Peggy Ann Garner passed away Oct. 16 in 1984, at age 52. Garner gave a vivid, naturalistic performance as Francie Dolan in 1945’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Sadly, starring in this classic didn’t lead to greater things.
|Garner and Taylor's scenes are the emotional highlights of 'Jane Eyre.'|
Both Peggy Ann Garner and Elizabeth Taylor got noticed in 20th Century Fox’s ’43 version of Jane Eyre. Garner was under contract with Fox, and Taylor was loaned from MGM. Garner was a plaintively emotional young Jane, contrasted by a remarkably poised Taylor as Helen, the schoolmate who dies of pneumonia. