The Quiet Power of Dorothy McGuire Part II

Please note: To review this two part blog from the beginning, you can start here.

By the end of 1946, Dorothy McGuire found herself a successful screen actress. She had played two benighted servants who overcame their problems, a child-wife, and another, more knowing wife with a bitter heart, who was also an inarticulate mother struggling to help her family and to master her own repressive tendencies. For any actress, her work on screen was an enviable achievement. There was one problem with her career. She was unconventional in her naturalism; neither a glossy fantasy nor a femme fatale, but something in between that Hollywood found vexing to cast–an undeniably intelligent actress.

McGuire‘s position may not have been helped by her place in David O. Selznick‘s stable of actors, who then included Joan Fontaine, Gregory Peck, Shirley Temple, Ingrid Bergman, Joseph Cotton, and Jennifer Jones, among several others. As these talented contractees soon learned, Selznick‘s creative reach often exceeded his grasp in getting projects off the ground after the near paralyzing success of Gone With the Wind (1939) and Rebecca (1940). Increasingly preoccupied with his byzantine business schemes and his growing passion for Jennifer Jones, he began to rely on income from the services of his actors sold at a premium for films that he had little to do with producing. Though he often managed to inundate chagrined filmmakers with his endless memos offering suggestions about his clients’ appearance and acting, as his soon to be ex-wife, Irene Mayer Selznick pointed out, with astute bluntness, as his creative skills waned, he was becoming “a glorified agent…a flesh peddler of talent.”

Not surprisingly, McGuire, who found herself pressured to appear in a popular sequel to her first film, in Claudia and David (1946), began a period when she was more inclined to initiate a search for her own projects. Explaining that she “wanted to get away from [my] ingenue flutter”, the actress went against Selznick‘s advice and sought to avoid typecasting and remain commercially viable in the movies in her next role. McGuire auditioned for a key part in director Edward Dmytryk and screenwriter Allen Rivkin‘s adaptation of Niven Busch‘s novel of returning veterans, They Dream of Home, to be produced under the socially conscious aegis of Dore Schary at RKO studios. Changing the title to the infelicitous, (and rather dumb), Till the End of Time (1946), McGuire was cast in the complex role of a slightly older, emotionally at sea war widow who becomes involved with a youthful Marine returned from World War Two. Played by the extremely handsome, totally artless, and, to be truthful, rather wooden fellow Selznick player, Guy Madison, was asked to play a young man who finds himself in a psychological no man’s land when he returns to his childhood home. Finding his home and his world no longer fit any better than his teenage clothes do now on his veteran’s frame, his parents are loving but not able to do much to help him except encourage him to get a job. His father is well played by Tom Tully, whose WWI experience give him some understanding of his son. His mother is played by Ruth Nelson, who silently watches him intently while he sleeps, but can’t bear to hear about his combat experiences.  Madison sleeps in his boyhood room, surrounded by his pennants, small scale furniture and constricted role as a dutiful son.

Unable to shake his restlessness, he is drawn back to his friends from the service, Robert Mitchum, who is exceptional as a man who must come to terms with living with a plate in his head, and Bill Williams, as a man who has lost his will to live along with his legs in the war. When Madison meets and picks up McGuire‘s willing war widow shortly after they meet, the movie acknowledges more adult behavior than most pre-war films ever did. Though it was somewhat revolutionary for the period, this movie presents McGuire’s character as a person who is aware of her own sexuality, and acknowledges her needs, wants and her fallibility.  Directing Dorothy McGuire in the role was, according to Dmytryk, quite difficult, since the actress repeatedly contradicted every directorial suggestion and because she apparently had little confidence in her own allure. “If I planned a sitting scene, she wanted to walk.  If I wanted her to move, she insisted on sitting down. Adopting a risky strategy, I always suggested the opposite of what I really wanted her to do. If she had gone along with me, I would have been up a tree.” McGuire later explained that she never felt fully comfortable in what she regarded as an underwritten role that called for her to smoke, drink, and express a passionate nature that may not have come naturally to her. However, the edge of uncertain anger, sorrow and her “ordinary prettiness” without the artifice of brittleness that usually masked such roles in Hollywood movies, makes her contradictory character rather refreshing and real in a way that was rare for that period.  Her relationship with the younger man is not subliminally maternal, but womanly. This is particularly so in one scene at the beach, anticipating the frankness of From Here to Eternity, which communicates her availability and his urgency in a manner that seems to have been overlooked by the usually wary and all too observant Production Code boys.

The film, released about four months before the iconic The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), lacks the William Wyler film’s depth of emotional authority. There are few of the lump in the throat moments that you may feel, no matter how many times you see Harold Russell return to his parents, or when Myrna Loy feels the presence of her husband (Fredric March) before she sees him down the hall in the Wyler movie. Yet, there are quietly powerful scenes between Madison and his buddies, building castles in the air, dreaming about a ranch where only vets can hire on, or those when McGuire, at her most wistfully urgent, lends a conspiratorial feel to her tentative bond with Madison, especially in a scene when they try to aid a shell shocked soldier coming undone in a skating rink. These linger in memory long after seeing this movie. Often dismissed as “the poor man’s Best Years of Our Lives”, this small scale movie may have fallen short with the critics over time, this film, (which is only available on vhs in the U.S.),  has an appealing quality that has been rediscovered over the years whenever it is broadcast, as it was last month on TCM, (and hopefully, will be again). The mixed reviews that Till the End of Time received seemed a moot point to the self-critical actress later, who remarked “I’ve fought for things, and sometimes I have been right. I fought the hardest for this role and it was my least successful. I went right back to playing nice girls and faithful wives.I went right back to playing nice girls and faithful wives.” One of those “faithful wives” she played was part of  Sam Goldwyn‘s  attempt at a cinematic follow-up to Best Years of Our Lives with I Want You (1950). Producer Goldwyn once again tapped Dana Andrews as his leading actor, this time as a duty-bound reservist called up for the Korean conflict, much to the peeved chagrin of Dorothy McGuire, as his ultimately understanding wife. While it was refreshing to see McGuire play a character who had qualms about her husband falling into line with the military mindset, the script and overall acting of the piece lacked the emotional and social coherence of BYOOL, and did not seem to give the actress new ground to explore.

Off screen and off stage, Dorothy McGuire‘s frustrations with Selznick, directors, and Hollywood’s general expectations of her may have been diminished by her deep happiness since her marriage in 1943 to John Swope, a young man she had met through Henry Fonda, her fellow Omaha native.  Swope was a former actor with the University Players, the acting troupe that had fostered the talents of Fonda, James Stewart and director Joshua Logan, among others. Johnny Swope was an heir to General Electric and an aviator who went on to co-found an airline just before WWII, as well as a fine still photographer, contributing to Life magazine for decades. He had joined his friends Fonda and Stewart as a roommate when he moved to Hollywood to take on a job as an assistant director at the studios. Swope‘s first book of photos, which drew on that experience, was called Camera Over Hollywood: Photographs of John Swope 1936-1938. Depicting the hard work behind the screen in the late 1930s, it has recently been republished in 1999. Another book, A Letter from Japan, (published as a book in 2006), is part of a traveling exhibition of Swope‘s photos taken as part of an elite team of Edward Steichen Naval photographers sent to Japan to document the release of Allied prisoners of war at the end of the war. The text that accompanied the long unseen photographs was taken from a touching 144-page letter that Swope wrote to McGuire during his Japanese sojourn, recording his reactions to all he saw of the P.O.W.s and the Japanese when he came ashore at the end of 1945, armed only with a Rolleiflex 75mm. Writing to Dorothy, he notes his feeling that it is “very strange and odd to go ashore each day and come face to face with very worst ravages of war – the complete destruction of the years and years of planning, effort, money and human sweat of the people of Japan, together with the human wreckage represented [by] the liberated PWs – and then to return to the ship each night and to suddenly be transported a million miles away from the horror of daytime.”

