Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor

MCGUIRE, DOROTHY (1918-2001)

Dorothy McGuire in a scene from "Gentleman's Agreement" (1947)

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Dorothy McGuire was born June 14, 1918, in Omaha, Nebraska, where she grew up. Her acting debut at age thirteen was on the stage of the Omaha Community Playhouse, where she appeared opposite Henry Fonda in A Kiss for Cinderella. Like Fonda, also a native Nebraskan, Dorothy McGuire had a warm, engaging personality, an honest, homespun sincerity that was to characterize the roles she played during her highly successful career.

She went to New York, first to work in radio and then on Broadway, getting her start as the understudy to Martha Scott in Thornton Wilder's Our Town in 1938. She then toured with John Barrymore in My Dear Children and in 1940 was the understudy to Julie Haydon in The Time of Your Life. She was chosen by playwright Rose Franken to star in the Broadway comedy Claudia (1941) and in 1943 played the role, opposite Robert Young, in David O. Selznick's successful film version. She and Young appeared in the sequel, Claudia and David, in 1946, by which time she had also appeared in Elia Kazan's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945) and The Spiral Staircase (1946), a thriller in which she played a mute servant. She was nominated for but did not win an Academy Award for best actress for her performance in Gentleman's Agreement (1947), a film about anti-Semitism. In 1947 she also founded the La Jolla Playhouse with Gregory Peck and Mel Ferrer.

She continued to appear in prestigious films –the romantic comedy Three Coins in the Fountain (1954) and a drama about Quaker pacifism, Friendly Persuasion (1956)–while her versatility as an actress continued to garner praise. Her appeal lay in the way she gave unglamorous, common, hardworking women a beauty and integrity that came from inside, from the spirit. She starred in two classic films by Walt Disney for precisely these reasons: Old Yeller (1957) and Swiss Family Robinson (1960) were both about the value of family and the difficulties of adolescence. Perhaps because her personal life remained intensely private, her screen persona dominated; she eventually played the Virgin Mary in George Stevens's The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), after which she made fewer and fewer feature film appearances.

In 1976, after an absence of many years, she starred in a revival of Tennessee Williams's The Night of the Iguana on Broadway and also began acting in made-for-television features. All her appearances thereafter were in television, the medium in which she continued to work until the late 1980s, when she was in her seventies. Her talent and professionalism placed her in the upper echelon of the best Hollywood film actresses of the century. She died from heart failure in Santa Monica, California, on September 13, 2001.

Samuel J. Umland University of Nebraska at Kearney

Chaneles, Sol, and Albert Wolsky, eds. The Movie Makers. Secaucus NJ: Derbibooks, 1974.

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