Best known for her performances in Mrs. Miniver (1942), Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt (1943) and The Best Years of Our Lives (1946).
The Little Foxes
The Imperfect Lady
The Trouble with Women
Something to Live For
The Steel Trap
Count the Hours
Track of the Cat
The Search for Bridey Murphy
Escapade in Japan
The Restless Years
The Happy Ending
The Good Mother
Teresa Wright was nominated twice for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress: in 1941 for her debut work in The Little Foxes and in 1942 for Mrs. Miniver, winning for the latter. That same year, she received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in The Pride of the Yankees opposite Gary Cooper.
I only ever wanted to be an actress, not a star. ~ Teresa Wright
Muriel Teresa Wright was born on October 27, 1918 in Harlem, New York City, the daughter of Martha (née Espy) and Arthur Hendricksen Wright, an insurance agent. Her parents separated when she was young. She grew up in Maplewood, New Jersey, where she attended Columbia High School. After seeing Helen Hayes star in Victoria Regina at the Broadhurst Theatre in New York City in 1936, Wright took an interest in acting and began playing leading roles in school plays.
She earned a scholarship to the Wharf Theater in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where she was an apprentice for two summers. Following her high school graduation in 1938, she went to New York, changed her name to “Teresa Wright”, and was hired as understudy to Dorothy McGuire and Martha Scott for the role of Emily in Thornton Wilder’s stage production of Our Town at Henry Miller’s Theatre. She took over the role when Scott left for Hollywood to film the on-screen version of the play.
In autumn 1939, Wright began a two-year appearance in the stage play Life with Father, playing the role of Mary Skinner. It was there that she was discovered by Samuel Goldwyn, who came to see her in the show she had been appearing in for almost a year.
Goldwyn immediately hired the young actress for the role of Bette Davis‘ daughter in the 1941 adaptation of Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes, signing her to a five-year Hollywood contract with the Goldwyn Studios.
In 1941, Wright was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her film début in The Little Foxes. The following year, she was nominated again, this time for Best Actress for The Pride of the Yankees, in which she played opposite Gary Cooper as the wife of Lou Gehrig. That same year, she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress as the daughter-in-law of Greer Garson’s character in Mrs. Miniver. Wright is one of only nine players who have been nominated in both categories in the same year. Her three Academy Award nominations and one Academy Award in her first three films remains a rare accomplishment. She remains the only performer to have received Academy Award nominations for her first three films.
In 1943, Wright appeared in the acclaimed Universal film Shadow of a Doubt, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, playing an innocent young woman who discovers her beloved uncle (played by Joseph Cotten) is a serial murderer. Hitchcock thought Wright was one of the most intelligent actors he had worked with, and through his direction brought out her vivacity, warmth, and youthful idealism—characteristics uncommon in Hitchcock’s heroines. In 1946, Wright delivered another notable performance in William Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives, an award-winning film about the adjustments of servicemen returning home after World War II.
Four years later, she would appear in another story of war veterans, Fred Zinnemann’s The Men (1950), which starred Marlon Brando in his film début. In 1947, Wright appeared in the western Pursued opposite Robert Mitchum. The moody “Freudian western” was written by her first husband Niven Busch. The following year, she starred with David Niven, Farley Granger, and Evelyn Keyes in Enchantment, a story of two generations of lovers in parallel romances. Wright received glowing reviews for her performance.
In December 1948, after rebelling against the studio system that brought her fame, Teresa Wright had a public falling out with Samuel Goldwyn, which resulted in the cancellation of Wright’s contract with his studio.
In the 1950s, Wright appeared in several unsuccessful films, including The Capture (1950), Something to Live For (1952), California Conquest (1952), The Steel Trap (1952), Count the Hours (1953), The Actress (1953), and Track of the Cat (1954) opposite Robert Mitchum again. Despite the poor box-office showing of these films, Wright was usually praised for her performances. Toward the end of the decade, Wright began to work more frequently in television and theatre.
In the 1960s, Wright returned to the New York stage and she also toured throughout the United States in stage productions of Mary, Mary (1962), Tchin-Tchin (1963) in the role of Pamela Pew-Picket, and The Locksmith (1965) in the role of Katherine Butler Hathaway. In addition to her stage work, Wright made numerous television appearances throughout the decade, including episodes for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (1964) on CBS, Bonanza (1964) on NBC, The Defenders (1964, 1965) on CBS, and CBS Playhouse (1969).
Wright’s later film appearances included a major role in Somewhere in Time (1980), the role of the grandmother in The Good Mother (1988) with Diane Keaton, and the role of Miss Birdie in John Grisham’s The Rainmaker (1997), directed by Francis Ford Coppola.
In her last decade, Wright lived quietly in her New England home in the town of Bridgewater, Connecticut, in Litchfield County, appearing occasionally at film festivals and forums and at events associated with the New York Yankees. In 1996, she reminisced about Alfred Hitchcock at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, and in 2003, she appeared on the Academy Awards show in a segment honoring previous Oscar-winners.
Teresa Wright died on March 6, 2005, of a heart attack at Yale-New Haven Hospital in Connecticut at the age of 86. She is buried in Evergreen Cemetery in New Haven.
Wright was married to writer Niven Busch from 1942 to 1952. They had two children: a son, Niven Terence Busch born December 2, 1944, and daughter, Mary Kelly Busch born September 12, 1947. She married playwright Robert Anderson in 1959. They were divorced in 1978, but maintained a close relationship until the end of her life.