The Swope exhibit, which is currently on display at the Block Museum at Northwestern University until the end of November, also includes several wry and sharply observed images of familiar Hollywood faces in unusual settings. One particularly striking  photo shows a burnished if anxious Tyrone Power, society doyenne Elsa Maxwell and the Duke of Windsor all seemingly avoiding one another in a frame, (found here ). Another shows a boyish Jimmy Stewart, already on the cusp of stardom, playing with a model airplane in the desert, oblivious to everything but the toy. Many more images catch the humanity of the exhausted warriors and devastated civilians of Japan at the end of the disastrous war in the Pacific.

Despite the usual dismal success of many Hollywood marriages, Dorothy McGuire and John Swope had a thirty-five year union that prompted many to use the shopworn term “storybook”, when describing their evident happiness.  They were the parents of a daughter, Topo (Mary) Swope, a former actress, born in 1948, and a son, Mark Swope, a photographer*, born in 1953.  As a conscientious photographer of everyday life, even his own, John Swope celebrated the birth of his and Dorothy’s daughter Topo with a picture of her when she was 176 minutes old, taken by her father, (This photo became a Life magazine cover, which can be seen at the right at the end of this paragraph).

Topo Swope, photographed by her father, John Swope when she was only hours old.

Later he worked in Hollywood chronicling film sets, (as seen in the adjacent image of Marlon Brando delivering Caesar’s eulogy during the Joseph Mankiewicz production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (1953), photographing his family and many of their famous friends, such as Mel Ferrer and Audrey Hepburn, and, increasingly capturing the natural world and people out of the mainstream on film over the years.

One superficially “nice girl” that Dorothy McGuire played shortly after her restless widow in Till the End of Time managed to have several shades of gray. McGuire played a divorcée who becomes involved with journalist Gregory Peck in the 20th Century Fox film adaptation of Laura Z. Hobson’s Gentleman’s Agreement (1947).  Dorothy McGuire‘s performance of Nora in Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House” on the radio is said to have convinced Darryl Zanuck that she was right for the part of the conflicted character in this film. Director Elia Kazan, who had earlier evoked great depth from McGuire in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, thought she was right for the part as well, though he had misgivings about what he believed were the compromises in the story made necessary by commercialism. As an earlier co-worker, Peggy Ann Garner, reflected much later, “Kazan had a marvelous quality. He even knew how to handle Dorothy McGuire, and there was a certain way you had to handle that lady.”
This then innovative movie addressed what it meant on an everyday level to be a Jew in America, a hornet’s nest that the film industry, largely managed by sensitive Jewish moguls, was understandably reluctant to stir up–especially if it affected their always insecure status and the bottom line. The filmmakers, prompted by a non-Jewish studio head,  Darryl F. Zanuck, director Elia Kazan and screenwriter Moss Hart approached the risky topic rather gingerly–though at the time of production it was quite striking in its frankness. Today, many critics view this film as “too nice”, glossing over some ugly realities in retrospect, but the fact that it was made, (in the same period as the similarly themed, grittier Crossfire), and that it found a large audience help to make it still worthwhile. Casting a young and, by his own later admission, callow Gregory Peck as a journalist and widower who lives with his son (Dean Stockwell, who is splendid) and mother (Ann Revere), the film follows Peck as he takes on the task of writing a “think piece” for a magazine (which seems to be based on Time, Inc.) about Anti-Semitism after WWII. To help him learn more about the experience of prejudice first hand, the WASPish Peck‘s character tells people that he is of Jewish descent, often going out of his way to mention his Judaism in an effort to evoke a response from others. In a matter of eight weeks, he acquires a front row center seat on life in a minority, having his “nose rubbed in it” when he finds a nimble hotel manager who refuses him a room in a thinly veiled equivocation, sees his young son beaten up at the park by other boys who believe he is “a dirty kike”, or finds that the apparently liberally educated, elegant and warm socialite (Dorothy McGuire), he has recently fallen in love with resents his pose of Judaism. Overwhelmed with his new-found knowledge (and a bit of self-righteousness), Gregory Peck points out to McGuire‘s shocked and hurt character that she may have a lingering prejudice within her as well. John Garfield, playing a supporting role as Peck‘s Jewish war veteran friend, electrifies this film in all his brief scenes, bringing a street wise credibility and his unique charisma to the story. He points out to his friend Peck that his experiment has made him “a crazy fool” whose telescoped experience is more cutting because “you’re not insulated yet. It’s new every time, so the impact must be quite a business on you.” Today, the conflicted reaction of McGuire‘s character to her fiancé Peck‘s attitude and her longing for a serene, comfortable life, insulated from life’s conflicts, may evoke impatience from viewers. The beautifully played scene in the restaurant between Kathy Lacy (Dorothy McGuire) and Dave Goldman (John Garfield) brings out the essentially sad quality of Dorothy McGuire‘s character and her lack of self-knowledge. Feeling that Peck‘s accusation of anti-Semitism in her is unjust, McGuire tries to use Garfield as a sounding board. Meeting him for a quiet drink away from Peck, she explains how ugly she believes prejudice is by mentioning a wealthy and “important” man at a dinner party who had made some crass remarks about Jewish people. Explaining her silent anger at his unfair comments, she says that everyone at the table despised him, especially her. Dave quietly asks what she did about it, not what she felt.  McGuire mentions that she felt sick and still felt ill thinking about that occasion. She had wanted to yell at the man and the assembled guests, “Why do we sit here and take this?” Garfield asks quietly, “I wonder if you’d feel so sick now if you’d nailed him. There’s a kind of elation in socking back.”  Kathy’s silent realization of her own culpability for perpetuating injustice by acquiescing in the name of civility lasts for a few moments. Then she covers her eyes with her hands, and the scene ends.

Peck and McGuire‘s characters come together again at the conclusion of the film, satisfying producer Zanuck‘s belief that audiences would only accept this love story resolution, though given the unease of their reconciliation, it seems an ambivalent ending. Btw, if you’d like to start an argument among film aficionados sometime, just ask them if they think this is a satisfying conclusion to this story.

A critical and popular success, the director Kazan felt dissatisfied with both Peck and McGuire‘s characterizations. He wrote, somewhat condescendingly, that Dorothy McGuire gave a performance that was “‘straight’, no surprises” and that she was “perfect for the part–not the nicest thing to say about a fine girl.” The film, which received a clutch of Oscar nominations, including McGuire‘s sole Oscar nod as Best Actress, won three as Best Picture, for Kazan as Best Director, and for Celeste Holm‘s likable working girl, a Best Supporting Actress award. While it was not Dorothy‘s most sympathetic role, she gave the character a believable and appealing fallibility that made Kathy a well-meaning if limited person whose experience might change her. Her grace and refinement also made her appeal for Peck‘s character quite understandable despite his disappointment in her.  Holm, when later asked about her experience working with Dorothy McGuire, commented that she “was lovely to work with, but I remember that she was kind of unhappy, though, because she had just lost a baby. And I had just had one, and was blooming.”

Despite this sad event in the actress’ private life, there seems to have been much more to be happy about during this decade, including her marriage and, after Gentleman’s Agreement, her alliance with Gregory Peck and Mel Ferrer, with whom she was instrumental in creating the La Jolla Playhouse . McGuire and Peck became friends while under contract to Selznick and during the production of Gentleman’s Agreement. Both longed to return to their theatrical roots to work and were discouraged by the lack of viable theaters in Southern California. Since their film commitments did not allow them to return to New York to appear on Broadway, the pair, along with Mel Ferrer, almost as a lark, formed the idea for a repertory company to be called the Actor’s Company in the beautiful California town where Peck had spent many of his childhood years.  Starting in 1947, the playhouse offered established actors and apprentice actors on the West Coast a chance to appear in good, usually well known plays before live audiences. As their schedules permitted, the trio appeared at the playhouse, (which was initially located in the local high school auditorium), and took on the sometimes daunting task of managing the facility.

McGuire appeared in the plays The Importance of Being Earnest, I Am a Camera, The Winslow Boy and Tonight at 8:30 at La Jolla, which were all roles that she would never have been cast in for the movies. Eventually, in the early 1950s, John Swope stepped in to manage the facility for the triumvirate until 1959, when it officially dormant became dormant until it was revived in 1983.. The La Jolla Playhouse exists today as a thriving institution, earning a Tony award for Regional Theatre in 1993 and fostering new plays and thoughtful revivals. In addition to her on stage appearances at La Jolla, Dorothy McGuire managed a 1950 tour in Tennessee Williams’ Summer and Smoke and appeared opposite Richard Burton in an updated 1951 version of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth on Broadway in a brief run in Jean Anouilh’s Legend of Lovers. In the 1970s, McGuire played in a critically acclaimed stage production of Williams’ Night of the Iguana on both coasts, portraying the faithful, peripatetic granddaughter of poet Raymond Massey with Richard Chamberlain in the lead as the defrocked Anglican priest. 

