Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Miss Wright Regrets She's Unable to Pose Today


Above, Teresa Wright bestows the look of love on Dana Andrews at the end of The Best Years of Our Lives. They showed it again last night on TCM, for Memorial Day, causing some to point out that the holiday is about remembering the dead, not honoring the living veterans. In the way of most pedantry, this is technically correct, and tiresomely literal. Wyler's film needs no grave scenes; it is death-haunted throughout. Fredric March, Harold Russell and Dana Andrews carry the dead with them, and they always will.

It falls to the women to help bring them back to life, and Wright was the perfect foil for the traumatized Dana Andrews. Throughout her career she played normal, and showed that a good girl has as many angles as a bad, if you approach her with sincerity and don't condescend. What makes her Charlie in Shadow of a Doubt so marvelous, and somewhat unusual in Hitchcock's filmography, is that the girl's essential decency is, for once, made more intriguing and less predictable than the serial killer she's up against.

Wright was eager to play this role for Wyler, says Goldwyn biographer A. Scott Berg, because Peggy Stephenson is a homewrecker, albeit one with the purest of motives. Wright was getting a little tired of being what Wyler called "the best cryer in the business." Then again, this smart and dedicated actress also knew exactly what she did and did not want from the business. The Siren here gives you a key clause from the contract Miss Teresa Wright signed with Samuel Goldwyn Productions at the outset of her career:

Miss Wright shall not be required to pose for photographs in a bathing suit unless she is in water. Neither may she be photographed running on the beach with her hair flying in the wind. Nor may she pose in any of the following situations: in shorts; playing with a cocker spaniel; digging in a garden; whipping up a meal; attired in firecrackers and holding skyrockets for the fourth of July; looking insinuatingly at the turkey for Thanksgiving; wearing a bunny cap with long ears for Easter; twinkling on prop snow in a skiing outfit while a fan blows her scarf.

Perhaps the second sentence of that clause was what Sam Goldwyn had in mind when he allegedly tried to get Wright to loosen up a bit during filming of The Little Foxes by calling to her from behind the camera, "Teresa, let your breasts flow in the breeze!"


You won't find much in the way of Teresa Wright cheesecake, but this shot is readily available on the Internet. The Siren includes it to demonstrate that had she chosen to do so, Miss Wright could have looked insinuating any old time she wanted.







33 comments:

Beth said...

Why not a cocker spaniel, one wonders.

Teresa Wright is one of my favorites, as is "The Best Years of Our Lives," and your blog.

Karen said...

Best contract clause EVER.

And, yes, there is no better film for Memorial Day than The Best Years of Our Lives, a still from which I used as my own Memorial Day tribute. Not only is death a spectre throughout the film, but it's also about the damaged living, who are also worth memorializing.

Karen said...

@Beth, Carole Lombard carries off the Cocker post, but I can see where Ms Wright might have thought it would trivialize or infantilize her:

http://i26.photobucket.com/albums/c149/VP19/carolecutepuppyBIG.jpg

The Siren said...

Beth, thank you so much. I've always loved Wright; she had enormous, transparent sincerity on screen. You never catch her simpering. As for cocker spaniel, it could be that she had a particular photo she'd spotted and hated. But I think that like most successful actresses, she (and presumably her agent) knew that she wasn't going to be competing with the Lana Turners of Hollywood, and attempting to do so was a nonstarter. Better to establish her down-to-earth persona from the start.

Karen, isn't it hilarious? I howled when I found it, because lord knows Tumblr would decrease by half if the photos they're describing were suddenly taken away! I love that she doesn't want to be "whipping up a meal", though, that suggests "don't domesticate me either, fellas."

Jessica Pickens said...

One of my favorite actresses! You're right, she was never an evil dame in her movies, but her normal characters had depth.
Also, thank you for sharing that paragraph from her contract. That gave me a good laugh as well as some insight into her view of Hollywood :)

Vanwall said...

The closest she came to evil IMHO was Thorley Callum, her western incarnation in 1947's "Pursued", as a woman who so hates a man, Robert Mitchum's Jeb Rand, that she plans on marrying him just to kill him on her wedding night. Of course, Thorley finds out how close to love hate really is, and falls in love with Jeb. The signature tune played through the film is "Streets of Laredo", so the possibility of someone ending things in a shroud is hanging around in the back of your mind the whole film.

The Siren said...

Vanwall, you know I don't believe I've seen Pursued yet!! Must rectify that. Raoul Walsh, but I guess it just slipped through the cracks.

Jessica, to my mind the kinds of character Wright plays are uniquely difficult; a femme fatale is already interesting. But a genuinely good girl is someone we feel we already know, what's the big deal? And she makes these women a big deal.

Tinky said...

AND ... she must have been pretty nice as a human being, because she and my mother went to high school together, and my drama-mad mother never complained that Wright got all the leads in the school plays.

Laura said...

