Teresa Wright in The Best Years of Our Lives

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I was born and bred a California boy, but there’s a certain something about the girl-next-door. Maybe it’s my midwestern roots, because after all, my mom was born in Iowa before making the move westward.

Anyways, the first time I saw Teresa Wright onscreen I was immediately smitten. She is the complete antithesis of the blatant sexuality of a Marilyn Monroe, a Sophia Loren or Elizabeth Taylor. Granted, all very beautiful women of Hollywood’s Golden Age, but as their predecessor, a very different sort of actress, Wright exudes a certain sweet charm that epitomizes the ideal American girl. Before Donna Reed or Doris Day.

In The Best Years of Our Lives she plays Peggy, the thoughtful, funny and mature daughter of Al and Milly Stephenson. Right from the get go, it’s hard not to love this girl from the quintessential post-war family. She knows how to cook, drives well, has all the skills that are desirable of a lady circa 1946. But the bottom line is her utter sincerity. She seems real.

When she first meets Fred Derry then, there’s no agenda or master plan to seduce him or make him fall in love with her. It just happens. She doesn’t quite want it to happen and she tries to resist the urges. She’s not prone to drama. She’s above that kind of behavior. In other words, she’s a real winner.

Thus, the moment when she begins to fall for a married man, unhappily married, our heart aches for her–at least that’s what I felt, because she deserves to be happy. How could Teresa Wright not be happy? And in the end she gets the ending that she deserves–the one we want for her and Fred.

The legendary critic James Agee wrote this of her performance:

“This new performance of hers, entirely lacking in big scenes, tricks, or obstreperousness—one can hardly think of it as acting—seems to me one of the wisest and most beautiful pieces of work I have seen in years. If the picture had none of the hundreds of other things it has to recommend it, I could watch it a dozen times over for that personality and its mastery alone.”

Took the words right out of my mouth J.A.

And beyond simply  this film ,there was a string of equally amiable performances that came before and after. She’s the sweet innocent ingenue in The Little Foxes and Mrs. Miniver. In The Pride of the Yankees she was the perfect incarnation of Lou Gehrig’s faithful wife, while also playing the intrepid “Charlie” in Hitchcock’s home thriller Shadow of a Doubt. Later on in her career she would star in the psychological western Pursued and opposite Marlon Brando in The Men.

Perhaps the roles share a degree of similarity, but it should not go unnoticed that Teresa Wright had a string of three academy award nominations, that suggest that she was a pretty big deal in her day. To this day, no one has equaled that feat of hers.

But why had I never heard of this wonderful, pure actress until so much later in my cinematic odyssey? She had slipped through the cracks and crevices of my film education. And that might best be explained by Teresa Wright’s own words:

“I’m just not the glamour type. 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.” 

“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 would not allow herself to be shot in certain manners for publicity photos and ultimately lost her contract with Samuel Goldwyn)

“I only ever wanted to be an actress, not a star.”

So certainly this girl was not your typical Hollywood movie star. She lacks flamboyance and your typical glamour, but she makes up with it by being a deeply heartfelt and sincere individual onscreen. She feels real and in her earliest roles, completely innocent. It’s hard not to fall head over heals for a girl like that.

11 thoughts on “Teresa Wright in The Best Years of Our Lives

  1. This is a wonderful post. I love Teresa Wright. She was such a natural, honest actress. You captured her appeal very well. She has a body of work that still holds up in the 21st century and I imagine beyond. She deserved Oscar nods for Shadow of A Doubt (Joe Cotton too) and for The Best Years of Our Lives. But actresses like Wright made it look so easy. Good job with this post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much! I’m glad you share my appreciation for Ms. Wright, and I wholeheartedly that she should have received nods for the latter two films (arguably her best work). Still, for an actress who is seemingly so often forgotten, 3 Oscar nominations is pretty amazing!

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  2. Yes, I like what you said about Teresa Wright being genuine on screen. Like you pointed out, she doesn’t use any tricks – she gives you an honest performance. She’s one talented actress, well deserving of all those nominations.

    Thanks for joining the REEL INFATUATION BLOGATHON, and for bringing Ms Wright with you!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: #ReelInfatuation Blogathon: Day 4 – Silver Screenings

  4. I just watched this the other day for the umteenth time. When I wasn’t ogling at Dana Andrews, I was marveled by Miss Wright. It’s true, she is so real – even up to the 80s in Somewhere in Time with Christopher Reeve. I can’t think of another word for her performances. Was she each character she played? I mean, the blending was spectacular. 🙂 Sweet post! Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

      • My pleasure! I’ll bet! LOL. It’s one of my favorites. I’m also sure you’ll love Somewhere in Time too. The soundtrack will never leave you!

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  5. Teresa was wonderful. I hd the same feeling of “she deserves to be happy” when I watched Mrs Miniver. She was the best in that movie, and what a performance! She is also a highlights of Best Years, in a movie that is near perfect and, even being very long, doesn’t get boring.
    Don’t forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! 🙂
    Cheers!
    Le
    http://www.criticaretro.blogspot.com

    Liked by 1 person

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