At the end of the ’40s, a year in Italy enjoying life with her husband and her baby daughter may have slowed her career. When McGuire returned to pictures in 1950, the “industry”, which gave most successful actors about five years to “make it” before tiring of them,  was becoming a much harsher place. The studio system continued to disintegrate and McCarthyism contributed to the chill in the creative air.

By the dawn of the ’50s, McGuire‘s own career lacked one thing: a truly popular, wholly commercial hit. In part in an effort to enlarge her repertoire from aesthetic parts she had long been associated with, Dorothy took more varied roles, with some degree of success.

My personal favorite from this period is Mister 880 (1950),  featuring Burt Lancaster,  who seems to have been trying to soften his tough guy persona as a soft-hearted Treasury agent in this lighter film.  Dorothy appeared as a bemused U.N. translator who plays a neighbor of Edmund Gwenn, the skilled veteran actor who has been described as one “who could charm the stripes off a zebra”.  Based on an actual case of a not-so-greedy counterfeiter, Gwenn, (who replaced the recently deceased Walter Huston on short notice), played an endearingly amateurish fraud who  passed off crudely copied one dollar bills for ten years. The U.S. Treasury Department’s embarrassing and bulging file labeled #880 filled with the details of the unsolved passing of bogus bucks became an obsession for the T-man played by Lancaster. Dorothy McGuire, an unwitting recipient of the bills, becomes involved–naturally–with the handsome agent, but does her best, in her understated way with comedy to protect the foxy Gwenn.  Director Edmund Goulding, who had brought out so much of Dorothy‘s charm in her first film, Claudia (1943), was an ill man while overseeing this picture, but it may be one that well deserves to be revived. Long gone from broadcast television and commercially unavailable on home recording, I hope that 20th Century Fox will someday release this nimble comic charmer.

A more polished but less dramatically coherent attempt at an intelligent “woman’s picture” came in 1952 with MGM’s Invitation, a movie that featured Dorothy McGuire as the very well heeled daughter of a concerned Louis Calhern. As the luminously frail heart patient who was married to poor boy Van Johnson, the actress used her gentle and intelligent skill, and especially her voice, to inject the overproduced and unlikely enterprise with a transfusion of real, if fleeting feeling. Gottfried Reinhardt, the son of the legendary innovative theatrical giant Max Reinhardt had worked in the U.S. film industry since 1935, as a writer for Ernst Lubitsch and as a producer at MGM since 1940. This film, which was his first as a director, came at a particularly tricky time for the director, the star Van Johnson, McGuire and newcomer Ruth Roman, not to mention MGM. Journalist Lillian Ross of The New Yorker magazine, while preparing her pioneering book, Picture, on the inner workings of the film industry, had documented the sturm and drang surrounding the production of The Red Badge of Courage, which was directed by John Huston and produced by Gottfried Reinhardt. Huston’s allegedly controversial film was considered a “failure” before its release by the management staff of MGM under Dore Schary. This long entrenched group of producers and executives made the intrigues at the court of the Romanovs appear like a cub scout meeting compared to their jockeying for power and position. In this hothouse atmosphere, Reinhardt‘s film, which might have done better as a small scale “B” movie, was nearly overwhelmed by the soapier aspects of the plot, which  followed the travails of the rich, supposedly plain girl (Dorothy McGuire) who marries poor boy Van Johnson.

A former idol of the bobby soxers, Johnson was an actor whose megastardom was fading at the studio, but whose best performances were still ahead of him.  As McGuire‘s husband he struggled to establish himself with the help of his wife’s money, while making his mercenary role simulataneously sympathetic and supportive. His rich wife soon learns several secrets about herself and her spouse and, oh yes, a robustly healthy, if rather overheated old girlfriend as well, played as well as she could by rising star, Ruth Roman. Even veteran actors Louis Calhern and Ray Collins are practically overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of dazzling sets, the swooning music of Bronislau Kaper, and the endless palaver in this movie, with a wordy script by a usually good writer, Paul Osborn, (author of On Borrowed Time and later the adapted screenplay of East of Eden from Steinbeck‘s massive novel). Reinhardt, who reportedly received a new car, gold cuff links and other ostentatious presents on the first day of shooting on Invitation, miraculously went on to direct part of The Story of Three Loves (1953) and the memorable Town Without Pity (1960), which was produced after he returned to Germany to work. Without Dorothy McGuire‘s wistful presence, however, I suspect that Invitation, instead of being occasionally touching, may have been as artificial as the pond constructed on the sound stage outside the lavish home where the characters in this flick do the majority of their suffering.

Another film, Three Coins in the Fountain (1954), brought McGuire a commercial success unlike any she had previously known. The movie, set in Rome, and directed by Jean Negulesco, starred DorothyMaggie McNamara and Jean Peters as American women of various ages and experience working in The Eternal City. As expected in the rather rigid world of  ’50s commercial cinema, reflecting some distorted societal values, they were also actively hunting for a mate. McGuire, whose character was the eldest and the most experienced, played the “old maid” secretary to a Bernard Berenson-like art connoisseur, (Clifton Webb) whose waspishness and routine have blinded him to the obvious love felt for him by Dorothy McGuire‘s character. Over the course of the movie, as each “girl” struggles with trying to drag a man to the altar, it is the odd couple of Webb and McGuire that proves most amusing and somewhat touching. (The pair would reteam in 1959′s The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker as well, a mildly entertaining film that gave Dorothy an opportunity to look her most beautiful in turn of the century costumes playing the non-plussed wife to an unlikely yet successful bigamist (Webb) with two thriving families that recalled his earlier success in Cheaper By the Dozen).

There is one memorable scene Three Coins in the Fountain that threatens to wrest the story from a moment of mild comic tomfoolery into some awkward reality. This occurs when Dorothy McGuire, in a funk over her lack of progress with Webb, uncharacteristically decides to get drunk and jumps in a fountain.  Soon cold sober and realizing that she is too old and sensible for such shenanigans, McGuire climbs dripping from the fountain, not as a “Venus Rising” figure, but as a disappointed, very wet failed romantic. While I found much of the movie pretty insufferable, (other than the beautiful location shots of Italy), I suspect that the participation of many cast members, perhaps even Dorothy McGuire, (seen at right with co-star Louis Jourdan), may have been influenced by the opportunity for a paid vacation in Italy. Three Coins in the Fountain is available on a dvd that appropriately conveys the cinemascopic proportions of the film and the color of the original is adequately if not perfectly transferred to the new format. I realize that my attitude toward this movie is not shared by many observers, who are happily able to suspend their judgment while enjoying the entertainment on display. I just wish the women, for the most part, didn’t have to appear to be so dumb.  In any case, the commercial prominence of the film may have helped to make McGuire seem a viable candidate for her next notable role with one of the greatest filmmakers of his era.

Later in the decade, when director William Wyler was preparing to make a movie of the stories about a Quaker family in Indiana during the Civil War, he contacted the author Jessamyn West. The filmmaker and the writer hit it off, and she moved to Los Angeles to participate in the transformation of her episodic stories into Friendly Persuasion (1956) starring Gary Cooper, Dorothy McGuire and Anthony Perkins. Filmed on a beautiful farm set created largely at the 214-acre Rowland V. Lee movie ranch in the San Fernando Valley, the movie captures the humorous and spiritual crises of the Birdwell family, led by the relaxed father, Jess (Gary Cooper) and the more religiously scrupulous mother, Eliza (Dorothy McGuire). In the original stories and script, West and the screenwriters had the mother as the central figure of the tale, but after Gary Cooper became attached to the project, the story was shifted to focus on his antics and his efforts to help his eldest son, (Perkins) who was being drawn into the encroaching war, despite their family’s beliefs. Cooper, feeling uncomfortable in a pacifist role, is said to have lobbied to have at least one moment of active, justifiable violence incorporated into the script. West suggested that the actor “furnish your public with the refreshing picture of a strong man refraining”, an alternative that apparently had not been considered likely behavior for a movie star. Fortunately, West’s desire to see Quaker values depicted on screen was honored, and Mr. Cooper did not strike a blow or shoot a gun during the film. Still, a strong rapport developed between Wyler, West and Cooper as the story came together.