PURSUED is a fascinating movie, a "psychological" Western with a lot of interesting things going on, such as Wright's brother being jealous when she falls for her adopted brother Mitchum. I suspect you would have a lot of fun writing about it and look forward to that one day!

Best wishes,
Laura

Richard Cobeen said...

I remember the first time I saw "The Best Years of Our Lives" when I was around 14 or 15, fully enamored with Katherine Hepburn and Jean Arthur, Wright seemed like the dullest actress I could imagine. I give up none of my love of Hepburn and Arthur, but a repeated watching of "Lives" and "Shadow of a Doubt" have convinced me of the supreme intelligence and ability of Wright. Normality has its supreme graces.

Laurence Mintz said...

It's a poignant moment in Best Years when Dana Andrews tells Teresa Wright "They ought to put you in mass production." They couldn't of course, but the mass production ideal was to push actresses like Wright to the side in only a few years.

Birgit said...

The Best years of Our Lives is one of the best war films even though it takes place after the war. It really shows how the men were affected by what they went through. Teresa Wright is one of my favourites because she is a strong woman, who is beautiful and intelligent and interesting. The photo shots she did not want were probably the basic established peek a boo shots every gal took-love the fake snow one-lol

Anna Schmidt said...

I adore Teresa Wright. Of all the sob-able moments in Mrs. Miniver, I truly lose it over Carol.

Keira said...

You know, she has a real point.

http://www.peoplepets.com/people/pets/gallery/0,,20547942_21083784,00.html

yojimboen said...

Well, it’s TBYOOL time again and who better to get us up on our hind legs than Ms FNS? Missed you, darlin’.

“You won't find much in the way of Teresa Wright cheesecake, but this shot is readily available on the Internet. The Siren includes it to demonstrate that had she chosen to do so, Miss Wright could have looked insinuating any old time she wanted.”

Oh yes, indeed. This lady smoked
(These are as much for you, Larry, I’ve been absent too long.)

With Brando
I said she smoked
Close-Up, suitable for framing
One of the series of three from that day’s shoot
Two
Three
Evening wear
Everything is beautiful at…

A shot that has long intrigued me…

When I first saw it a few years ago it didn’t really register. A production still? Doesn’t look like it, it’s at the wedding. A quick grab publicity still – could be, her hat is back on, but I’ve never seen it in any presskit, and I’ve seen a few. No, it looks like a frame from a post-kiss, post-wedding sequence (post-end title for that matter) that was shot and cut. Look at Al’s right hand, grasping Fred’s bicep in warm welcome and approval; Peggy eyes are alive with joy that it’s all going to work out (maybe with dad’s help they won’t “get kicked around”). And Fred. Does he display that expression of peace and redemption anywhere else in the movie? Whether or not Wyler shot a brief happily-ever-after sequence to wrap things up and never used it (or planned to and never got further than this still), we’ll never know. But for me, this will always be the moment when Fred Derry finally comes home.

Phil said...

That clip from the contract is hilarious. You might like this book I'm reading, Laura Lamont's Life In Pictures by Emma Straub. It's about a Wisconsin girl who heads to Hollywood in the 30s. The studio decided who you were going to be and what you were going to be called.

X Trapnel said...

Y,

This may the gem of your awe-inspiring collection and your commentary is further proof (in a backhanded way) that Kuleshov was right. On first viewing I thought Wright's face iridescent with ambiguity under the smile (fearful? defiant? apologetic?); Andrews' expression a more developed variant on Mark McPherson's tiny smile (smirk of triumph over Shelby/Waldo; suppressed rictus of ecstasy that Laura is now his)on hearing Gene T. say she doesn't love Shelby. Since the shot echoes the March/Andrews confrontation in profile over coffee at Butch's I thought the former's expression suggested an immediate deployment of one of those dirty fighting tricks he'd alluded to. Well, I read your interpretation, looked again and now everyone looks as pleased as (non-alcoholic) punch.

halwimsey said...

Thanks, Siren. I've been missing your posts and was thrilled to find this one waiting for me at the end of a busy week. I saw The Best Years of Our Lives again about a month ago - only my third viewing, but it is up there amongst my favourites.

Wisewebwoman said...

I fell in love with her in "Shadow"... and continued on through the rest of her films. Extraordinary actress and her luminosity in films is breathtaking.

And "ordinary" girl with extraordinary allure.

XO
WWW

Kirk said...

Had Theresa Wright only done SHADOW OF A DOUBT and THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES--Thank God she didn't--I'd be a fan of hers.

Theresa Wright reminds me a bit of Mary Astor, in that they were two suburb actresses that never became big stars mainly because they never cared about stardom all that much. They weren't careerists, whereas I think, maybe, Katherine Hepburn and Bette Davis were, at least part of the time. This isn't to say there's anything wrong with being a careerist. We'd have very few movie icons otherwise. But Wright and Astor were more singularly focused on the job at hand, and I think they turned in just as many great performances as the more iconic stars, albeit usually in supporting roles.

As for being a likable home-wrecker in TBYOOL, it helps that this particular home was kept by a rather unlikable Virginia Mayo (which, of course, is what she the script expected of her.)

