Dorothy McGuire, a gifted actress whose soft voice and gentle femininity made her a favorite leading lady in films such as "Gentleman's Agreement" opposite Gregory Peck and "Friendly Persuasion" opposite Gary Cooper, has died. She was 85.
McGuire, a Beverly Hills resident, died Thursday night at St. John's Medical Center in Santa Monica. Her family said she developed heart failure after breaking her leg three weeks ago.
FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Wednesday September 19, 2001 Home Edition Part A Part A Page 2 A2 Desk 1 inches; 20 words Type of Material: Correction
Name misspelled--In an obituary of actress Dorothy McGuire that appeared in Saturday's Times, the name of actor Joseph Cotten was misspelled.
Brought to Hollywood in 1943 by producer David O. Selznick, McGuire made her film debut in "Claudia," in which she reprised her star-making Broadway role as an immature young wife. Her performance on Broadway earned her a New York Drama Critics Circle Award.
McGuire went on to win critical acclaim in Hollywood, playing the mother in "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn," the mute servant in "The Spiral Staircase" and the liberal fiancee of the crusading journalist, played by Peck, in "Gentleman's Agreement," the first film to deal with anti-Semitism on screen.
"Dorothy was superb in the role," Peck said Friday, describing McGuire as "a loving friend to my wife and me."
Among McGuire's other films are "Three Coins in the Fountain," "Old Yeller," "A Summer Place," "The Dark at the Top of the Stairs," "Swiss Family Robinson" and "The Greatest Story Ever Told," in which she played the Virgin Mary.
McGuire, whose screen performances often demonstrated a touching vulnerability, said she once broke her "sweet" mold in 1946 when she played the older woman who seduces Guy Madison in "Till the End of Time." After the film failed, she said, "I went right back to playing nice girls and faithful wives."
McGuire, whose last big-screen performance was in "Flight of Doves" in 1971, returned to the stage in 1975 to play Hannah Jelkes in the Los Angeles production of Tennessee Williams' "The Night of the Iguana," a role she re-created on Broadway the following year.
In 1976, she earned an Emmy nomination for her role as Mary Jordache in the ABC miniseries "Rich Man, Poor Man." And in 1985 she even turned up on the CBS daytime drama "The Young and the Restless." She retired from acting in the early 1990s.
"I think she was one of the finest actresses I've ever met," said actress Jane Wyatt, a close friend who played McGuire's sister in "Gentleman's Agreement."
Wyatt said she once asked Loretta Young why McGuire, whom they both agreed was a wonderful actress, didn't have an even bigger film career.
"I'll tell you why she didn't," replied Young. "I wanted to be a star; Dorothy wanted to be an actress."
Wyatt agrees. "Dorothy wasn't interested in being a star; she wanted to be a pure actress. She really was an actress through and through, and everybody adored her."
McGuire addressed the subject of stardom or the lack of it in an interview with The Times in 1982, while appearing in the Center Theatre Group's revival of Lillian Hellman's "The Little Foxes" at the Ahmanson Theater.
"I love my career, but I never felt much about it--about how to nurture it," she said. "It's been very erratic, after all. . . .To this day, I don't know what shapes a Hollywood career. . . .I was never a classic beauty. I had no image. So I found myself in a lot of things accidentally."
Born in Omaha, Neb., McGuire made her stage debut at age 13, playing the title role in "A Kiss for Cinderella," opposite Henry Fonda, at the Omaha Community Playhouse. Her lawyer-father wired her on opening night: "Let your head touch the stars, but keep your feet on the ground."
After attending Omaha Junior College, she moved to Wellesley, Mass., in 1936 and studied at Pine Manor Junior College for two years.
By 1938, she was an understudy in the original production of Thornton Wilder's "Our Town" and made her Broadway debut when Martha Scott left the show.
She later toured with John Barrymore in "My Dear Children," moved on to working in a Benny Goodman revue and then found a job modeling tennis dresses. But, as she liked to say about landing her star-making role in "Claudia," "Fate made my career."
Because of the role, she not only landed a contract with Selznick, but also met the man who would be her husband for the next 35 years: renowned photographer John Swope.
In 1947, McGuire co-founded the La Jolla Playhouse with a group of fellow actors also under contract to Selznick: Peck, Joseph Cotton, Jennifer Jones and Mel Ferrer.
Throughout her life, McGuire remained passionate about acting and the theater.
"She was an actress of great instinct and she trusted her instinct," said actor Norman Lloyd, who first met McGuire in summer stock in Maine in 1937.
"If you think of the performances [in movies] like 'Gentleman's Agreement,' 'Dark at the Top of the Stairs' and 'Friendly Persuasion,' what you got was almost a definitive American woman: With her look, her manner, her breeding, she represented the best in what we would conjure up as a perfect American woman."
McGuire is survived by a son, Mark Swope of Los Angeles, and a daughter, Topalina Swope of Seattle.