With the shift in story emphasis, Dorothy McGuire may have felt that she needed to fight for her character’s life in the movie. According to Wyler‘s assistant at the time, “Every woman between thirty and fifty-five was considered for Eliza” from Jane Wyman to Maureen O’Hara to Martha Scott. One day Wyler seriously asked Jessamyn West what she might think of casting Jane Russell, “a very pious girl” in the role! He finally settled on McGuire, an actress who could convey a blend of prim intelligence with an undercurrent of playful sexuality and humor.

Hoping to help her get into character, the meticulous if sometimes inarticulate Wyler,asked her “to come to the set hours a day before production”, according to Dorothy. Dorothy McGuire as Eliza Birdwell in Friendly Persuasion (1956)There, he had her spend vast amounts of time kneading bread, emulating the actions of a 19th century country woman.  The actress said that he “never explained why he did something, he just asked you to do it. It was funny. What director would ask you to knead bread? I guess it put me into a different period of time…” While Wyler sometimes had difficulty explaining his motives for requiring individuals in his cast to perform such tasks or to do repeated takes, when he suggested that McGuire move out of her home away from her family during the production, she drew the line at being accommodating to the director. Enlisting Jessamyn West in his Quakerization of the actress, he had the writer take Dorothy to a Society of Friends’ prayer meeting in Pasadena, hoping that she would absorb the quality of Quaker reflection for the part. In the end, the tender characterization delivered by Dorothy McGuire as the stricter parent Eliza Birdwell opposite a splendid Gary Cooper won praise from critics for “her spirited and compassionate” performance, highlighted by her secret enjoyment of pell-mell buggy rides, her reconciliation with her husband in the barn after a fight, her efforts to understand her son’s desire to defend his home, and her fear that everything she knows and holds dear may be threatened. Actress and director may not have been perfectly attuned to one another on the set, but the resulting film, which is readily available on dvd, is scheduled to be broadcast on TCM on Feb 20, 2009 at 3:00 PM ET. My only objection to this film is the treacly song performed by Pat Boone at the beginning of the movie, a ghastly trend in the film industry that lasted well into the next decades.

With Friendly Persuasion‘s completion, Dorothy McGuire began to play a series of warmly matriarchal roles, including two of the best of the early live action films at the Walt Disney studio . Dorothy McGuire was both strong and loving as the frontier mother left on her own on a Texas ranch with her youngsters in Old Yeller (1957), a movie of such heartbreaking power and memory that I simply cannot watch the whole thing to this day, despite the allegedly optimistic coming-of-age trappings of the film. To Walt Disney‘s credit, when some objected to the darker qualities of author Fred Gipson‘s story about the family and the ultimate sacrifice of the dog trying to protect them, he insisted that the screenwriters and director Robert Stevenson not sugarcoat the overt sense of transformative loss that permeates the movie. Actually, in looking at the movie again, (despite my better instincts), I recently realized that McGuire is the only consistently present and aware adult throughout the film, which is filled with scenes of parting, from  Fess Parker‘s forced abandonment of his family in the wilderness to ensure their future security to the searingly painful choice that Tommy Kirk must make regarding Old Yeller.  If you watch this film, be sure you have your hankies handy.

In Ken Annakin’s dazzling version of Swiss Family Robinson (1960), (which I wrote about extensively here ), Dorothy McGuire creates a feeling of real tenderness with John Mills as her husband, and James MacArthur, Tommy Kirk and Kevin Corcoran formed a believable, very human family unit as the center of what is really, (when looked at objectively) a wild, and entertaining fantasy. My only objection to the film might be the depiction of McGuire‘s mother as being rather helpless, and even critical as her husband and boys perform miracles creating their island home with scraps of a wrecked ship. These beautifully made films, which are today being cherished by a new generation on, are now being introduced to them by the baby boomers they were made for originally on dvd replete with myriad extras. Old Yeller (1957) will also be shown on TCM on Dec. 7th, 2008 at 6:15 PM ET, and on the same day, Swiss Family Robinson (1960) will be aired at 1:45 PM ET.

The end of the 1950s also saw McGuire take on two roles that may be among her most memorable in the mature phase of her career, though one has been too often dismissed as “paperback romance” and the other, Robert Preston & Dorothy McGuire in the unforgettable The Dark at the Top of the Stairs (1960)The Dark at the Top of the Stairs (1960),  has apparently been almost forgotten by the Warner Brothers company that made it and the general public.  TCM has aired the Delbert Mann adaptation of William Inge’s The Dark at the Top of the Stairs in the past, and this neglected gem  features some of the best ensemble work of its time by a powerhouse cast headed by McGuire, Robert Preston, Eve Arden, Angela Lansbury, Frank Overton, Lee Kinsolving and Shirley Knight. The movie focuses on the domestic problems of a Midwestern couple after the husband has lost his job at a buggy supply company thanks to changing technology. Rubin and Cora Flood, played with gusto by Preston and with a diffident tremulousness laced with resentment by McGuire, are utterly believable as a long married pair, who assume so much about each other that they miss what is actually happening to one another. Coping with their own heartbreaking needs as well as that of their family in the 1920s, this story illuminates the ways in which real, flawed people struggle to understand their changing identities and their reactions to the financial, sexual and social issues that were just beneath the seemingly placid surface of life. A moment of compassion between McGuire & Eve Arden in The Dark at the Top of the StairsRather than trivialize or caricature any of the individuals depicted in this movie, each of them, even the unhappy, bigoted sister of McGuire‘s character, played brilliantly by Eve Arden on a knife edge between humor and tragedy, is given a multi-dimensional life on film. Dorothy McGuire, as a woman who has submerged her needs and her role as a wife into her domestic routine, her concern for her children and her family’s finances, is compelled by film’s end to make a tentative attempt to reconnect with her neglected husband. As delicately played by the actress, her ambivalent character learns something about her priorities, though the story is happily without a simplistic, pat ending. The Dark at the Top of the Stairs is not commercially available on dvd, and has not been broadcast in several years. It deserves an audience.

A Summer Place (1959), a movie with the accent on youth, though the acting of the adults is much more interestingDirector and writer Delmer Daves adapted A Summer Place (1959), based on a novel by Sloan Wilson, (the author of that epitome of fifties adult angst, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit), into an enduring memory piece that, while for the most part critically dismissed, was part of the cresting wave of “popcorn flicks” concerned with misunderstood teenagers, the dangers of repression, and the brooding families (and unplanned pregnancies) that resulted. The movie also made stars of its doll-like teenage stars, Sandra Dee and Troy Donahue, both of whom were apparently encouraged to take their star-crossed roles very seriously.

Dee plays the daughter of a rich if unhappy couple, with a villainous Mom played to the hilt as an overly imaginative, sex-obsessed harridan by  Constance Ford, who, in between excoriating her more liberal-minded husband (Richard Egan), asks her child “Must you parade in front of those open windows like a strip-teaser?” and advises her daughter “You must play a man like a fish. Never let him know you want him. That’s what’s cheap, wanting a man.” Naturally, when the happy brood visit the ramshackle but charming Pine Inn on an idyllic island off the coast of Maine (on their own yacht!), Dee is immediately attracted to the shy blonde son (Troy Donahue) of another unhappy couple who are the proprietors. The islanders are played by an alcoholic played by an arrogantly aristocratic Arthur Kennedy with great verve and a radiant Dorothy McGuire. Despite the trite aspects of the story, it is the acting of Kennedy, and especially the nuanced work of McGuire, that have several transcendent moments in the first half of the film, even though they must work against the commercialized odds that drive this movie. I realize that this film’s rather frank if infantile focus on sexuality was pretty revolutionary for its time, but, in all honesty, it is the adults here who entertain, not the kids.

