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Dorothy McGuire

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Posted: Wednesday, September 5, 2007 12:00 am

Quiet Serenity

by Neil Doyle

In the 1940s, Dorothy McGuire was one of several players discovered for film by David O. Selznick, a major Hollywood producer always on the lookout for new talent. Her Broadway success in Claudia was so genuine that, when Selznick decided to acquire the film rights, he signed McGuire to a long-term contract, which she eagerly accepted.

McGuire was practically an overnight success in Hollywood. With a quiet, wholesome appeal, her face would become instantly recognizable to generations of filmgoers. Although warm and attractive, her looks could never put her in the same league with the likes of Hedy Lamarr or Elizabeth Taylor. This was no loss, because great beauty probably would have detracted from the subtle human qualities she put into her characters.

Soft-spoken, she was never as driven or competitive as some of her acting peers. She was stage-trained and chose her roles wisely, particularly during the ‘40s, appearing in quality films noted for fine performances and intelligent scripts. She preferred relying on her talent and ignored the glamour mill. The sort of cheesecake publicity so prevalent at the time was all wrong for her since she was not a sex star, but a real actress who gave depth and soul to her sensitive portrayals.

Surprisingly, her Best Actress nomination for 1947’s Gentleman’s Agreement, would be as close as she would get to an Oscar. Her superb performances in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, The Enchanted Cottage and The Spiral Staircase would be overlooked by the Academy. She was handicapped in this respect, because although Fox would buy 50% of her contract from Selznick, she did not have a lot of major studio backing in the Oscar races.

Even after her screen success she returned to the theater, and in 1947 helped form the La Jolla Playhouse with fellow actors Mel Ferrer and Gregory Peck. Often there were long gaps between films, during which time she was either engaged in stage work or doing made-for-TV movies. “I love my career,” she once admitted, “but I never felt much about it, about how to nurture it. 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 things accidentally.”

While some think of her only as a player of sweet and sympathetic wife and mother roles, she was much more than that. Her signature role in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was a complex blend of loving mother and steely taskmaster, as her Katie Nolan character is forced to take up the slack left by her gentle, but improvident husband. In Gentleman’s Agreement she is solidly behind the crusade against bigotry, but only up to a point. In the end, she is forced into a painful transformation as she learns that even people of good will, such as herself, are a part of the problem. When Selznick lent her to RKO to play against type in Till the End of Time, a postwar melodrama about returning war veterans, she was a troubled, chain-smoking widow having an affair with Guy Madison.

Avoidance of the star spotlight and a lack of showy, femme fatale roles may explain why she has not been as well remembered as her stature deserves. The Motion Picture Academy would slight her even up to her death, leaving her out of their annual Academy Awards program “In Memoriam” tribute in the March 2002 telecast. The Academy’s lame explanation was that the omission was not a slight, but was necessitated by the program’s severe time limitations. (Time limitations did not stop the Academy from including in that year’s memorial a singer, Aaliyah, who had only two film credits.)

The Academy’s omission was, in a strange way, a testament to Dorothy McGuire’s special qualities as an actress. Even at the very end of her life, she is the deep and quiet one, ignored by the loud and shallow ones around her.

She was born in Omaha, Nebraska on June 14, 1916, the daughter of theater-loving parents who encouraged her when she showed early signs of acting talent. While still in school, she joined the Omaha Community Playhouse in a town that launched the careers of other notable players such as Henry Fonda and Marlon Brando. She made her stage debut at age 13 opposite Fonda in James M. Barrie’s A Kiss for Cinderella (1930), at a time when Fonda was visiting his hometown after his first Broadway break. She continued her studies in Indianapolis and Wellesley, Massachusetts, where she did some summer stock work in 1937. She made the usual Broadway rounds after hitting New York but found no success until she was engaged to understudy Martha Scott as Emily in Our Town. After touring with the dissipated John Barrymore (in what must have been an ingenue’s ordeal) in My Dear Children, there were several more short-lived projects, until she auditioned for the title role in Claudia (1941), which turned out to be an overnight hit. McGuire had landed the plum role as a childish bride matured by marriage. It was a huge personal success for her and on the strength of her Broadway stardom, she was persuaded by David O. Selznick to sign a film contract.

She underwent extensive screen tests for the producer, but Selznick began to have doubts about using her because of his growing interest in another young actress, Jennifer Jones, who would become the future Mrs. Selznick. Cooling to McGuire, he wrote: “She has the ‘cutes’ to a great extent . . . and that prop smile of hers . . . all the other exaggerations and emphasis that she gives are very overboard in my opinion for screen purposes.”

