Dorothy McGUIRE - Actors and Actresses

Born: Dorothy Hackett McGuire in Omaha, Nebraska, 14 June 1918. Family: Married John Swope (a photographer), 18 July 1943 (deceased); children: Topo Garrett, Mark Swope. Career: Stage debut, A Kiss for Cinderella , Little Theatre, Omaha, 1930; began acting on stage in New York, 1938; toured with theatre productions as Portia, My Dear Children , 1939, as Kitty, The Time of Your Life , 1940, as Dear Ruth, USO tour of Europe, 1945, Tonight at 8:30 , USO tour, 1947, as Alma Winemiller, Summer and Smoke , U.S. cities, 1950. Appeared on Big Sister , radio series, 1937; played Mary Jordache, Rich Man, Poor Man TV series, 1976; played Marmee March, Little Women , TV series, 1979; played Cora Miller, The Young and the Restless , TV series, 1985; appeared on numerous episodes of TV series, 1938–1988. Awards: National Board of Review Award, for best actress, for Friendly Persuasion , 1956. Address: 121 Copley Place, Beverly Hills, CA 90210, U.S.A.

Films as Actress:


Claudia (Goulding) (as Claudia Naughton)


Reward Unlimited (McCall Jr.)


The Enchanted Cottage (Cromwell) (as Laura Pennington); A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Kazan) (as Katie Nolan)


Till the End of Time (Dmytryk) (as Pat Ruscomb); Claudia and David (Lang) (as Claudia Naughton); The Spiral Staircase (Siodmak) (as Helen Capel)


Gentleman's Agreement (Kazan) (as Kathy Lacey)


Mister 880 (Goulding) (as Ann Winslow); Mother Didn't Tell Me (Binyon) (as Jane)


Callaway Went Thataway (Frank and Panama) (as Deborah Patterson); I Want You (Robson) (as Nancy Greer)


Invitation (Reinhardt) (as Ellen Pierce)


Make Haste to Live (Seiter) (as Crystal Benson); Three Coins in the Fountain (Negulesco) (as Miss Frances)


Trial (Robson) (as Abbe)


Friendly Persuasion (Wyler) (as Eliza Birdwell)


Old Yeller (Stevenson) (as Katie Coates)


The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker (Levin) (as Ma Pennypacker); This Earth Is Mine (King) (as Martha Fairon); A Summer Place (Daves) (as Sylvia Hunter)


The Dark at the Top of the Stairs (Mann) (as Cora Flood); Swiss Family Robinson (Annakin) (as Mother Robinson)


Susan Slade (Daves) (as Leah Slade)


Summer Magic (Neilson) (as Margaret Carey)


The Greatest Story Ever Told (Stevens, Negulesco [uncredited], Lean [uncredited]) (as The Virgin Mary)


Hollywood: The Selznick Years (Flaum—for TV) (as Herself)


Flight of the Doves (Nelson) (as Granny O'Flaherty); She Waits (Mann—for TV) (as Sarah Wilson)


Jonathan Livingston Seagull (Bartlett) (as voice of Mother)


The Runaways (Harris—for TV) (as Angela Lakey)


Little Women (Rich—for TV) (as Marmee)


The Incredible Journey of Doctor Meg Laurel (Green—for TV) (as Effie)


Ghost Dancing (Greene and Taylor—for TV) (as Sarah Bowman)


Between the Darkness and the Dawn (Levin—for TV) (as Beryl Foster); Amos (Tuchner—for TV) (as Hester Farrell)


American Geisha (Philips—for TV) (as Ann Suzuki)


Summer Heat (Gleason) (as Narrator)

Dorothy McGuire with Thornton Wilder (center) and John Craven on the set of Our Town
Dorothy McGuire with Thornton Wilder (center) and John Craven on the set of Our Town


I Never Sang for My Father (O'Brien—for TV) (as Margaret Garrison)


The Last Best Year (Erman—for TV) (as Anne); Caroline? (Sargent—for TV) (as Caroline's Grandmother)


On MCGUIRE: books—

McClelland, Doug, Forties Film Talk: Oral Histories of Hollywood , New York, 1992.

* * *

One of Hollywood's most versatile leading ladies, Dorothy McGuire combined beauty, talent, and temerity to become a star during the twilight of the studio era. Graced with the easy good looks of the girl-next-door, McGuire was nonetheless willing to play against type, portraying real people with real problems in movies that often provided social commentary. As she matured into a beautiful woman with an inner strength that shone through on screen, and she made a seemingly effortless transition from leading lady to respected character actress.

