On August 6, 1939, the Harlingen, Texas Valley Morning Star read “Donat Stars In New Film” followed by the sub heading ‘Goodbye Mr. Chips” in Mercedes, Texas. The article went on to describe the latest film of popular leading man Robert Donat. Based on the James Hilton novel of the same name, the film tells the story of the life and teaching career of Charles Edward Chipping, a Latin teacher at a British boys’ school. Donat’s character falls for and marries a beautiful and flashy young woman named Katherine, played by actress Greer Garson in her debut performance. Revealed in a series of flashbacks, the film portrays the events in Chipping’s life and the individuals who were part of it. Donat would go on to win an Oscar for Best Actor. The film was the first major role in the long and successful career of Garson. She was also nominated for an Oscar that year, but the award went instead to Vivian Leigh for her performance in “Gone With The Wind.”
The name Greer was actually a nickname taken from the last name of her her maternal grandfather, David Greer. She was born Eileen Evelyn Garson on September 29, 1904 in East Ham, now part of London, England. Her father was George Garson who died in 1906 and her mother was Nancy Greer Garson who survived him and lived until 1958. Greer attended local schools and King’s College where she studied literature and French. Garson is known to have appeared in theater productions as she held jobs in business, including appearing opposite Sir Lawrence Olivier.
When she was 33 years old, Greer was signed by MGM in 1937 after she came to the attention of executive Louis B. Meyer. She began filming “Goodbye Mr. Chips” the next year. This began a succession of films that included “Pride and Prejudice,” “Blossoms in the Dust,” “Mrs. Miniver” and “Random Harvest” which are now considered among the highlights of her work and were all released by 1942.
(Image credit: nmfilmandtvhalloffame.org)
Garson was married three times, to British civil servant Edward Alec Abbot Snelson in 1933, British actor Richard Maximilian Ney in 1943 and finally in 1949 to American oilman E. E. “Buddy” Fogelson in 1949. Soon after her first marriage, Snelson had felt the call to serve in India. Garson declined to leave England. Snelson and Garson mostly lived apart and were divorced in 1943. Ney had been an actor who also appeared in “Goodbye Mr. Chips.” They were married from 1943 to 1947. Garson and Fogelson were married in New Mexico in 1949. Shortly afterward, Garson became an American citizen. The couple were married until Fogelson’s death in 1987. The couple resided in Dallas, Texas and also spent a considerable amount of time at their large ranch not far from Santa Fe, New Mexico. Fogelson was an oil man and raised cattle and horse on their ranch.
Well known as philanthropists, the couple supported many organizations including Fogelson’s alma mater, Texas Christian University, the arts program at Southern Methodist University and the college then known as Santa Fe University of Art and Design. In Dallas, she funded the construction of the Greer Garson Theatre on the campus of SMU. The Dallas theater consisted of a 50,000 square foot structure including classrooms and a performance hall that seats about 400. The couple also supported many local charitable organizations in Dallas.
In New Mexico, they created a college scholarship for female students of Pecos High School, near their ranch. Santa Fe University of Art and Design had been existence since the middle 1800s and had first been organized as St. Michael’s College. The on-campus facility the Fogelsons funded was known as the Greer Garson Theater Center. The couple also contributed to the Fogelson Library Center. The theater center housed film oriented classrooms. The theater itself is described as having a “proscenium-style” stage, orchestra pit, and seating for just over 500. The college changed hands a number of times and was most recently known as the College of Santa Fe. Citing financial difficulties, the college held its last classes for the school year 2017-2018.
Garson’s film career as a leading lady and supporting actress may seem somewhat short to some, but it did not begin until she was in her thirties. Her last major film role was in a 1967 Disney film called “The Happiest Millionaire,” though she continued to make selected appearances afterward, including a number on television. During her career, she was nominated for an Academy Award (1941) for “Blossoms in the Dust” in which she portrayed Texas adoption pioneer Edna Gladney. Garson won an Academy Award for the 1942 film “Mrs. Miniver” and was nominated again in 1943 and 1944 for her roles in “Madame Curie” and “Mrs. Parkington.” She was nominated once more in 1945 for “The Valley of Decision.” The last of her seven Academy Award nominations was for the role of Eleanor Roosevelt in “Sunrise at Campobello.” Being nominated for an Academy Award five years in a row created a record that has only been matched by actress Bette Davis. The actual Oscar statuette she received was destroyed by a fire in 1989 at an apartment she maintained in Los Angeles, but the Academy replaced it the next year.
Garson died in 1996 at Presbyterian Hospital and is buried with Fogelson at Sparkman-Hillcrest Memorial Park in Dallas.
Vintage MGM movie preview for “Goodbye Mr. Chips”
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