Fortunately, wiser heads prevailed, and after several tests with both actresses he was persuaded that McGuire fit the role. Soon, however, Selznick lost interest in the project and sold it to 20th Century-Fox, while he continued to be absorbed in developing projects for Jennifer Jones.

Under Edmund Goulding’s direction and with a cast that included Robert Young, Ina Claire, and Reginald Gardiner, Claudia (1943) emerged as a warm, humorous comedy with McGuire’s elfin charm showcased in a role that permitted her to gradually mature as she learns a lot about life in a short time. It was so successful that it would lead to a sequel three years later, again pairing her with Robert Young. Her transformation to the screen was flawless, despite Selznick’s claim about “exaggerated” mannerisms.

Nineteen forty-three was a big year for Dorothy, marking not only her screen debut in a highly successful film but the beginning of a storybook long-term marriage to airline founder and acclaimed Life photographer John Swope. Together, they would have two children; a son, Mark, and a daughter, Topo Swope, who had a brief career as an actress. From the very beginning, Dorothy kept a low profile in her private life, living quietly with her wealthy husband and choosing her roles carefully.

She inherited her next big role quite by accident. Fox decided to use her again after Gene Tierney became pregnant and was unable to do A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945). McGuire downplayed her fresh-faced appeal to play the pivotal role of the hard-working, sometimes bitter tenement mother in Elia Kazan’s first film as a director. Based on the bestselling novel by Betty Smith, it told the poignant story of a poor family struggling for survival in 1912 Brooklyn. There were some who felt that she was too sympathetic in the part, but most reviews were highly favorable. McGuire was the practical, driven wife of a daydreaming singing waiter (James Dunn) who was afflicted with alcoholism and never able to provide for his family. Peggy Ann Garner was the daughter who narrates the story, a girl who idolizes her weak, but loving, father and finds escape in the stories he tells her. Variety said, “The earthy quality of Brooklyn tenement squalor has been given a literal translation to the screen . . . never does the serio-comic intrude on a false note . . . To Dorothy McGuire goes the prize part of Katie Nolan. It is a role that she makes distinctive by underplaying.” Praise was lavished on the entire cast, which also included Joan Blondell (as Aunt Sissy) and Lloyd Nolan.

The film was a huge success for director Elia Kazan and everyone else connected with it, and it was brimming with memorable moments. Peggy Ann Garner’s performance as Francie Nolan won her a special miniature Oscar as Best Child Actress of 1945 and James Dunn won for Best Supporting Actor as Johnny Nolan. There were many who felt that McGuire’s complex portrait of the beleaguered wife should have won her an Oscar nomination at least.

Her next film, a modest fantasy-drama, The Enchanted Cottage (1945), again paired her with Robert Young. In this story of two lonely souls who find love in a mystical cottage, Young played a maimed war veteran, and Dorothy was a homely spinster. The two are magically transformed by their love, and come to see each other as beautiful. Dorothy gave a gentle and sensitive performance, using a minimum of make-up, depending largely on unflattering lighting and thickened brows for her “ugly” scenes. When the camera saw her through the eyes of her lover, her natural inner beauty was allowed to come out. She earned respectable reviews, and an excellent performance by Mildred Natwick as the housekeeper helped the film considerably, as did competent support from Herbert Marshall, Spring Byington and Hillary Brooke, all under John Cromwell’s direction.

Nineteen Forty-six was another good year for the actress. She had three interesting films in release, one of which, The Spiral Staircase, is considered one of the screen’s best psychological thrillers. She drew some excellent reviews as the frightened, mute servant girl in a household that may be harboring a serial killer. Typical of the notices was this from Variety: “Dorothy McGuire’s stature as actress is increased by her performance as a maidservant bereft of speech by a shock since childhood . . . McGuire’s portrayal of a tongue-tied girl in love; the pathos of her dream wedding scene, her terror when pursued by the murderer—are all etched sharply for unforgettable moments.” With a cast that included Ethel Barrymore, Oscar-nominated as a bedridden invalid trying to warn the girl to leave the house, George Brent, Rhonda Fleming, Gordon Oliver, Kent Smith and Elsa Lanchester, the film achieved an aura of terror and suspense throughout. Robert Siodmak’s direction made the most of the suspenseful situations, from the starkness of the opening scenes (where a young girl is strangled) to the startling conclusion in which all is revealed. Nicholas Musuraca contributed much to the “old dark house” atmosphere with his superb b&w photography. Elsa Lanchester provided bits of much needed humor. An impressive gothic thriller, it remains a highly respected film of the ‘40s.

