Spoto spotlights Wright.
Acclaimed Hollywood biographer Spoto (The Redgraves: A Family Epic, 2012, etc.), who has penned books about Joan Crawford, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor, and others, returns with an affectionate portrait of actress Teresa Wright (1918-2005), best known for her roles in Shadow of a Doubt, The Little Foxes, The Best Years of Our Lives, and Mrs. Miniver, for which Wright won an Academy Award for best supporting actress. Unfortunately for Spoto, after that run of films in the early 1940s, Wright’s star faded precipitously as the result of a highly publicized contract dispute with studio head Samuel Goldwyn, and her career afterward consisted of well-regarded—but hardly iconic—work on stage, screen, and lesser parts in lesser films. It’s hardly the stuff of high drama, and the author’s account of Wright’s personal life similarly fails to enthrall, as a relatively civilized divorce from her first husband and a sometimes-prickly relationship with her second, playwright Robert Anderson, mark the dramatic peaks of this material. Wright was a wonderfully bracing actress in her clutch of classic early roles. She was fresh-faced, winsome, emotionally direct and fiercely intelligent, and it’s a shame her talent was undervalued by the studio brass. However, her story lacks a compelling arc, and her cultural impact does not justify the in-depth descriptions of her homes, friendships, children’s lives, and sundry other personal details diligently recorded here. Spoto writes of his long personal friendship with Wright, and his admiration and respect register clearly in his characteristically literate, engaging, and authoritative prose. She does come across as a wonderful person to know, but as a biographical subject, she leaves readers wanting.
A warm and well-researched yet ultimately inessential appreciation of one of Hollywood’s largely forgotten stars.