was interviewed by famed publicist John Springer at the Players on January 25, 1998 about her life and career on stage and screen.
Her first Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress nomination occurred in 1941 for her debut work in
The Little Foxes. She did win an Oscar for her performance as the daughter in Mrs. Miniver co-starring with Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon.
Top film directors, including William Wyler and
Alfred Hitchcock admired her thorough preparation and quiet professionalism. (source: Wikipedia)
THE INTERVIEW (transcribed by Mari Lyn Henry)
JS: Did you always want to be an actress?
TW: Yes I did. As a very small child, I acted through high school, voted best actress in school, that sort of thing, came to New York after graduation. Two months later I got a job understudying
Dorothy McGuire in Our Town out on the road and played it. My first job in New York was in
Life With Father in 1939.
I celebrated my 21st birthday in the theatre, in the beautiful Empire Theatre.
Russel Crouse walked down the aisle with a birthday cake singing Happy Birthday to You. It doesn't get much better than that.
JS: Who was smart enough to get you out to Hollywood? Was it Sam Goldwyn?
TW: I think it was. I was told that Lillian Hellman saw me in Life With Father and suggested me
to Willy Wyler and to Goldwyn. Oscar Serlin made my test. (During Life With Father I had been asked to do a screen test for a role in a film I really wasn't right for. They put a lot of makeup on me and told me which way to turn. It was awful! So Oscar suggested if I was ever asked to do another one he would be glad to do it.) Thank God he (who had made a lot of tests in his life) heard about it and said when it is really important for you to be in something, let me make the test. So when
Goldwyn wanted to see some film on me he just brought me into a studio without any makeup and just talked to me and that was my screen test for The Little Foxes, my first film.
JS: For her very first film she got her very first Academy Award nomination.
TW: I was so lucky. It was a great film to start with. Willy Wyler directed. Bette Davis,
Herbert Marshall, such a wonderful cast! Then I was asked to come back to New York and do a
play by Ferenc Molnar and fortunately I was asked to return to Hollywood and do the role in
Mrs. Miniver. Then the day after I finished that I went into Pride of the Yankees.
An unusual beginning; it didn't last very long but it was great while it lasted.
JS: You may be the only performer who was nominated for Best Performance by an Actress and Best Performance by a Supporting Actress in the same year. Mrs. Miniver and as far as I am concerned you should have won for Pride of the Yankees. There were other pictures for which you should have been nominated--The Best Years of Our Lives and Shadow of a Doubt.
TW: Those are my two favorite films. One of my favorite roles was not in a film, but in a movie for television. The American Movie Classic, Ring Lardner Jr.'s Golden Honeymoon with
James Whitmore. It was a charming story.
|Teresa Wright in Mrs. Miniver|
Alfred Hitchock (Shadow of A Doubt)
TW: He was a delight to work with when I was working with him. The film was one of the first on location, instead of on a studio set. This was in 1942. His whole family was with him, Pat (his daughter) and Alma (his wife). It was like being with a family. Joe Cotten and his wife were there. Hitchock was great fun. It was more like being in a play than being in a film.
JS: You mentioned Bette Davis. She was kind of intimidating for a girl in her first move, wasn't she?
TW: I was scared before I met her. It was overwhelming. The day I met her I was on the Goldwyn lot and I went into what was the Goldwyn dining room, a little bungalow, and I was talking to some friends and my back was to the door and she came in. I guess I heard her voice and I just had chills down my back. I was introduced to her, but once I got on the set it was just like being with any other actor in a play, on stage, in rehearsal and she was wonderful! All the stories about being difficult--the old mill really grinds them up you know. Not any truth in it at all.
JS: Gary Cooper.
TW: He was just dear. I didn't feel that I knew him well because for the most part he kept to himself. He used to whittle, sitting there whittling airplanes, and when we weren't working he'd be outside flying them.
JS: Frederic March.
TW: I adored Freddy. He was also a good friend. He and his wife Florence (Eldridge) lived near
Bob (Robert Anderson) and I in Bridgewater, CT. We saw a great deal of them. He was marvelous and very much the spirit of The Best Years of Our Lives.
