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    Breathless Talent

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    The author of 29 books, biographer/historian Donald Spoto has written essential studies of Alfred Hitchcock, Hollywood icons Ingrid Bergman, Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly and Marilyn Monroe, and theatrical giants Laurence Olivier, Tennessee Williams and the Redgrave family. The subject of his latest and thoroughly absorbing life study is a different case: he met her as an expert interviewee for his first book The Art of Alfred Hitchcock, and began a close and devoted friendship covering the last 30 years of her accomplished life. A Girl’s Got to Breathe: The Life of Teresa Wright is a concise but densely detailed and compelling portrait of a stage and screen actress (1918-2005) whose work always bore the stamps of dedication and quality. Imagine counting the original Broadway productions of Life with Father, The Dark at the Top of the Stairs and I Never Sang for My Father among your stage credits. Imagine that your first four movies were The Little Foxes, Mrs. Miniver, The Pride of the Yankees and Shadow of a Doubt, for which you would earn three Academy Award® nominations and one Oscar®, and you get a sense of her range, appeal and more specifically, her focus on the work rather than the fishbowl of glamour girl stardom. Add The Best Years of Our Lives, Enchantment, The Men, The Actress and John Grisham’s The Rainmaker to the above and Wright’s cinematic batting average across 27 theatrical features in total ain’t too shabby. With her early-life struggles to cope with an absentee mother, and loving but ultimately untenable marriages to writer/producer Niven Busch and later playwright/screenwriter Robert Anderson explored in gripping and precisely contextualized prose, Wright is perfectly and gracefully positioned as what she truly was and remains: a film actress of startling veracity when working with Hollywood’s top talents (and whose contributions often make lesser films worth another look) and a stage and television trouper of incomparable craft and adventurous daring whom audiences adored. (My own memories of her performances in two George C. Scott-starred and -directed Circle in the Square revivals of Death of a Salesman (1975) and On Borrowed Time (1991), plus the transformative 1980 revival of Morning’s at Seven heartily confirm this.) Spoto also ensures that Wright’s virtues as a loving parent and wife, friend, supporter, humanitarian and champion of colleagues’ talents also get room to breathe as well. The title phrase “A girl’s got to breathe” features prominently twice in the book: as an improvised line of dialogue she utters in The Pride of the Yankees when breaking off an overly passionate kiss from co-star Gary Cooper, and, now a personal trademark, revisited later on when she finally, regretfully, breaks away from her turbulent 19-year marriage to the compulsively unfaithful Anderson. Wright’s one appearance in the Twilight Time Blu-ray library is a small but memorable one. She befriended Jean Simmons after playing her mother in director George Cukor’s delightful and undervalued The Actress (1953), also starring Spencer Tracy. In 1969, Simmons, who in real life was battling an alcohol addiction and undertook her writer-director husband Richard Brooks’ project The Happy Ending, playing a troubled, boozing housewife in a loveless marriage grasping for self-actualization, as both acting exercise and therapeutic release, reached out to Wright once again. Selfless friend that she was, Wright again took the short but telling role of Simmons’ mother, and Spoto observes, offered sorely needed off-camera emotional support to Simmons, who would score an Oscar® nomination for a part that may well have cut too close to the bone. For celebrations of luminous talent like A Girl’s Got to Breathe: The Life of Teresa Wright and The Happy Ending on Blu-ray, fans of terrific Teresa can expel a breath of genuine gratitude.