Best known for her role opposite James Stewart in The Shop Around the Corner.
Little Man, What Now?
The Good Fairy
So Red the Rose
Next Time We Love
The Moon’s Our Home
The Shining Hour
The Mortal Storm
So Ends Our Night
Appointment for Love
No Sad Songs for Me
Perhaps I’ll get used to this bizarre place called Hollywood, but I doubt it. ~ Margaret Sullavan
Margaret Sullavan was born May 16, 1909, in Norfolk, Virginia, the daughter of a wealthy stockbroker, Cornelius Sullavan, and his wife, Garland Brooke. She had a younger brother, Cornelius, and a half-sister, Louise Gregory. The first years of her childhood were spent isolated from other children. She suffered from a painful muscular weakness in the legs that prevented her from walking, so that she was unable to socialize with other children until the age of six. After her recovery she emerged as an adventurous and tomboyish child who preferred playing with the children from the poorer neighborhood, much to the disapproval of her class-conscious parents.
She attended boarding school at Chatham Episcopal Institute (now Chatham Hall), where she was president of the student body and delivered the salutary oration in 1927. She moved to Boston and lived with her half-sister, Weedie, where she studied dance at the Boston Denishawn studio and (against her parents’ wishes) drama at the Copley Theatre. When her parents cut her allowance to a minimum, Sullavan defiantly paid her way as a clerk in the Harvard Cooperative Bookstore (The Coop), located in Harvard Square, Cambridge
Sullavan succeeded in getting a chorus part in the Harvard Dramatic Society 1929 spring production Close Up, a musical written by Harvard senior Bernard Hanighen, who was later a composer for Broadway and Hollywood. The President of the Harvard Dramatic Society, Charles Leatherbee, along with the President of Princeton’s Theatre Intime, Bretaigne Windust, who together had established the University Players on Cape Cod the summer before, persuaded Sullavan to join them for their second summer season. Another member of the University Players was Henry Fonda, who had the comic lead in Close Up. In the summer of 1929 Sullavan appeared opposite Fonda in The Devil in the Cheese, her debut on the professional stage. She returned for most of the University Players’ 1930 season. In 1931, she squeezed in one production with the University Players between the closing of the Broadway production of A Modern Virgin in July and its tour in September. She rejoined the University Players for most of their 18-week 1930-31 winter season in Baltimore.
Sullavan’s parents did not approve of her choice of career. She played the lead in Strictly Dishonorable (1930) by Preston Sturges, which her parents attended. Confronted with her evident talent, their objections ceased.
She married actor Henry Fonda on December 25, 1931 while both were performing with the University Players in its 18-week winter season in Baltimore. Sullavan and Fonda separated after two months and divorced in 1933. After separating from Fonda, Sullavan began a relationship with Broadway producer Jed Harris.
In March 1933, Sullavan replaced another actor in Dinner at Eight in New York. Movie director John M. Stahl happened to be watching the play and was intrigued by Sullavan. He decided she would be perfect for a picture he was planning, Only Yesterday. At that time Sullavan had already turned down offers for five-year contracts from Paramount and Columbia. Sullavan was offered a three-year, two-pictures-a-year contract at $1,200 a week. She accepted it and had a clause put in her contract that allowed her to return to the stage on occasion. Later on in her career, Sullavan would sign only short-term contracts because she did not want to be “owned” by any studio.
Sullavan arrived in Hollywood on May 16, 1933, her 24th birthday. Her film debut came that same year in Only Yesterday. She chose her scripts carefully. She was dissatisfied with her performance in Only Yesterday. When she saw herself in the early rushes, she had been so appalled that she had tried to buy out her contract for $2,500, but Universal refused.