Meanwhile, she was seen in Claudia and David (1946), with Robert Young, an enjoyable follow-up to Claudia, with the young married couple expecting a baby and adjusting to life in the suburbs. The pleasant cast included Mary Astor, John Sutton, Gail Patrick and Florence Bates. Not bad, as sequels go, it was directed by Walter Lang.

For a change of pace, Selznick loaned her to RKO for Till the End of Time (1946), in which she had a more glamorous role as a war widow in love with a younger man (Guy Madison). It was a role Selznick didn’t want her to do, but he gave in when she promised to do the Claudia sequel. As it turned out, he might have been right. The film dealt with the theme of veterans making difficult adjustments to civilian life after World War II, a sort of poor man’s The Best Years of Our Lives, with the accent more on romance. (Till the End of Time was released a few months before the William Wyler classic.) McGuire puffed away on more cigarettes than Bette Davis usually did, as she dealt with problems of her own as a brooding war widow. The film did fairly well at the box office, despite mixed reviews, and it featured some especially good work from Robert Mitchum and Bill Williams and a sprightly Jean Porter in a cheerful supporting role. Tom Tully, Ruth Gordon and William Gargan gave solid performances too. Nevertheless, audience reaction convinced McGuire that she was better off playing more wholesome characters, and these indeed would become her mainstay for the next couple of decades.

The following year she received her only Oscar nomination for her role as Kathy Lacey opposite Gregory Peck’s crusading newspaperman in Gentleman’s Agreement (1947), the Oscar-winning film from Laura Z. Hobson’s bestselling novel. Its theme, an attack on anti-Semitism, was daring at the time when Fox, under Darryl F. Zanuck, was intent on making socially conscious films. Despite her Oscar nom, McGuire’s work in this film wasn’t half as good as her Katie Nolan role. The stellar cast included John Garfield, Celeste Holm, June Havoc, Jane Wyatt, Anne Revere and Dean Stockwell. Nominated for eight Academy Awards, it won for Best Picture, Best Director (Elia Kazan) and Best Supporting Actress (Celeste Holm).

Dorothy McGuire should have been on the top of the Hollywood ladder by this point, but she did not take full advantage of her prestige. Instead, she stayed off the screen for three years, during which time she returned to her theater roots. She did some summer stock and worked with Gregory Peck at the La Jolla Playhouse. When she finally returned to Fox, it was for an undemanding role in a predictable romantic comedy with William Lundigan as her doctor husband in Mother Didn’t Tell Me (1950). It was a lightweight affair with Dorothy as a naive young woman who is not prepared for the demands of being a professional man’s wife. It seemed almost a takeoff of her role as Claudia. She followed it with another comedy at Fox, in which Edmund Gwenn stole the limelight. In the title role in Mister 880, Gwenn played an elderly New York counterfeiter who had escaped the authorities for years until he is tracked down by federal agent Burt Lancaster. The script by Robert Riskin was based on a true story.

Still in a comedy vein, she went to MGM for Callaway Went Thataway (1951), a breezy jaunt with Fred MacMurray and Howard Keel as her co-stars. Inspired by the Hopalong Cassidy marketing phenomenon, the story concerned a lookalike (Keel) who impersonates a veteran cowboy star for promotional purposes, with the usual mix-ups.

She returned to drama, and a more substantial acting role, in I Want You, a thoughtful drama, with a screenplay by Irwin Shaw, dealing with the effects of the Korean War on a small-town American family. Fine performances by Dana Andrews, McGuire, Farley Granger, Peggy Dow, Robert Keith, Mildred Dunnock and Ray Collins gave substance to the film. A sort of a Korean War version of The Best Years of Our Lives, it lacked the stature of the earlier film.

She got the glossy Metro treatment when she returned to MGM to star with Van Johnson in Invitation, part of a two-picture deal with MGM. This was an unabashedly sentimental tear-jerker about a dying heiress whose rich father (Louis Calhern) buys her a suitor so she can have some romance and happiness in her final days. McGuire was at her most effective here, and her work was complemented nicely with solid performances from Johnson, Calhern and Ruth Roman.