There are a few other saving graces of this film as well. The lush color cinematography by Harry Stradling, Jr. captures the coastal settings gloriously, (instead of Maine, the area in the film was largely photographed in the Pebble Beach area of Northern California). A viewer can also allow Max Steiner‘s musical score wash over you, (and given the number of times that theme is utilized throughout, there is no avoiding it).

Dorothy McGuire, beautifully radiant in A Summer Place (1959)Some of the more embarrassing scenes in this movie occur when Dee‘s Molly asks her father some rather odd, leading questions about her mother’s “de-sexualizing” choice of underwear for her. Hhe replies–while cuddling her, that her breasts move “in a pleasant and unobjectionable way”, undercutting Mom’s authoritarian edict and no doubt giving the audience pause.  Dee grills her new found friend Troy “Have you been bad, Johnny? Have you been bad with other girls?”.

Apart from these guilty pleasure moments, the film offers some insightful glimpses too. One of these is expressed when bitter Arthur Kennedy offers his acquired wisdom to his son that “Some of the best parts of life are frivolous”. Revealing the depth of feeling she has largely kept to herself for the last two decades, McGuire‘s lonely character unburdens herself to Egan, who turns out to have been her first love, when he last visited the island as a life guard. The tenderness that McGuire expresses in this role is especially evocative in the illicit but quiet moments she is on center stage with Egan as they renew their romance. This clip gives a good idea of the gently rueful and genuinely romantic emotion that Dorothy McGuire brings to her part, as she realizes her mistakes:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CtQqe1JQQgk]

Another scene, set in a boathouse at 3 in the morning, when Egan and McGuire try to express the depth of their feeling for one another may be one of the most effective scenes of longing I’ve ever witnessed. Unfortunately, the movie returns to the mainland eventually, focusing on the (to me) dull teenage pair’s travails. Grappling with capturing the feverish adolescent illusions that drive all of us at that age to some truly self-destructive behavior, the two hapless actors playing the kids don’t have the ability to do this aspect of the plot much justice. McGuire explaining the financial facts of life to her soused, ascot-wearing hubby, Arthur KennedyAfter leaving the island, when the star-crossed middle aged lovers reunite, the film basically becomes drive-in fare about the teens and, for me, loses steam–unless Kennedy is on screen, or the hissable Ford is on a neurotic tear. One of the sights to recommend in this portion of the movis is an eye-popping Frank Lloyd Wright house featured as the new home of the reunited lovers.  This film, which has been broadcast on TCM in the past, is readily available on a beautifully produced dvd.

Btw, A Summer Place, which was a huge commercial hit, helped to doom writer-director Delmer Daves, who had made several interesting movies, including The Hanging Tree, Jubal, Bird of Paradise, Dark Passage and The Pride of the Marines to work on more angst-ridden teen-centric stories, including the rarely seen upcoming Susan Slade** (on TCM on Jan. 4th, 2009 at 2 PM ET), which features Dorothy mothering Connie Stevens.

Dorothy McGuire as Mary, the mother of Jesus, in The Greatest Story Ever ToldA few years later, director George Stevens awarded Dorothy McGuire with what might be described as the “ultimate mother role” as Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ in The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965). While generally critically hailed as one of the more intelligent biblical dramas of its era, Ms. McGuire‘s terse comment on playing a living holy card–which she did with admirable serenity and warmth was “My part is not very long, but it has been a great experience.”  The actress, who remained active on stage and in television, (winning an Emmy nomination for her role in the mini-series Rich Man, Poor Man)  reflected much later that “To this day I don’t know what shapes a Hollywood career. I was never a classic beauty. I had no image. So I found myself in a lot of films by accident.” Fortunately for those of us who cherish the presence of Dorothy McGuire, it has been a great experience reviewing this underrated actress’ long career–even if it was only a truly happy accident.

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*Mark Swope‘s photographic work has been featured in several gallery shows and he has been instrumental in the recent resurgence in bringing his father, John Swope’s work to light. You can see more of the younger Swope’s photos here.

**In a recent audio interview, the director’s son, Michael Daves, mentioned that his father may have been relegated to this commercially profitable film due to his increasing health problems as well as for reasons of commerce.

Sources:
Barrier, Michael, The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney, University of California Press, 2008
Bowers, Ronald, The Selznick Players, A.S. Barnes & Company, 1976.
Dick, Bernard F., Radical Innocence: A Critical Study of the Hollywood Ten, University of Kentucky Press, 1989.
Dmytryk, Edward, It’s a Hell of a Life, But Not a Bad Living, NYT Times Books, 1978.
Herman, Jan, A Talent for Trouble: The Life of Hollywood’s Most Acclaimed Director, William Wyler, Da Capo Press, 1997.
Kazan, Elia, Elia Kazan: A Life, Da Capo Press, 1997.
Selznick, Irene Mayer, A Private View, Knopf, 1983.

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Many thanks to the Original Life Magazine website for the small reproduction of the 1949 cover showing the John Swope photo.

38 Responses The Quiet Power of Dorothy McGuire Part II
Posted By Jacqueline T Lynch : November 13, 2008 8:08 am

Very much enjoying your review of Dorothy McGuire’s career. You mentioned her radio perforamnce of “A Doll’s House”; this can be heard, along with her terrific performance as Ophelia in “Hamlet” on the Theater Guild of the Air program, as well as several Lux Radio Theater performances at Internet Archive Radio (www.archive.org/details/radioprograms).

Perhaps the chief quality of McGuire’s acting is her ability to convey a sense of genuineness and sincerity. She is inevitably one of the best things, something the best thing, in any movie in which she appears. There is a consistency to the level of her work. Perhaps this has made her labelled only as “reliable” instead of “brilliant” which she was.

Posted By Jacqueline T Lynch : November 13, 2008 8:08 am

Very much enjoying your review of Dorothy McGuire’s career. You mentioned her radio perforamnce of “A Doll’s House”; this can be heard, along with her terrific performance as Ophelia in “Hamlet” on the Theater Guild of the Air program, as well as several Lux Radio Theater performances at Internet Archive Radio (www.archive.org/details/radioprograms).

Perhaps the chief quality of McGuire’s acting is her ability to convey a sense of genuineness and sincerity. She is inevitably one of the best things, something the best thing, in any movie in which she appears. There is a consistency to the level of her work. Perhaps this has made her labelled only as “reliable” instead of “brilliant” which she was.

Posted By RHS : November 13, 2008 11:52 am

I mean no disrespect, but watching McGuire in Old Yeller recently, I thought to myself “She really should have played a vampire.” There’s just a strangeness about the woman, an otherness, that really would have informed that kind of role with an unsettling genuineness.

Posted By RHS : November 13, 2008 11:52 am

I mean no disrespect, but watching McGuire in Old Yeller recently, I thought to myself “She really should have played a vampire.” There’s just a strangeness about the woman, an otherness, that really would have informed that kind of role with an unsettling genuineness.

Posted By Marylin : November 13, 2008 2:39 pm

Moira, you and I are definitely in agreement about the talented Dorothy McGuire. I have seen most of her movies over the years and have always enjoyed her performances. Although “Friendly Persuasion” was a family favorite, watching the movie also meant having to listen to Pat Boone! In fact, I can hear him singing that song right now! All kidding aside, it’s a great movie, and I plan to watch it on TCM in February. What I will not be watching, however, is “Old Yeller.” Saw it as a very young child and have still not recovered. I’m getting upset just thinking about it – which has at least gotten rid of the sound of Pat Boone’s voice.

Thanks for writing such a wonderful appreciation.

Posted By Marylin : November 13, 2008 2:39 pm

Moira, you and I are definitely in agreement about the talented Dorothy McGuire. I have seen most of her movies over the years and have always enjoyed her performances. Although “Friendly Persuasion” was a family favorite, watching the movie also meant having to listen to Pat Boone! In fact, I can hear him singing that song right now! All kidding aside, it’s a great movie, and I plan to watch it on TCM in February. What I will not be watching, however, is “Old Yeller.” Saw it as a very young child and have still not recovered. I’m getting upset just thinking about it – which has at least gotten rid of the sound of Pat Boone’s voice.

Thanks for writing such a wonderful appreciation.

