Collection Spotlight: Greer Garson Collection

Eileen Evelyn Greer Garson (1904 – 1996) was one of the most honored actresses in the history of film, receiving seven nominations from the Motion Picture Academy for “Best Actress” (six in the 1940s) and winning the award in 1942. This collection includes correspondence, photographs, slides, film and theater scripts, newspaper and magazine articles, and programs, awards, and scrapbooks. These materials chronicle Greer Garson’s acting career from London’s West End through her Hollywood years and her many philanthropic activities and comprise the most extensive gathering of primary materials documenting her life and career.

This collection includes approximately sixty linear feet of archival materials and 107 scrapbooks. Except for the scrapbooks, which are stored on shelves especially designed for this purpose, all of the holdings are housed in 108 archival storage cartons in a climate-controlled vault equipped with fire-suppression and security systems. At least some of these materials may have been gathered by Greer Garson but, more probably, by her mother, then by her clipping service and office staff. Also, some items sent to her by fans found their way into her papers. Unfortunately, a fire at her Los Angeles residence in 1988 destroyed many papers and mementoes, including her Oscar statuette and numerous family-related items. The few surviving photographs of the Greer and Garson families are included in the collection but, due to their condition, not all are available for research. The Motion Picture Academy replaced the statuette, which was subsequently donated to the Meadows School of the Arts. The materials that comprise the Greer Garson Collection were housed at her office prior to being transferred to SMU.

As indicated in the series descriptions, the Greer Garson Collection embraces a wide variety of materials, portions of which had some organization when acquired; organizational structure of the remainder, e.g., clipping files, was minimal. The bulk of the collection focuses on the years of 1935-1993, encompassing the actress’s life from the inception of her stage career until a few years before her death. In addition to being the most significant archival resource for students of Greer Garson’s life, it also is useful for historians of the London theatrical scene of the 1930s, the American film industry (particularly the so-called “Golden Age” of the studio system), and the history of philanthropy in the United States. Due to the 1988 fire, the collection’s most serious gaps concern the actress’s childhood, education, and relationship with her family. However, dozens of photographs and other items attest to her close relationship with her mother, Nina Greer Garson, who was the greatest influence on the actress until she met Col. Fogelson. Other significant gaps concern materials related to her first two marriages. The brief marriage to British civil servant Alec Snelson is barely mentioned but her second marriage, to actor Richard Ney, is documented in slightly more detail, primarily with photographs and clippings.

Photographs make up almost half of the holdings, with scrapbooks, scripts, and clipping files being the next most predominant types of materials. For research purposes, the scrapbooks and correspondence files constitute perhaps the richest components of the collection. One scrapbook is devoted entirely to her 1930s London stage career and is filled with playbills, reviews, and a few pieces of correspondence. Each of her films, save for Blossoms in the Dust, is documented by at least one scrapbook, which contain a diversity of materials. For example, in addition to photographs and clippings, the scrapbook for her first Hollywood film, Goodbye Mr. Chips, holds the schedule for the first day of shooting, on which the actress wrote “My first call!” Other scrapbooks document other aspects of her life, such as her 38-year marriage to Col. Fogelson (including their wedding album), their life at Forked Lightning ranch in New Mexico, and their extensive philanthropic activities. Correspondence includes letters, cards, and telegrams from film and theatrical figures, such as director Sidney Franklin, Laurence Olivier, Gregory Peck, Vivien Leigh, and Deborah Kerr and other notable individuals, such as British Prime Minster Margaret Thatcher and U.S. presidents Eisenhower, Nixon, and Reagan.

In addition to the scrapbooks, one of the collection’s gems is a 109-page manuscript of an autobiography, written by Greer Garson with assistance from MGM scriptwriter Gladys Hall. Unfortunately, the narrative ceases at 1943 and, despite having a contract to complete a published autobiography, the actress never did so.

Please take a look at the detailed finding aid available through Texas Archival Resources Online.


Image: Greer Garson (center) with Jake and Nancy Hamon. Image courtesy of Greer Garson Collection, Bywaters Special Collections, Hamon Arts Library, Southern Methodist University

Leave a Reply