McGuire took time out from films to do more stage work, and appeared on Broadway in Legend of Lovers with Richard Burton. It didn’t have a long run, and the only film offer she received at this time was a suspense programmer at Republic, Make Haste to Live (1954). This low-budget thriller featured Dorothy as a frightened wife being pursued by a vengeful killer (Stephen McNally). Unfortunately, the weak script included a letdown ending, and her performance was the film’s only real asset.

The same cannot be said for her next film at Fox, Three Coins in the Fountain, which was aided by spectacular CinemaScope color photography of splendid on-location scenes in Italy, as well as the catchy title tune that became a pop standard in the ‘50s. Dorothy was one of the women tossing their coins in the Trevi fountain, wishing for and seeking love in Rome. The perky background score, as well as the title tune, warbled by no less than Frank Sinatra against some stunning opening credits, no doubt made the film a pleasure to watch. Under Jean Negulesco’s direction, the film’s love stories are bolstered by the romantic locales which looked especially beautiful on the big screen. It won a nomination for Best Picture in 1954, and won for Best Color Cinematography and Best Song. (A word of caution: avoid the pan-and-scan version which does considerable harm to the look of the film. Letterbox version is a must for this one.)

After this, she returned to a more socially-conscious theme with a courtroom melodrama, Trial, co-starring with Glenn Ford and John Hodiak. An ambitious project that attempted to tackle the serious issues of bigotry and racism, with a mix of Communism thrown in, it emerged as a competent courtroom piece highlighted by some solid acting by Ford, McGuire, Hodiak and Juano Hernandez as a judge, in what seemed like a breakthrough role for an African-American. Largely overshadowed in a colorless role as Ford’s secretary, Dorothy managed to be as earnest and appealing as ever. Arthur Kennedy, Katy Jurado and Rafael Campos filled some good supporting roles under Mark Robson’s direction.

She divided her time at this point between television roles and an occasional film, moving gracefully into character roles, impressing everyone with her quiet charm and dignity. For television, she did adaptations of the films The Philadelphia Story and To Each His Own and, by the mid-’50s, had appeared in prestigious TV shows like Robert Montgomery Presents, The U.S. Steel Hour and Climax! She later would appear in popular television series such as The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Hotel, St. Elsewhere and Highway to Heaven.

In 1956, she made only one film, but it was a good one—Friendly Persuasion, directed by William Wyler and co-starring Gary Cooper and Anthony Perkins. The soft-spoken actress was a natural for the role of the mother of a Quaker family during the Civil War thrown into turmoil when a Confederate raiding party descends on their peaceful farming community. Even so, Wyler considered many other actresses (including Vivien Leigh and Ingrid Bergman) before choosing McGuire. Before shooting began, he noticed that McGuire seemed to be having trouble getting into character, so he came up with a suggestion. “He had me spending I don’t know how many hours a day on the set before production, kneading bread. 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, with a different way of thinking.” Wyler was notorious for not directly telling his actors exactly what he wanted; a habit that caused a lot of turmoil and pain for many who worked for him, and yet, he usually got the results he wanted.

The story is told with a good deal of charm and humor as well as sympathy for the Quakers and their gentle way of life. It marked the beginning of a series of older mother roles for McGuire, who was making the transition to character roles with her usual style and grace. The film drew six Academy Award nominations, including one for Best Adapted Screenplay by Michael Wilson who was denied screen credit due to his blacklisting as a Communist. Dimitri Tiomkin’s background score was an added bonus and included his song, “Friendly Persuasion (Thee I Love),” written with Paul Francis Webster. Both Cooper and McGuire received praiseworthy notices, as did Anthony Perkins as their young son coming to age at a difficult time in history.

Her next mother role came in a Disney film, Old Yeller (1957), based on the Fred Gipson novel about a farm family in 1869 Texas and their rascal of a dog whom the family grows to love. Variety described it as “a careful blending of fun, laughter, love, adventure and tragedy,” that packed an emotional wallop reminiscent of The Yearling. It became one of Disney’s biggest box-office hits with Walt insisting that the original story’s tragic ending remain intact. “This is a Texas farm in 1869 and the dog has rabies—there’s no way he can be saved. You gotta shoot him. The kids will cry, but it’s important for them to know that life isn’t all happy endings.” Fess Parker, Tommy Kirk, Kevin Corcoran, Beverly Washburn and Chuck Connors rounded out the cast.

