Teresa Wright, the willowy actress who starred opposite Gary Cooper and Marlon Brando and won a supporting Academy Award in 1942 for “Mrs. Miniver,” has died. She was 86.
Wright died Sunday of a heart attack at Yale-New Haven Hospital in Connecticut, her daughter, Mary-Kelly Busch, told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
Wright’s career skyrocketed after her first film, “The Little Foxes,” which brought her an Oscar nomination as best supporting actress of 1941. The following year she was honored with two nominations: lead actress as the wife of Lou Gehrig in “The Pride of the Yankees” and supporting actress as Greer Garson’s daughter in the wartime saga “Mrs. Miniver.”
She also starred in three other classics: Alfred Hitchcock’s “Shadow of a Doubt” in 1943; Brando’s first film, “The Men,” in 1950; and the multiple Oscar winner “The Best Years of Our Lives” in 1946.
Later generations saw her in an occasional character role, including the eccentric, warmhearted Miss Birdie in the 1997 film version of John Grisham’s “The Rainmaker,” starring Matt Damon, and in 1988’s “The Good Mother,” with Diane Keaton and Liam Neeson.
Wright’s lovely face, quiet manner and dramatic skill made her a popular leading actress in the 1940s and early ’50s. She appeared opposite Cooper in “The Pride of the Yankees” and “Casanova Brown,” Robert Mitchum in “Pursued,” David Niven in “Enchantment,” Lew Ayres in “The Capture” and Cornel Wilde in “California Conquest.”
From the beginning of her Hollywood career, Wright displayed an independence that rankled her boss, the imperious Hollywood producer, Sam Goldwyn. Goldwyn fired her in 1948, claiming she was “uncooperative” for refusing to go to New York to publicize one of her films.
The actress expressed no regret about losing her $5,000-a-week contract. She claimed illness and added: “The type of contract between players and producers is, I feel, antiquated in form and abstract in concept. … We have no privacies which producers cannot invade, they trade us like cattle, boss us like children.”
Wright stood out as an anomaly in a Hollywood era when glamour was demanded of actresses. She appeared on-screen as the dutiful daughter and supportive wife, never the seductress.
“I’m just not the glamour type,” she admitted in a 1950 interview. “Glamour girls are born, not made. And the real ones can be glamorous even if they don’t wear magnificent clothes. I’ll bet Lana Turner would look glamorous in anything.”
When a studio asked her to pose for “cheesecake” — the term for photos in bathing suits or other scanty attire — she declined.
“I argued that I didn’t have any of the attributes to pose for cheesecake,” she said. “I said I would have to make good on my acting ability, which was the only attribute I could offer.”
Wright was born in New York City on Oct. 27, 1918, and grew up in Maplewood, N.J., where she showed promise in theatricals at Columbia High School. Her instructor persuaded Teresa’s father to allow her to study for the summer at the famed Wharf theater in Provincetown, Mass.
Wright began her career in summer theater, then got a job as understudy to Dorothy McGuire, who had taken over the lead role in the hit play “Our Town.” After touring in “Our Town,” Wright won a role in another stage hit, “Life with Father.” Goldwyn saw the play and brought her to Hollywood to play the role of Alexandra Giddens in “The Little Foxes.”
While under contract to Goldwyn, she met the producer’s story editor Niven Busch, who wrote “Duel in the Sun” and other novels. They were married in 1942 and had two children, Niven Terence and Mary Kelly. Two of Busch’s sons by a previous marriage lived with them on a 300-acre ranch in Hollister.
In 1952, she ended her marriage to Busch, accusing him of making her feel useless “by refusing to allow me the right to have anything to say in the care and raising of my children and the running of our house.”
In 1959, Wright married Robert Anderson, author of “Tea and Sympathy” and other plays. She stopped acting for several years, but returned to the New York theater for “Mary, Mary” in 1962.
She drew glowing reviews in the Broadway revival of “Death of a Salesman” in 1975, and was warmly received in occasional screen appearances later in life. Besides “The Good Mother” and “The Rainmaker,” Wright had character roles in “Hail Hero!” “The Happy Ending,” “Roseland” and “Somewhere in Time.”
She and Anderson divorced and later remarried.