Posted By Marylin : November 13, 2008 3:12 pm

Moira, you and I are in agreement about the talented Dorothy McGuire. I’ve seen most of her movies over the years and have always enjoyed her performances. Glad you mentioned “The Dark at the Top of the Stairs” which made a big impression on me the first time I saw it. While “Friendly Persuasion” was a family favorite, it also meant having to listen to Pat Boone sing that song – which is playing in my head right now! All kidding aside, it’s a great movie, and I plan to watch it on TCM in February. What I will not be watching, however, is “Old Yeller.” Saw it as a very young child and have still not recovered. In fact, I’m getting upset just thinking about it – which has at least gotten rid of Pat Boone’s voice.

Thanks for writing such a wonderful apprecation.

Posted By Marylin : November 13, 2008 3:12 pm

Moira, you and I are in agreement about the talented Dorothy McGuire. I’ve seen most of her movies over the years and have always enjoyed her performances. Glad you mentioned “The Dark at the Top of the Stairs” which made a big impression on me the first time I saw it. While “Friendly Persuasion” was a family favorite, it also meant having to listen to Pat Boone sing that song – which is playing in my head right now! All kidding aside, it’s a great movie, and I plan to watch it on TCM in February. What I will not be watching, however, is “Old Yeller.” Saw it as a very young child and have still not recovered. In fact, I’m getting upset just thinking about it – which has at least gotten rid of Pat Boone’s voice.

Thanks for writing such a wonderful apprecation.

Posted By Al Lowe : November 13, 2008 7:44 pm

Your blog is not only excellent but much needed.

Someday Dorothy McGuire’s contributions to film may be forgotten. The AFI and magazines like Premiere and Entertainment Weekly salute the 50 or 100 top stars. Bogart, Marilyn, Gable – Those guys won’t be forgotten. Hey AFI, what can you do about preserving Dorothy McGuire’s memory?

Here are some other thoughts I’d like to share with you:

1) Guy Madison is best known to guys my age for playing Wild Bill Hickcock in the Kellogs sponsored TV series. His sidekick was Andy Devine as Jingles. I can still hear him saying “Wait for me, Wild Bill!” (There are some people – like poor Andy Devine – who are even worse than Pat Boone.)
From 1949 to 54 he (Madison, not Devine) was married to Gail Russell, a lovely talented actress who had an unhappy life. She deserves a blog someday.

2) Poor Gottfried Reinhardt. Red Badge of Courage was not the biggest disaster in his career. He seemed like a jinx, an albatross. If he was on the ship with you it was going down. His first names should be Got Fried.
He produced Two Faced Woman, the film that was Garbo’s last and that convinced her to abandon her film career. He directed Gable’s last film at MGM, Betrayed. (I enjoy both of these movies, by the way.) The Great Sinner had a great cast and an expensive production but is not considered to be very good.

3. I agree with your assessment of Selznick. I feel badly for all the great stars who signed with him and imagined he’d do wonderful things for them; instead he loaned them all out.
I think the mistake MGM made in the late 40s was making Dore Schary studio boss. They should have brought back Selznick.

Posted By Al Lowe : November 13, 2008 7:44 pm

Your blog is not only excellent but much needed.

Someday Dorothy McGuire’s contributions to film may be forgotten. The AFI and magazines like Premiere and Entertainment Weekly salute the 50 or 100 top stars. Bogart, Marilyn, Gable – Those guys won’t be forgotten. Hey AFI, what can you do about preserving Dorothy McGuire’s memory?

Here are some other thoughts I’d like to share with you:

1) Guy Madison is best known to guys my age for playing Wild Bill Hickcock in the Kellogs sponsored TV series. His sidekick was Andy Devine as Jingles. I can still hear him saying “Wait for me, Wild Bill!” (There are some people – like poor Andy Devine – who are even worse than Pat Boone.)
From 1949 to 54 he (Madison, not Devine) was married to Gail Russell, a lovely talented actress who had an unhappy life. She deserves a blog someday.

2) Poor Gottfried Reinhardt. Red Badge of Courage was not the biggest disaster in his career. He seemed like a jinx, an albatross. If he was on the ship with you it was going down. His first names should be Got Fried.
He produced Two Faced Woman, the film that was Garbo’s last and that convinced her to abandon her film career. He directed Gable’s last film at MGM, Betrayed. (I enjoy both of these movies, by the way.) The Great Sinner had a great cast and an expensive production but is not considered to be very good.

3. I agree with your assessment of Selznick. I feel badly for all the great stars who signed with him and imagined he’d do wonderful things for them; instead he loaned them all out.
I think the mistake MGM made in the late 40s was making Dore Schary studio boss. They should have brought back Selznick.

Posted By Joe aka Mongo : November 13, 2008 10:20 pm

Moira, you out did yourself with an exceptional profile of the underrated Dorothy McGuire. For any movie buff it was a very interesting read.
I’ve enjoyed most of the films that Miss McGuire made especially “A Tree Grows In Brooklyn”, “The Spiral Staircase” and “Friendly Persuasion”.
It just about floored me when after her death the Academy of Motion Pictures did not honor her in their annual In Memoriam spot citing not enough time. It was outlandish.
She was something special indeed.

Posted By Joe aka Mongo : November 13, 2008 10:20 pm

Moira, you out did yourself with an exceptional profile of the underrated Dorothy McGuire. For any movie buff it was a very interesting read.
I’ve enjoyed most of the films that Miss McGuire made especially “A Tree Grows In Brooklyn”, “The Spiral Staircase” and “Friendly Persuasion”.
It just about floored me when after her death the Academy of Motion Pictures did not honor her in their annual In Memoriam spot citing not enough time. It was outlandish.
She was something special indeed.

Posted By Jenni, St. Louis : November 14, 2008 11:17 am

Excellent post on Dorothy McGuire! I have always enjoyed her performances in movies and you wrote about several I had never heard of, Til The End of Time, and some I have heard of but have never seen, Friendly Persuasion, and A Summer Place. I will be on the lookout for them if and when TCM shows them. I was also glad to read that she had a happy marriage and family life. I am so tired of hearing about unhappy Hollywood marriages and the miserable childhoods of Hollywood stars’ children. Three cheers for Dorothy!!
Thanks for writing this, Moira.

Posted By Jenni, St. Louis : November 14, 2008 11:17 am

Excellent post on Dorothy McGuire! I have always enjoyed her performances in movies and you wrote about several I had never heard of, Til The End of Time, and some I have heard of but have never seen, Friendly Persuasion, and A Summer Place. I will be on the lookout for them if and when TCM shows them. I was also glad to read that she had a happy marriage and family life. I am so tired of hearing about unhappy Hollywood marriages and the miserable childhoods of Hollywood stars’ children. Three cheers for Dorothy!!
Thanks for writing this, Moira.

Posted By Rebecca West : November 15, 2008 9:50 am

As Al Lowe mentioned above, this actress has been neglected by those who chronicle Hollywood. Dorothy McGuire’s lack of ostentation, and the spare elegance of her acting, as well as her lack of scandal in her private life, probably doomed her to this sort of obscurity. All one needs to do to appreciate her contribution to film is sit down and watch “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” or “Friendly Persuasion”. Btw, I’d completely forgotten McGuire’s charming movie with Burt Lancaster and Edmund Gwenn, “Mister 880″. Thanks for writing this. I’ll be looking for those upcoming Dorothy McGuire movies on TCM.

Thanks so much for writing this.

Posted By Rebecca West : November 15, 2008 9:50 am

As Al Lowe mentioned above, this actress has been neglected by those who chronicle Hollywood. Dorothy McGuire’s lack of ostentation, and the spare elegance of her acting, as well as her lack of scandal in her private life, probably doomed her to this sort of obscurity. All one needs to do to appreciate her contribution to film is sit down and watch “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” or “Friendly Persuasion”. Btw, I’d completely forgotten McGuire’s charming movie with Burt Lancaster and Edmund Gwenn, “Mister 880″. Thanks for writing this. I’ll be looking for those upcoming Dorothy McGuire movies on TCM.

Thanks so much for writing this.