She was reunited with Clifton Webb for The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker (1959), a modestly amusing period comedy. Webb played McGuire’s hubby who happens to be maintaining a second set of wife and kids in another town, managing to keep each set unaware of the other.

Two other films that year gave her more substantial roles. This Earth Is Mine was a rather glossy soap opera with the heavy focus on the love story between Rock Hudson and Jean Simmons. McGuire had an unusual part, for her, in a role that Barbara Stanwyck turned down, that of a woman of thwarted ambition, in a story set in the California vineyards in the 1930s. But it was Rock Hudson who had the film’s strongest role and he made the most of it. The distinguished cast included Claude Rains, Kent Smith and Anna Lee.

She was more impressive in A Summer Place, from the Sloan Wilson bestseller. Gloriously photographed in scenic Maine locations at a summer resort, it dealt with adultery and teenage lust on a grand scale. Dorothy McGuire and Richard Egan were two ex-lovers reunited and finding the attraction still there. Sandra Dee and Troy Donahue played the young lovers at odds with their parents. Arthur Kennedy and Constance Ford did standout jobs in unsympathetic roles. Max Steiner’s lush “Theme from A Summer Place,” was long on the Hit Parade and added immensely to the film’s emotional poignancy, helping it clean up at the box-office. McGuire won a Golden Laurel Award nomination as Best Actress in a Dramatic Role. Variety, too, noticed her accomplishment: “With the single exception of Dorothy McGuire, who comes through with a radiant performance and is lovely to look at, the cast does an average job.”

She continued to make the most of her opportunities in 1960, with two outstanding films. The Dark at the Top of the Stairs was a sensitive screen version of the William Inge play about small-town life in 1920s Oklahoma, with Robert Preston in top form as a traveling salesman caught in a loveless marriage. His relationships with his wife (McGuire), daughter (Shirley Knight) and “other woman” (Angela Lansbury) are portrayed in a number of memorable vignettes. McGuire was touching as the mother who comes to realize she must break the cord between herself and her children. The family’s internal conflicts make for an absorbing drama with Preston, fresh from his Broadway triumph as The Music Man, playing a more serious salesman role with conviction.

Her next film marked a return to Disney territory. Swiss Family Robinson was one of those films that proves some remakes are superior to the original, especially when Technicolor is wedded to big-budget production values. She was teamed with John Mills, James MacArthur, Kevin Corcoran and Tommy Kirk in Disney’s rousing version of the classic adventure about a shipwrecked family and their survival on an isolated island. Dorothy’s sons were the boys from Old Yeller, reuniting them in a classic adventure yarn that became the studio’s biggest box-office hit of the year and, thanks to re-releases, it has become one of Disney’s most successful films ever. There were plenty of difficulties in getting the tale before the cameras. Entire sets had to be reconstructed when location filming began in Tobago shortly before a tropical hurricane hit, including an elaborate tree house for the Robinson family, which was later used as one of the attractions at the Disney theme park. Dorothy McGuire was perfectly cast as the indomitable mother and she was grateful that the film opened to highly favorable reviews. Even the New York Times was unstinting in its praise: “Any parent who denies it to their kids, deserves to be shipwrecked on a remote island, at least until the new year.”

An obvious attempt to duplicate the success of A Summer Place, Susan Slade (1961) was handsomely photographed along scenic locations on Carmel’s coastline and San Francisco, and was produced and directed by Delmer Daves. It even had Troy Donahue and a Max Steiner score, and was meant to be a showcase for rising star Connie Stevens. The storyline had Dorothy pretending to be the mother of Stevens’ illegitimate child. Dorothy gave her usual sincere performance, with some good support from Lloyd Nolan, Brian Aherne and Kent Smith.

At this point, Dorothy was not receiving the kind of film offers she wanted, but she was glad to accept another offer from Disney, primarily because she liked working at the studio. Although the script for Summer Magic (1963) was based on that old war horse Mother Carey’s Chickens (a 1938 RKO release), it would be given Disney’s usual A-budget treatment. Designed to be pleasant family entertainment, it delivered the goods. Summer Magic co-starred Hayley Mills, Burl Ives, and Deborah Walley, with Dorothy in the mother role. Sprinkled throughout the story are seven songs by the Sherman Brothers, including the title tune, all of them enhancing the light tone of the story. Judith Crist of the New York Herald Tribune didn’t like it, of course, but then she didn’t like The Sound of Music either.

