Monday, December 29, 2008

Escapes From the MGM Pidgeonhole


Walter Pidgeon (1897-1984) seems to have been one of the studio era's clearest eyed realists. Reflecting on his long tenure at the Tiffany of movie studios from the '30s to the '50s, he once described his experience as being "like a kept woman during my twenty-one years at MGM." Known by his co-workers for his general irreverence, naughty sense of humor, amiability on the set, and deep-rooted work ethic, he ably filled that second tier niche occupied by fellow MGM actors, Robert Montgomery and Robert Young.

Like them, he appeared to be especially deft at light comedy and drama that didn't require much heavy lifting (or thinking)---though these actors occasionally went beyond their employer's and audience expectations in a few significant films. Walter Pidgeon was very good at supporting actresses who were bigger stars, such as Myrna Loy and Jean Harlow, though his most memorable partner was in his eight on-screen pairings with Greer Garson, which began with Blossoms in the Dust (1941) and continued through Scandal at Scourie (1953). During this partnership, Pidgeon, who many commentators today describe as "unexciting" or even "wooden", also earned Oscar nominations for Mrs. Miniver (1942) and Madame Curie (1943).

While his style may have fallen out of fashion among some, I suspect that there are many film lovers who not only find him a reassuring presence in many films, but might enjoy some of his uncharacteristic work--little of which, strangely, seems to have earned him much individual recognition at the time.


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