Wright and her Best Supporting Actress Oscar
at the 1943 Academy Awards. Back then supporting actors and actresses received
plaques instead of full statuettes.
MURIEL TERESA WRIGHT was born on October 27, 1918 in New York City to Arthur Wright, an insurance agent, and his wife
Margaret Espy. After moving around as a small child, young Muriel attended elementary school in
New Jersey and graduated from Columbia High School in Maplewood, New Jersey
in 1938. An only child who had always been inclined toward play-acting and
make-believe, Muriel was inspired by an occasion to see Cornelia Otis Skinner
perform some monologues as well as a trip to New York to see Helen Hayes in
"Victoria Regina," and became a leading actress in her school plays. Though at first she resented encouragement to pursue a career in acting because she felt people were implying that she wasn't smart enough to do anything else, by graduation she had changed her mind.
After apprenticing for two summers at the Wharf Theatre in Provincetown,
Massachusetts, Muriel moved to New York. There was already a Muriel
Wright registered with Actors Equity however, so Wright took her middle name,
Teresa, as a stage name. In the fall of 1938, after a short period
pounding the pavement, Wright auditioned for Thornton Wilder's "Our Town" and
won the position of understudy to the role of Emily in which
(who had replaced Martha Scott) was starring. Wright
understudied McGuire for the remainder of the production's Broadway run,
and after finally making her professional stage debut playing the role of
Rebecca during a special Washington D.C. performance of "Our Town," she joined
the traveling company of the play, eventually taking over the lead role during a tour of New England
in the spring of 1939.
After spending the summer of
1939 with the Barnstormers of Tamworth, New Hampshire playing mostly juvenile
parts (thanks to her small stature), Wright returned to New York where she won the role of the
ingénue, Mary Skinner, in Oscar Serlin's production of "Life With Father." She remained in the cast for over a year, after which time she made the decision to answer
Samuel Goldwyn's call
to go west and make movies. She went on her own terms however, contracted specifically to play
Bette Davis' daughter in the screen adaptation of Lillian Hellman's
THE LITTLE FOXES (1941). Further, a now-famous clause in her contract made clear that Wright had come to Hollywood to act, not to "pose for photographers in a bathing suit." Her
insistence on establishing a foundation for her career through her
not through publicity photos was relatively unheard of in Hollywood at the time,
and some skeptical fan magazines even speculated she was avoiding the
cheesecake photographers because there was something physically wrong with
her. But the strategy paid off when her performance in
THE LITTLE FOXES earned Wright an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress, alongside her co-star
Wright on the cover of the December 16, 1946 issue of LIFE Magazine.
Though neither took the prize, Wright won the following year for her portrayal of Carol Beldon in
MRS. MINIVER (1942), her
second film, and was also nominated in the Best Actress category the same
year for her performance as Eleanor Gehrig in
THE PRIDE OF THE YANKEES
opposite Gary Cooper. Thus, after only three movies, Teresa Wright had
earned three Oscar nominations (a feat as of yet unequaled in the history of the
Academy Awards) and become a major Hollywood name.
Under a long-term contract with
other outstanding films followed throughout the 1940s. In 1943, Wright was
loaned to Universal Pictures
to play Young Charlie Newton in
SHADOW OF A DOUBT and received top billing over
her co-star Joseph Cotten. And
after two films made on loan to Paramount, she returned to the Goldwyn Studios to appear in the
producer's Oscar-winning Best Picture of 1946,
THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES, directed by
William Wyler and also featuring
Fredric March and
Wright also made a noteworthy western, Raoul Walsh's PURSUED (1947), with
Judith Anderson and
However, shortly after filming ENCHANTMENT (1948), her contract with producer
Goldwyn was terminated during a dispute over pre-release publicity for
the film. Undaunted, Wright again surprised the Hollywood establishment
when she issued a statement declaring that she welcomed the termination and
looked forward to working for other producers who would probably pay her less
but would also treat her with more respect. Now a free-lancer, she continued to make movies through the end
of the 1950s, including Fred
Zinnemann's THE MEN
(1950) with Marlon Brando
in his screen debut, and George Cukor's
comedy THE ACTRESS (1953) in which (at age 34) she played wife to 53-year-old
Tracy and mother to aspiring ingénue Jean
Simmons (then age 24). Despite her continued successes however,
Wright's break with Goldwyn
did have a long-term effect on her career, and most of her free-lance projects
of the 1950s lacked the quality and prestige of her previous films.
