Yesterday was a sad day for classic film enthusiasts worldwide. Twenty years ago on April 6th, 1996 we were left in a state of mourning after hearing the news that Greer Garson, the legendary actress whose blossoming career had made her one of America’s most prominent stars during the forties had passed away.
Greer Garson with her striking red hair and face that radiated warmth was one of cinema’s most beloved screen icons. From the moment young Eileen Evelyn first appeared on stage with plays held by Birmingham Repertory Theatre it was revealed that Garson possessed all the qualities and makings to be a successful film actress, but at the time nobody knew just how famous she would become.
Fast forward to 1939, Greer Garson had just made her film debut in Goodbye Mr. Chips, and was now embarking on a permanent journey to the United States to fulfil her dreams and to commence her promising career in Hollywood.
Anyone who is familiar with Greer Garson would know that she had a steady career and became largely associated with drama films and biopics, but while she is primarily remembered for her roles in pictures of those genres, Garson also proved that she was adept at comedy when she was cast in the 1948 film, Julia Misbehaves.
After being cast in Desire Me, a film that floundered on it’s release, Greer Garson was eager to step out of her perimeters by appearing in a comedy. She saw this as the perfect way to revitalize her career and to express her versatility as an actress. In return Louis B. Mayer decided to fulfil her wish by purchasing the film rights to Margery Sharp’s comedy titled The Nutmeg Tree for $18,490. He also made sure that Garson would feel at home by gathering a prolific group of players which included, Walter Pidgeon ( Garson’s frequent co-star with whom she had already been teamed with four times in previous films ), Elizabeth Taylor, Peter Lawford, Reginald Owen, Cesar Romero and Lucille Watson.
In addition to the other fellow cast members who all assisted Garson in her introductory to comedy was the production team that were hired. Jack Conway, the eminent directer who had considerable success in helming many notable MGM comedies was assigned as the films director while the producing duties went to Everett Riskin who was also equipped in the field. Julia Misbehaves also consisted of a skillful group of screenwriters that included, William Ludwig, Arthur Wimperis and Harry Ruskin.
Julia Misbehaves may not have received the victorious results that was originally anticipated, nor is it considered to be one of Garson’s most famous films, but it sure did mark a milestone in the life of Greer Garson. It was while making this picture that Garson met Elijah Buddy Fogelson, the Texas oil millionaire who was the nephew of Elizabeth Taylor’s friend, Gayle Fogelson and Peter Lawford’s skeet shooting partner. At the time of filming Fogelson happened to be in Los Angeles, but with pure coincidence or possibly the calling of fate, Fogelson was invited onto the set of Julia Misbehaves and instantly fell in love with Greer Garson. The two married the following year.
The film opens in London in 1936, and centres on the current existence of Julia Packett ( Greer Garson ) a struggling showgirl who receives an invitation to travel to France to attend the wedding of her daughter Susan ( Elizabeth Taylor ) whom she hasn’t seen since she was a baby. Julia is shocked to hear from her daughter after all these years, but in a state of euphoria she decides to retreat to France via ship where she encounters Fred Ghenoccio ( Cesar Romero ) a league acrobat performer who immediately becomes smitten with Julia and tries to pursue her.
Problems arise once Julia arrives at the lush estate of her husband, William ( Walter Pidgeon ). First she discovers that she wasn’t intentionally invited to the wedding by William and her mother in law ( Lucile Watson ) who sees Julia as an unwanted intruder in their mansion, and tries her hardest to implore Julia to leave without seeing Susan. Then she uncovers the truth about Susan being in love with the local painter, Ritchie Lorgan ( Peter Lawford ) instead of the man she is engaged to marry. After ensuing all those obstacles and as the next series of events unfold, Julia finds that she is falling back in love with William, and it’s her daughter Susan whose the mastermind behind the rekindling of their romance.
Julia Misbehaves was a rewarding change of pace for Greer Garson. On it’s release the film garnered critical acclaim and Garson attained favourable results for venturing outside of the box and delivering a commendable performance in a genre that she was not accustomed to. The Hollywood Reporter stated, “The common misconception that Greer Garson was born with a bustle is hilariously disabused in Julia Misbehaves. A slip of a comedy into which the first lady of Metro sails with evident relish and infectious zest. The result is a charmingly provocative performance which will inevitably delight the Garson fans. It is very much her own show as she runs the gamut from prat-falls to a mud-splattered finish with the fine artistry of a low comic.”
Not only was the film a variation from Garson’s usual roles, it also proved that Greer Garson was just as versed in comedy as she was other genres. In Julia Misbehaves Greer Garson transmits wit and sparkling dialogue to the picture while she gives a glowing portrayal of an indomitable showgirl who is living an impecunious life in London. Things change however when she receives the invitation to her daughter Susan’s wedding at her husbands opulent mansion in France. Like any mother would who has been absent from their daughters life, Julia automatically accepts the invite, but on her arrival she is faced with the formidable recurrence that dominated her married life with William. Her mother in law who views Julia as being incompatible to their lifestyle returns to her old tricks and tries to prevent Julia from seeing Susan and demanding that she leaves, but instead of focusing on the rigors of those previous years when Mrs. Packett jeopardized their chances of happiness, Julia begins to come to terms with her past and is determined to retain a positive relation built on love with her daughter much to the chagrin of her mother in law, Mrs. Packett.
Julia Misbehaves also makes a point of shying away from the pleasantries of Greer Garson’s character. Even though Julia Packett is usually amiable and lacks deceitfulness, she can be conniving when the situation calls for it. For instance her scheming ways is represented when Julia decides to go out and purchase an array of gifts for Susan to make up for all the Christmases that she’s missed, but once she remembers that she is low on funds she comes to the decision of gambling in order to acquire the money. However she loses all her money at gambling and is left penniless, so Julia relies solely on a stranger, Colonel Willowbrook ( Nigel Bruce ) to give her money with the promise that she will pay him back, but Julia who is duplicitous when it comes to making sacrifices for her daughter or to return the love that was missing while Julia was on the road touring, she decides not to return the money to Willowbrook by eluding through the door at the back entrance of the shop.
From the intelligent script to the brisk dialogue, Julia Misbehaves is a film that epitomizes Greer Garson’s unique flair for comedy. It’s a shame that she wasn’t nominated for an Oscar for her performance.
Elizabeth Taylor had a crush on co-star, Peter Lawford. It was very obvious to the cast & crew. When filming a scene where Elizabeth and Peter had to kiss, the line she was supposed to say was “Oh Ritchie, what are we going to do?” Instead she said ‘Oh Peter, what am I going to do?”. The set was filled with laughter, leaving a young Taylor very embarrassed.
Greer Garson: Born Eileen Evelyn Greer Garson on September 29th, 1904 in Manor Park, London. Died: April 6th, 1996 in Dallas, Texas. Aged: 91.
Walter Pidgeon: Born Walter Davis Pidgeon on September 23rd, 1897 in Sain John, New Brunswick, Canada. Died: September 25th, 1984 in Santa Monica, California. Aged 87.
Elizabeth Taylor: Born Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor on February 27th, 1932 in Hampstead Garden, London. Died: March 23rd, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. Aged 79.
Rest In Peace Greer Garson. Thank you for the lifetime of entertainment that you have provided me with.