Celebrating Greer Garson’s September Birthday: The forgotten gem, “Blossoms in the Dust”

“Blossoms in the Dust”
A Forgotten Gems Column by Bill Levy
© Bill Levy 2013

Greer Garson (1904-1996) and Walter Pidgeon (1897-1984) co-starred in eight motion pictures. “Mrs. Miniver” (1942), “Madam Curie” (1943), and “Mrs. Parkington” (1944) were produced at the zenith of the couple’s fame and are each well-remembered, while “Blossoms in the Dust” (1941), the first movie they made together, is the “Forgotten Gem” of the group.

This MGM production describes the life and contributions of Edna Gladney (Garson), a real-life selfless American heroine who devoted her life to helping orphans and to combatting the stigmatizing these children were forced to experience for the rest of their lives. In the film, Edna receives loving support from her husband (Pidgeon) as she runs the Texas Children’s Home and Aid Society and battles indifference and rampant prejudice against these innocents. Her stance can best be summed up by her mantra, “There are no illegitimate children; only illegitimate parents.”

Greer Garson’s characterization displays a powerful presence mixed with uncompromising integrity, compassion, and commitment. She (and her gorgeous red hair and marvelous cheekbones) benefit from Karl Freund and W. Howard Greene’s Technicolor cinematography as well as Mervyn LeRoy’s adroit direction. Garson was nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award but lost out to Joan Fontaine (“Suspicion”).

In this movie, Walter Pidgeon he portrays a Texas businessman who continually provides her with the assistance and encouragement she needs. Character actor, Felix Bressart, resembling a bewhiskered Walter Brennan with a Hungarian accent, adds solid support as Edna’s friend and ally, Dr. Max Breslar.

In addition to Garson’s nomination, the film was nominated for Oscars for Best Picture and Best Color Cinematography. It won an Academy Award for Best Art Direction – Interior Decoration in Color. “Blossoms in the Dust” was adapted by Anita Loos, Hugo Butler, and Dorothy Yost based on a story of Edna Gladney’s life by Ralph Wheelwright. Producer/Director Mervyn LeRoy also directed Greer Garson in Random Harvest and Madame Curie. During her lifetime, the real Edna Gladney (1886-1961) placed over 10,000 babies with adoptive families.

Movie critic Jason Higgins recently observed, “Blossoms in the Dust,” “has all the makings of a classic MGM film – outstanding production values, a great cast, good writing and expert direction. Greer Garson is superb and her frequent co-star, Walter Pidgeon, gives a fine, low-key performance. It’s a tear-jerker done with great style.” The basic premise of this movie – a plea for compassion – is as timely today as it was seventy-odd years ago when the film was made and one hundred-odd years ago when Edna Gladney fought for the rights of her blossoming orphans and foundlings. This is a heartwarming and inspiring tribute to a lady whose portrayal deserves to stand besides Spencer Tracy’s Father Flanagan of “Boys Town” as a prime example of classic Hollywood’s depiction of a true hero dedicated to protecting and championing hundreds of children, in her case, hundreds of defenseless “creatures of shame.”

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