Wright with Dick
Powell on the cover of TV Guide for an October 7, 1954 episode of Climax.
During the early 1950s, Wright became quite active in the new medium of television
and temporarily retired from the big screen after THE RESTLESS YEARS
(1958). Her dozens of small screen appearances included guest roles on
such series as Schlitz Playhouse of Stars, The US Steel Hour, The Star and
the Story, The 20th Century-Fox Hour, Ford Television Theatre, Four Star
Climax. In 1957, Wright earned an Emmy nomination for her portrayal of Annie Sullivan
in the Playhouse 90 production of
"The Miracle Worker" (which was later
adapted into a stage play and a 1962 motion picture). That success was followed by a second Emmy nomination for
her performance as the title character in "The Margaret Bourke-White Story" on
Sunday Showcase (1960), another true story, this time about a famed
photographer struck down with Parkinson's disease.
In 1957, Wright returned to Broadway, playing for a year in
William Inge's "The Dark at the Top of the Stairs," and
she kept consistently busy on stage through the early 1990s. Among her many
regional theatre and touring productions have been such classics of the American theater
"The Heiress," "Mary, Mary,"
"Bell, Book and Candle," "The Country Girl," "The Glass Menagerie,"
"The Effects of Gamma Rays on Man in the Moon Marigolds," "Tea and Sympathy" and "Long Day's
Journey Into Night" as well as a 1987 production of Shakespeare's "All's Well
that Ends Well." She also appeared in the original Broadway production of
Robert Anderson's "I Never Sang for My Father" (1968) and the successful
Broadway revivals of "Death of a Salesman" (1975) co-starring George C.
Scott, Eugene O'Neill's "Ah, Wilderness" (1975) with
Geraldine Fitzgerald, "Morning's at Seven"
(1980-1981) also starring Maureen O'Sullivan,
and "On Borrowed Time" (1991) again with George C. Scott.
Wright in PBS's "American Short Stories: The Golden
Honeymoon" (1980 TV).
Continuing her success in television, Wright received a third Emmy nomination for her
performance in the episode of CBS' Dolphin Cove entitled
"The Elders" (1989) and starred in a number of notable made-for-TV
movies including The Golden Honeymoon (1980)
co-starring James Whitmore, Bill: On His Own (1983) with
Mickey Rooney, The Fig Tree
(1987) and Lethal Innocence (1991). In recent years, she has also
guest starred in episodes of
Murder, She Wrote (1988) and Picket Fences (1996) as well as in
made-for-TV movies like Perry Mason: The Case of the Desperate
Deception (1990) and the 1994 TBS mini-series A Century of Women.
Wright returned to the big screen occasionally beginning in 1969 to
play character roles in such films as THE HAPPY ENDING (1969), ROSELAND (1977), SOMEWHERE IN TIME
(1980) and THE GOOD MOTHER (1988). In her most recent film appearance,
she starred as Miss Birdie,
Matt Damon's eccentric landlady, in Francis Ford Coppola's adaptation of John Grisham's THE RAINMAKER (1997). Married to screenwriter and novelist Niven Busch
for ten years ending in 1952, Wright has two children, a son born in 1944 and a
daughter born in 1947. She subsequently married playwright Robert Anderson
in 1959, and although they remained friends, they divorced in the early 1970s.
spent most of the last ten years of her life living quietly in New England and making occasional public appearances related to her best-known
films of the 1940s, including speeches at symposiums about
Alfred Hitchcock and occasional appearances at New York Yankees' games for
events associated with her role in THE PRIDE OF THE YANKEES
(1942). (She became an avid Yankees baseball fan after being asked to
throw out the first pitch at a game on July 4, 1998, and rarely missed watching
them on TV thereafter.) In 2003, Wright appeared on the 75th Annual Academy Awards during a segment of the
telecast honoring previous Oscar winners. She died on March 6, 2005 at
the age of 86.