JS: How about Joseph Cotten?
TW: Joe was very funny. When we were making Shadow of a Doubt we were on location in Santa Rosa, close to the Chinese community in San Francisco. One evening we were treated to a very ancient Chinese feast and Joe kept commenting about all the strange exotic dishes (like hundred year old eggs) and he was hilarious.
JS: Bob Mitchum.
TW: Bob was one of the most unusual people I ever worked with. He had a bad boy reputation. For some reason he liked to appear as not caring, not knowing his lines. He would come in and say what is the scene, what are we doing today, and so forth. Then he would go on and he would know it word perfect. It is a strange kind of psychological thing to let people think you don't care and then be absolutely marvelous on screen. If you really looked at his face there was always something going on in his eyes and you got it. That's what pictures really are.
JS: Marlon Brando who did his first film with you.
TW: A little bit like Mitchum in that he would like to kid around off stage. He would tell the tallest tales and behave like a twelve year old but on stage he was completely---I mean none of us could touch him in The Men. He was so marvelous and so that person and the rest of us were acting.
On set in those days Marlon was not only good but he didn't want to do anything that was wrong or would rock the boat in any way. He wanted to learn all about films.
There was a scene that was very tense and long where the camera had to come in and out, and the technicians would move the carpet as the camera came. When you have done films, you learn not to think about crew members moving around. Between takes, he would ask what they were doing. So I told him that they had to move the carpet for the camera to move in easily. But if it bothered him they were able to do it ten different ways and all you have to do is request that. He said no. So I went to director Fred Zinnemann and told him about Marlon's question and my response. Fred asked them to do it differently. That is how much Marlon did not want to rock the boat. I felt Marlon became disillusioned as an actor, perhaps frightened to go back to the stage. When I think of what he did in
The Godfather, he really is a great, great actor and that shouldn't be forgotten.
JS: Dame May Whitty. (During filming of Mrs. Miniver)
TW: Richard Ney (Greer Garson's son in Mrs. Miniver and husband in real life) was just not one of my favorite people. He was difficult to act with. He affected a British accent in his speech throughout the filming. One day he and Dame May Whitty had a scene together in a swing. It had to be done over and over. Finally she said, (British and grand) "Dear boy, would you please speak up? I cannot understand you." And he said, "All right I'll do it your way but I prefer it my way." And she said,
"Your way? You don't have a way!" Everyone broke up.
JS: Director Francis Ford Coppola and The Rainmaker? (adaptation of John Grisham's book)
She played role of Miss Birdie in 1997.
TW: I was in the film two weeks. We had a week's rehearsal which I haven't done since the days of William Wyler and Hitchcock. It makes such a difference when you get to rehearse, really work on something and we had a week's rehearsal in Napa Valley. From there we went to Memphis where we had a week's rehearsal. When we were on the set, I remember the first scene I did. Francis said, "Well we are going to rehearse this on film to get us into it." And that was the take. He likes to do that because we had already rehearsed.
JS: During the war when we first saw you in Mrs. Miniver, I was with a group of guys who had a crush on you. The other guys had a crush on Betty Grable and Jane Russell. For a long time after I got married my wife could not quite understand that--until today.
Before the interview there was a screening of The Actress starring Ms. Wright, Jean Simmons and Spencer Tracy. Anthony Perkins made his screen debut in this film. It was directed by George Cukor and was based on the play Years Ago by Ruth Gordon. John Springer asked her: "In the business atmosphere of the 1950s, what was your agent's reaction to your leaping from ingenue roles to the mother's role in The Actress? She didn't remember she had as much screen time as she did. "It probably couldn't have been better cast. It was lovely working with Jean and Spencer and George. I wasn't old enough for the role, just ten years older than Jean, and today it would be cast better."
Before the beginning of the screening, she had received a telegram from Ruth Gordon which said, "I never thought I'd see the day when you would be playing my mother!"