Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Nuage: Teresa Wright, 1918-2005

Teresa Wright died on Sunday. She was 86. Despite never becoming the household name that other actresses such as Veronica Lake, Katherine Hepburn, Lillian Gish or Claudette Colbert became, Ms Wright was a Hollywood legend. She remains the only actor to be nominated for Best Actor Oscars for her first three films: The Little Foxes, The Pride of the Yankees and Mrs Miniver (for which she won). She is perhaps best known for her roles as a hometown girl who reluctantly falls in love with a married WWII veteran in best-picture-winner The Best Years of Our Lives, and as the psychologically-ensnared niece of serial killer Joseph Cotten in Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt. Shunning the growing commercialism of Hollywood, she turned town the role of Joan of Arc (it went to Ingrid Bergman) and disappeared into a quiet retirement. Her last role was as Matt Damon's landlady Miss Birdie in 1997's The Rainmaker.

Ms Wright to me captured an innocence and strength that made her stand out beyond even Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn. Her best roles were when she was playing The Girl Next Door, because she was the girl next door. However, she was never played as dippy, or flighty, or dependent, as most Girl Next Door roles dictate. She was the girl you wished really did live next door. Whenever I watch The Best Years of Our Lives I find myself shouting at Dana Andrew's hesitant, henpecked character, "KISS HER, YOU FOOL!" Ms Wright brought humanity to the screen, a quality that remained just a fingerbrush away from her soft-lensed glamour counterparts.

A treasured possession of mine is the signed photo of her that sits on my shelf of Special Things. It's probably just an autopen signature, not the real thing. But there are some illusions you just don't shatter.


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