After a career that consisted of several distinguished mother roles, perhaps it was only natural that when George Stevens was ready to film The Greatest Story Ever Told he would ask Dorothy to play the Virgin Mary, even if she was 46 at the time. Whatever inspiration Stevens drew from the original source, there were detractors. Faring best critically was Max von Sydow as Christ, and an opening scene with an impressive Claude Rains (sequence directed by David Lean) as the dying ruler of Judea. McGuire is seen briefly and looks radiant. But, it was an uneven, overlong and rambling film and had to be cut by thirty-five minutes for general release. It received mixed reviews.

Dorothy seemed to lose interest in her film career after this. She appeared, along with Ingrid Bergman, Joan Fontaine, Gregory Peck, Joseph Cotten, Janet Gaynor, King Vidor and others, in a television special called Hollywood: The Selznick Years to talk about her association with David O. Selznick, but found no film projects of interest. She turned to television for work in various character roles, but accepted one more big screen assignment before devoting her time entirely to television.

Her last theatrical film was Flight of the Doves (1971), as Granny O’Flaherty, a woman sought by two children in a desperate attempt to escape a cruel uncle (Ron Moody). It was a pleasant, British-made family film directed by Ralph Nelson, but was nothing special. It marked the end of her big screen career, but not the end of her acting. She found suitable roles in quality television dramas in the kind of parts that were increasingly rare in post-Golden Age Hollywood films. She was impressive as Lavinia Hubbard in Another Part of the Forest (1972), directed by Daniel Mann from the Lillian Hellman play and co-starring Barry Sullivan and Kent Smith. She found roles in one of TV’s most respected mini-series, Rich Man, Poor Man (1976), an examination of the trials and tribulations of the Jordache family from the period following World War II to the late ‘60s, a meticulous production with a uniformly excellent cast. She won an Emmy nomination as Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series in a cast that included Nick Nolte and Peter Strauss in memorable leads. The production itself won several Emmy Awards and is considered one of the most distinguished works produced on TV during the ‘70s.

She was Marmee March in the 1978 TV production of Little Women, in a cast that included Greer Garson as Aunt March and Robert Young as Mr. Laurence. Back in the old Selznick days, McGuire had been scheduled to play Meg in his version of Little Women, with Jennifer Jones as Jo and Shirley Temple as Amy, but, like many Selznick projects, it was never realized. She repeated the role of Marmee March for the TV series in 1979.

Fewer interesting roles followed in the ‘80s and it seemed that the best part of her career was coming to a close. Her most distinguished TV project was an appearance with Kirk Douglas and Elizabeth Montgomery in Amos (1985), a harrowing account of an elderly man (Douglas) subjected to mistreatment by a cruel head nurse (Montgomery) at a senior care facility. McGuire was touching as the lonely woman who becomes Douglas’ companion. She won another Emmy nomination as Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries. She made sporadic TV appearances after that, always reliable in supporting roles, particularly in I Never Sang for My Father (1988), a sensitive version of Robert Anderson’s play. She had her last supporting role in The Last Best Year (1990), an emotional tear-jerker about a woman (Bernadette Peters) dying of cancer, and surrounded by her good friends, (Mary Tyler Moore and Dorothy McGuire).

She slipped into quiet retirement in the early ‘90s and the media forgot about her. Her photographer husband, John Swope, had died in 1979, but she was close to her son Mark, an artist/photographer, and her daughter Topo. In 2001 her health took a turn for the worse after she fell and broke a leg.

She died at St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica on September 13, 2001, with her daughter at her side. She was 85. “She had broken her leg three weeks ago and then developed heart failure,” her daughter said. “She had a wonderful life and accomplished a lot. She went very peacefully.”

Author David Shipman made an interesting observation when he wrote: “Dorothy McGuire belonged to that coterie of players—it included Margaret Sullavan, Betty Field, Martha Scott and Barbara Bel Geddes—whose charm is uncommon, elusive. It is the charm of frank, unpretty features that can for some, at times, take on an amazing beauty . . . They all came from the stage, they were all highly rated by the critics and by the top Hollywood brass—at least at first [but] none of them had a prolific screen career.”

Perhaps more to the point is the remark made by Roy Pickard, in his book The Oscar Stars from A-Z: “No actress before or since has quite managed to convey the quiet serenity and inner calmness so beautifully evoked on screen by Dorothy McGuire . . . Only twenty-six films all told, not many for the number of years she was making movies, but there were very few duds among them.”