parkington,″ ``Blossoms in the Dust,″ and ``The Valley of Decision.″ Only three actresses have been nominated more than seven times: Katharine Hepburn with 12, Bette Davis with 10 and Geraldine Page with eight.

Miss Garson also starred in ``The Youngest Profession,″ ``Random Harvest″ and ``Adventure,″ the first movie Clark Gable made after returning from the war. It inspired a publicist to pen the memorable slogan, ``Gable’s Back, and Garson’s Got Him.″

Miss Garson also performed on stage, taking over Rosalind Russell’s role in Broadway’s ``Auntie Mame″ in 1958. On television, she was seen on ABC’s ``The Love Boat.″

In the late 1980s, a Los Angeles fire destroyed many of her personal belongings, including the Oscar trophy. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences issued her a replacement.

Her first marriage, to Abbot Slenson, a British civil servant, ended in divorce. Around the time she won the Oscar, she married Richard Ney, who played her son in ``Mrs. Miniver.″ They divorced as well.

She wed Fogelson in 1949. The marriage lasted until his death in 1987.

Burial is pending at Sparkman Hillcrest Memorial Park in Dallas, Roach said. A memorial service will follow at Highland Park Presbyterian Church.