Posted By Bob Rooney : November 15, 2008 9:58 am

I’ve been a little in love with this actress since seeing her in Till the End of Time at the movies. I was surprised to read that in Dorothy McGuire’s eyes it was not a success. It was probably one of the more honest post-war movies, and quite memorable for me. I also like Mitchum and Guy Madison in that story. Good blog!

Posted By Bob Rooney : November 15, 2008 9:58 am

I’ve been a little in love with this actress since seeing her in Till the End of Time at the movies. I was surprised to read that in Dorothy McGuire’s eyes it was not a success. It was probably one of the more honest post-war movies, and quite memorable for me. I also like Mitchum and Guy Madison in that story. Good blog!

Posted By Bronxgirl : November 15, 2008 4:35 pm

moira, you nailed everything that I felt was overblown about INVITATION. (except for Dorothy, of course)

Posted By Bronxgirl : November 15, 2008 4:35 pm

moira, you nailed everything that I felt was overblown about INVITATION. (except for Dorothy, of course)

Posted By judyge : November 16, 2008 6:03 am

I enjoyed reading this very much – great account of ‘Gentleman’s Agreement’, which I saw recently on TCM in the UK. I will now watch out for more of the Dorothy McGuire movies you discuss here, and return to your comments on them.

Posted By judyge : November 16, 2008 6:03 am

I enjoyed reading this very much – great account of ‘Gentleman’s Agreement’, which I saw recently on TCM in the UK. I will now watch out for more of the Dorothy McGuire movies you discuss here, and return to your comments on them.

Posted By moirafinnie : November 21, 2008 7:22 pm

Your responses to this post have taught me once again that some of the seemingly forgotten figures in cinema history continue to touch something in viewers. Though I couldn’t touch on all her movies, I hope that this blog draws new audience members to her elegant and naturalistic acting in a variety of roles.

Hi Jacqueline:
Thanks a lot for the link to that radio version of A Doll’s House. The nuanced clarity of Dorothy McGuire‘s voice is wonderful to hear. If you read the last part of this post, you might be a little surprised to learn more about that role of Nora in her career.

Oh, Marylin,
I’m so glad that I’m not alone in my love for but fear of watching Old Yeller. It’s a great movie, but SO sad and so true about growing up in any time.

Hi Jenni,
I hope that you enjoy Till The End of Time, Friendly Persuasion, and A Summer Place when you have a chance to see them and will post your impressions. I’d love to see them.

Joe aka Mongo,
I’m glad you liked the article too. While I was chagrined to see that the Academy neglected to mention Ms. McGuire‘s name during the In Memoriam segment of the March, 2002 awards show, (supposedly due to time constraints–a real first in the history of the seemingly endless Academy Award show history, no doubt), it seems that they might have tried to make amends the following year, but no!? Ah, well, the Academy Awards are about promoting movies now more than in the past, I guess.

Hi Bronxgirl,
I’m glad that you enjoyed the blog and that we can agree about Invitation (1951), one of the few times that Dorothy McGuire seemed to play a part strictly for commercial reasons. I’m glad that you enjoyed the blog, though!

Dear Al Lowe,
Your generous remarks make me so glad that I even tried to tackle this blog! I hope that it helps some people appreciate Dorothy McGuire, or to at least give her films a try.

I’ve heard about gorgeous Guy Madison‘s show about Wild Bill Hickok, but have never seen it. I guess it wasn’t in syndication in the ’60s and ’70s like every other show ever made in the ’50s was back then. As to Gottfried Reinhardt, I can’t agree that Two Faced Woman was anything but a disaster, but I did like The Story of Three Loves and aspects of Betrayed (1954) which I thought may have been intended by the participants as a send-up of all WWII espionage movies. This was particularly evident when Victor Mature lurched on to the screen and said, (no kidding) “You’re beautiful when you’re angry” to Lana Turner and introduced himself saying “I am…(dramatic pause)…The Scarf!

Dore Schary seems to have been a decent screenwriter and certainly nurtured many talented people at RKO before he left for MGM, but I agree, he wasn’t and shouldn’t have tried to be a mogul.

One More Dorothy McGuire Story:

In the postwar years, David O. Selznick toyed with the idea of using his frozen assets in such countries as Sweden to make inexpensive, quality movies in Europe. One pipe dream involved casting Dorothy McGuire as Nora in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, to be shot in Norway with an American cast (with Walter Pidgeon or Robert Mitchum as the husband–what was he thinking?) and a Swedish crew. The prominent Swedish director Alf Sjöberg was hired along with his odd screenwriter to prepare the script. An employee of Selznick reported this man was “a queer looking individual: very young, terribly thin and tall, with hair almost down to his shoulders, and huge eyes deep in his head. He speaks little English, but said he understood me very well.” The 29 year old prepared a script with the boffo upbeat ending that Selznick asked for, but the producer, as usual, couldn’t leave well enough alone. After employing one of the future giants of world cinema for a few months at a bargain rate, he gave him the boot in favor of a name writer, Lillian Hellman, whose version also was tossed aside, and, as usual, Selznick lost interest in his latest toy. Btw, the name of that odd sounding screenwriter was Ingmar Bergman.

Posted By moirafinnie : November 21, 2008 7:22 pm

Your responses to this post have taught me once again that some of the seemingly forgotten figures in cinema history continue to touch something in viewers. Though I couldn’t touch on all her movies, I hope that this blog draws new audience members to her elegant and naturalistic acting in a variety of roles.

Hi Jacqueline:
Thanks a lot for the link to that radio version of A Doll’s House. The nuanced clarity of Dorothy McGuire‘s voice is wonderful to hear. If you read the last part of this post, you might be a little surprised to learn more about that role of Nora in her career.

Oh, Marylin,
I’m so glad that I’m not alone in my love for but fear of watching Old Yeller. It’s a great movie, but SO sad and so true about growing up in any time.

Hi Jenni,
I hope that you enjoy Till The End of Time, Friendly Persuasion, and A Summer Place when you have a chance to see them and will post your impressions. I’d love to see them.

Joe aka Mongo,
I’m glad you liked the article too. While I was chagrined to see that the Academy neglected to mention Ms. McGuire‘s name during the In Memoriam segment of the March, 2002 awards show, (supposedly due to time constraints–a real first in the history of the seemingly endless Academy Award show history, no doubt), it seems that they might have tried to make amends the following year, but no!? Ah, well, the Academy Awards are about promoting movies now more than in the past, I guess.

Hi Bronxgirl,
I’m glad that you enjoyed the blog and that we can agree about Invitation (1951), one of the few times that Dorothy McGuire seemed to play a part strictly for commercial reasons. I’m glad that you enjoyed the blog, though!

Dear Al Lowe,
Your generous remarks make me so glad that I even tried to tackle this blog! I hope that it helps some people appreciate Dorothy McGuire, or to at least give her films a try.

I’ve heard about gorgeous Guy Madison‘s show about Wild Bill Hickok, but have never seen it. I guess it wasn’t in syndication in the ’60s and ’70s like every other show ever made in the ’50s was back then. As to Gottfried Reinhardt, I can’t agree that Two Faced Woman was anything but a disaster, but I did like The Story of Three Loves and aspects of Betrayed (1954) which I thought may have been intended by the participants as a send-up of all WWII espionage movies. This was particularly evident when Victor Mature lurched on to the screen and said, (no kidding) “You’re beautiful when you’re angry” to Lana Turner and introduced himself saying “I am…(dramatic pause)…The Scarf!

Dore Schary seems to have been a decent screenwriter and certainly nurtured many talented people at RKO before he left for MGM, but I agree, he wasn’t and shouldn’t have tried to be a mogul.

One More Dorothy McGuire Story:

In the postwar years, David O. Selznick toyed with the idea of using his frozen assets in such countries as Sweden to make inexpensive, quality movies in Europe. One pipe dream involved casting Dorothy McGuire as Nora in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, to be shot in Norway with an American cast (with Walter Pidgeon or Robert Mitchum as the husband–what was he thinking?) and a Swedish crew. The prominent Swedish director Alf Sjöberg was hired along with his odd screenwriter to prepare the script. An employee of Selznick reported this man was “a queer looking individual: very young, terribly thin and tall, with hair almost down to his shoulders, and huge eyes deep in his head. He speaks little English, but said he understood me very well.” The 29 year old prepared a script with the boffo upbeat ending that Selznick asked for, but the producer, as usual, couldn’t leave well enough alone. After employing one of the future giants of world cinema for a few months at a bargain rate, he gave him the boot in favor of a name writer, Lillian Hellman, whose version also was tossed aside, and, as usual, Selznick lost interest in his latest toy. Btw, the name of that odd sounding screenwriter was Ingmar Bergman.