Despite being nominated for an Academy Award, appearing in such screen classics as Gentleman's Agreement and Friendly Persuasion , and starring opposite such household names as Gregory Peck, Robert Mitchum, and Gary Cooper, Dorothy McGuire's fame was a steady, but quiet one. In 1931, she made her professional theatrical debut at age 13 opposite Henry Fonda at the Omaha Playhouse. But it would be another seven years of junior college and summer stock productions before McGuire reached Broadway, where she starred as Emily in Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Our Town. McGuire's big break came when she won the starring role in Claudia , a part which allowed the young actress to capitalize on both her sex appeal and her toughness of character, to demonstrate her ability to play both drama and comedy, and to express juvenile innocence and nascent maturity.

McGuire's success as Claudia attracted the notice of Hollywood. Film mogul David O. Selznick signed the 25-year-old actress to a personal contract and brought her to Hollywood. But even as McGuire prepared to recreate the role of Claudia on film, Selznick engaged in a typical Hollywood ruse. In an attempt to duplicate the press frenzy over the casting of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind , Selznick announced that he had no intention of casting McGuire, and proceeded to test many well-known actresses for the role. In the end, McGuire played the part opposite Robert Young. Directed by veteran Edmund Goulding, the 1943 film was well received and McGuire was poised for stardom. But her tenure on Hollywood's A-list would be filled with diverse and often difficult roles in challenging pictures, as McGuire was often cast against type.

In 1945, McGuire appeared in acclaimed New York director Elia Kazan's first film, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Kazan's gritty approach brought a raw power and heightened honesty to filmmaking in this rare Hollywood portrayal of the working class. Some critics felt that the pretty McGuire was miscast as the Irish Catholic tenement mother, but Hollywood continued to give the young actress demanding roles in their A-list productions.

During the latter half of the decade, McGuire played a very plain spinster who falls in love with a disfigured Robert Young in The Enchanted Cottage , a deaf-mute servant pursued by a serial killer in The Spiral Staircase , and a troubled war widow in Till the End of Time. But her most famous performance came in her second film for Elia Kazan, Gentleman's Agreement. The Oscar-winning picture was Hollywood's groundbreaking attempt to deal with anti-Semitism in America, and McGuire played the fiancé of a magazine writer, played by Gregory Peck, who decides to write an exposé on anti-Semitism by pretending to be Jewish. Her nuanced performance of a society woman caught between her love of Peck and her fear of losing her social standing by marrying a Jew earned McGuire an Oscar nomination for Best Actress.

McGuire's association with difficult roles in risk-taking films made her popular but never quite as famous as other actresses of her era, who were cast in more glamorous roles. Nonetheless, Dorothy McGuire became one of Hollywood's top stars during the late 1940s and early 1950s, though she remained a modest figure who generally avoided the glamour that most Hollywood stars adored. McGuire also remained true to her theatrical roots. In 1949 she and fellow artists Gregory Peck and Mel Ferrer enlisted David O. Selznick's financial backing to start a repertory theatre company in Peck's hometown of La Jolla.

During the early 1950s McGuire worked consistently, infusing light comedy into her repertoire with Mister 880 while continuing to take on the challenging roles of a wife whose husband is fighting in the Korean War in I Want You , and a woman whose criminal husband comes back to seek his revenge in Make Haste to Live. In the mid-1950s, as McGuire reached her late thirties—an age when many Hollywood leading ladies found themselves no longer in demand—her popularity increased, undoubtedly due to the fact that she had been willing to play against her looks at the height of her beauty. In 1954, McGuire played a secretary who finds romance in Jean Negulesco's romance, Three Coins in the Fountain ; in 1956 she starred as the devout Quaker wife in William Wyler's Friendly Persuasion , both screen classics.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, McGuire's ease in taking on character roles enabled her to make a graceful transition into more mature roles, and she became the perennial understanding mother in such family favorites as Old Yeller and Swiss Family Robinson. As her film career began to wane in the 1970s, McGuire made the transition into television, appearing in the popular miniseries Rich Man, Poor Man , the critically acclaimed special Amos , and the top-rate series Saint Elsewhere. She also returned to the theatre, appearing on Broadway in the highly praised 1976 Circle in the Square production of Night of the Iguana , and on tour in the 1980s with I Never Sang for My Father. In the early 1990s, Dorothy McGuire suffered a hip injury, which finally ended her magnificent sixty-year acting career.

—Victoria Price

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