Kirk said...

"...just as many great performances" was a poor choice of words, especially in Wright's case as I don't believe she did all that many films. I should have written "performances were of same consistent high-caliber" or something like that.

Dave said...

Ahh, the irony. Wright played mostly sweet, dependable, even pliant characters, but IRL she was a feisty woman with native NYC instincts. Her kiss-off to Goldwyn and the Hollywood contract system.

I'm sure ultimately, it will be a footnote in her career, but I'd like to put in a plug for her valuable work in television, especially in the 1950s and 1960s. She did innumerable Playhouse 90s, Alcoa Theaters, Lux Video Theaters, United Steel Theaters, etc. The quality of these often live productions was spotty, but her performances were not.

Later, she did more guest shots on quality dramas, such as The Defenders, which was shot in New York. I think she did a few Alfred Hitchcocks, and I'll bet she would have done many more if it were shot on the East Coast.

How hard it is to find someone who can play a hero and be more interesting than the villain. Teresa Wright had that knack (and I think Amy Adams does today) because she was not uncomplicated. There was a brain, and a will there, along with immense talent.

barrylane said...

After her 'kiss-off' to Goldwyn, Teresa Wright also said that she had proven her ability to work for ten percent of her former fee in lesser projects.

The Siren said...

Goldwyn canceled Wright's contract after ill health caused her to neglect promoting Enchantment (which I think is a rather charming film, but I digress). She had dropped out of several films before that, plus Goldwyn also saw that her "marquee rating" wasn't getting any better. So while she expressed regrets later, it is possible to argue about whether Wright's best parts were going to be behind her, no matter what (although for the next 5 years she still made some very good movies -- The Actress, The Men).

But it is definitely true that a lot of actors who became free agents, after a long fight or just by circumstance, found that outside the star factory it was very easy to get lost.

barrylane said...

We are probably on the same page but Enchantment was unsuccessful, and while The Men certainly, neither the big money or the picture belonged to her. As for The Actress, Jean Simmons was front and center, and despite the good reviews, also a non-starter with the public. David Niven, in the Moon Is A Balloon, referred to Goldwyn as his best friend, regretted leaving the studio, and acknowledge the touch time he had prior to Around The World.

barrylane said...

Of course, that should be 'tough' time...

The Siren said...

"Touch time" for loverboy David Niven is entirely too Freudian!

No argument that Wright's roles were smaller after she left. I guess what I'm saying is that even if Wright had stayed with Goldwyn she might have found herself frittered away on small roles there, too. (And he had a very small operation in any case.) Stardom is cruelly short for most of them, with or without a presiding genius guiding matters.

barrylane said...

My observation was mostly directed at the celebration, and the term 'kiss off' used by a poster re Wright and Goldwyn. No one ever knows about t he future but it is awfully nice to have someone guarantee a good income and run interference. Goldwyn did that. So did all the other big studio heads who stayed the course. They were not the enemy.

yojimboen said...

(although for the next 5 years she still made some very good movies -- The Actress, The Men.)

Scroll up to my above post for the money shot with Brando from The Men.

The Siren said...

It really is a beautiful shot, Y. - I look at it and I can hear her breathe.

Unknown said...

Strange how some actors vanish completely from public memory. Probably not even 2% of people under 50 have any idea who Teresa Wright was, though niche acts like Esther Williams or Sonya Henie are still vaguely remembered.

barrylane said...

Esther Williams was a star, and for a long time. She did play variations of her own pesona, and played them well. She is still a star in some quarters, which really is all film people are today. Niche stars. When Esther was at work -- what she did was a big deal to a lot of people. Teresa Wright was not a star, but a working actress. There are those who take the position that she chose this, and if so, she chose wisely. Everyone cannot be a star, but talented people can indeed work at their jobs.

FDChief said...

I'd tend to agree that Williams and Heine are remembered BECAUSE they were specialty acts; the "swimming movie star", the "skating movie star". Wright was a good actress without the oddity that would have enabled her memory to survive in the mayfly world of popular entertainment.

Best Years... may well be the best, or at least one of the best, films to come out of WW2 because of Wyler's long look into the abyss. You're right in that all three of the returning veterans share his horrors, and its to his credit and Wright's that she does such a terrific job; her performance makes it clear that Wright's Peggy isn't kidding herself about Andrew's Fred. She's not hoping for a romantic dream, she sees him for the guy that the war has wrecked in a lot of ways...but she walks to him with her eyes open.

In fact, she, along with Myrna Loy's Milly and Cathy O'Donnell's Wilma are just as damaged, just as grieved, in their own ways as their men are. I've often wondered if Wyler talked to her wife Margaret about her feelings towards him and how the war had changed him. Five Came Back didn't go into detail about that, but you'd suspect that he must have got that insight from someone who'd walked that walk, and who knew him better?

The contract clause makes me as fond of Wright as you can be of someone you don't know. Ridiculously awesome...