Posted By FeFe : November 22, 2008 8:34 am

Thank you. I love Dorothy McGuire too. I appreciate noting the movie plots as it helps to jog my memory. Long before digital TV or the internet, if I missed the name of a movie, I was sol. I would only ask for more stories or antidotes along the way. Shall we play or you post six degrees of Dorothy McGuire?

Posted By FeFe : November 22, 2008 8:34 am

Thank you. I love Dorothy McGuire too. I appreciate noting the movie plots as it helps to jog my memory. Long before digital TV or the internet, if I missed the name of a movie, I was sol. I would only ask for more stories or antidotes along the way. Shall we play or you post six degrees of Dorothy McGuire?

Posted By Al Lowe : November 24, 2008 12:25 am

Thanks for the kind words and the story about Selznick and Bergman. I never heard that one.
It is interesting that the biggies on the way down sometimes link up with new talent and don’t recognize it for what it is. When One Eye Jacks was being put together Marlon Brando rejected the efforts of Stanley Kubrick and Sam Peckinpah to help him. Jerry Lewis hired Dick Cavett to write his bad TV show and hired Mel Brooks to write one of his movies and didn’t use their work.

Posted By Al Lowe : November 24, 2008 12:25 am

Thanks for the kind words and the story about Selznick and Bergman. I never heard that one.
It is interesting that the biggies on the way down sometimes link up with new talent and don’t recognize it for what it is. When One Eye Jacks was being put together Marlon Brando rejected the efforts of Stanley Kubrick and Sam Peckinpah to help him. Jerry Lewis hired Dick Cavett to write his bad TV show and hired Mel Brooks to write one of his movies and didn’t use their work.

Posted By Frank Reuven : November 25, 2008 11:31 am

At last, someone else knows about Mister 880, a good movie with Edmund Gwenn as a rascally old man. Great review of Dorothy McGuire’s career. Though not as glamorous (or driven) as Katharine Hepburn, I thought McGuire and Kate each had a similar core of very American strength in their manner. Good job.

Posted By Frank Reuven : November 25, 2008 11:31 am

At last, someone else knows about Mister 880, a good movie with Edmund Gwenn as a rascally old man. Great review of Dorothy McGuire’s career. Though not as glamorous (or driven) as Katharine Hepburn, I thought McGuire and Kate each had a similar core of very American strength in their manner. Good job.

Posted By rand : December 15, 2008 7:58 pm

Thank you for a wonderful piece on a luminous actress. Do you know the television movie she did in the early ’80s called “Ghost Dancer”? Her portrayal of a deeply ethical woman driven to an act of destruction is really compelling. While you make some good points about the weaknesses of “Invitation,” I find it always to be very watchable (although her character’s line about being “plain” is so obviously not the case).

I saw her in the NYC production of “Night of the Iguana”. One reviewer of the show included an anecdote about how, at the performance he saw, there was a woman in the audience who got impatient for the show to start and began to be disruptive, calling for Dorothy McGuire, and angering the audience. The actress eventually came out, spoke softly to the woman and led her out, saying to the audience, “I just want you to know, this is another human being.” I think the warmth she brought to her roles was really a part of who she was.

Posted By rand : December 15, 2008 7:58 pm

Thank you for a wonderful piece on a luminous actress. Do you know the television movie she did in the early ’80s called “Ghost Dancer”? Her portrayal of a deeply ethical woman driven to an act of destruction is really compelling. While you make some good points about the weaknesses of “Invitation,” I find it always to be very watchable (although her character’s line about being “plain” is so obviously not the case).

I saw her in the NYC production of “Night of the Iguana”. One reviewer of the show included an anecdote about how, at the performance he saw, there was a woman in the audience who got impatient for the show to start and began to be disruptive, calling for Dorothy McGuire, and angering the audience. The actress eventually came out, spoke softly to the woman and led her out, saying to the audience, “I just want you to know, this is another human being.” I think the warmth she brought to her roles was really a part of who she was.

Posted By CineMaven : January 10, 2009 10:08 am

My Epson printer died…just conked out on me. So at my neighborhood coffee shop, I sit with my scrambled eggs and MacBook Pro laptop to read your article on Dorothy McGuire. The waitress who sometimes forgets about me, suddenly jolts remembering to give me my second cup o’ tea.

As she passes by to serve another customer, she stops, leans close to me as I’m reading your blog and asks: “Who is that?” I say, “It’s Dorothy McGuire. She was one of the big actresses of the 40′s. I’m into old films, and on this site people write about films and stars from the 30′s and 40′s.” The waitress said, “McGuire? Hmmm. She’s very beautiful.” And I say “thank you for asking.” I get my tea and drink…and feel vaguely emotional.

Nah…it’s not the caffeine. It’s the fact that this waitress noticed and commented on McGuire. It’s the fact that your essay is wonderfully written and I kind of feel totally ashamed at my sometimes flippant writing on the TCM Message Board. You’ve inspired and aspired me to write more seriously. I’ve become a big Dorothy McGuire fan in recent years. You capture it so well when you write:

“She was unconventional in her naturalism; neither a glossy fantasy nor a femme fatale, but something in between that Hollywood found vexing to cast–an undeniably intelligent actress,’

and the comparisons to Betty Field, Martha Scott, Margaret O’Sullavan and their ilk are very apropos.

Thank you for the essay and your writing. Maybe I’m getting touched in my old age…or just being touched by great writing.

Thanx!

Posted By CineMaven : January 10, 2009 10:08 am

My Epson printer died…just conked out on me. So at my neighborhood coffee shop, I sit with my scrambled eggs and MacBook Pro laptop to read your article on Dorothy McGuire. The waitress who sometimes forgets about me, suddenly jolts remembering to give me my second cup o’ tea.

As she passes by to serve another customer, she stops, leans close to me as I’m reading your blog and asks: “Who is that?” I say, “It’s Dorothy McGuire. She was one of the big actresses of the 40′s. I’m into old films, and on this site people write about films and stars from the 30′s and 40′s.” The waitress said, “McGuire? Hmmm. She’s very beautiful.” And I say “thank you for asking.” I get my tea and drink…and feel vaguely emotional.

Nah…it’s not the caffeine. It’s the fact that this waitress noticed and commented on McGuire. It’s the fact that your essay is wonderfully written and I kind of feel totally ashamed at my sometimes flippant writing on the TCM Message Board. You’ve inspired and aspired me to write more seriously. I’ve become a big Dorothy McGuire fan in recent years. You capture it so well when you write:

“She was unconventional in her naturalism; neither a glossy fantasy nor a femme fatale, but something in between that Hollywood found vexing to cast–an undeniably intelligent actress,’

and the comparisons to Betty Field, Martha Scott, Margaret O’Sullavan and their ilk are very apropos.

Thank you for the essay and your writing. Maybe I’m getting touched in my old age…or just being touched by great writing.

Thanx!

Posted By catherine kipp : July 30, 2010 8:40 pm

Thank you, Rand, of dec 15, 2008. You also remembered “Ghost Dancer” with Richard Farnsworth. Very compelling. Would love to see it again.

Posted By catherine kipp : July 30, 2010 8:40 pm

Thank you, Rand, of dec 15, 2008. You also remembered “Ghost Dancer” with Richard Farnsworth. Very compelling. Would love to see it again.

Posted By Sue : January 19, 2011 10:34 am

Thank you for that wonderful article. I have been a fan of McGuire since I was a child and have recently rewatched a number of her films. She had a truly charismatic quality.
It’s a pity so many of her films are unavailable on dvd in the UK.

Posted By Sue : January 19, 2011 10:34 am

Thank you for that wonderful article. I have been a fan of McGuire since I was a child and have recently rewatched a number of her films. She had a truly charismatic quality.
It’s a pity so many of her films are unavailable on dvd in the UK.

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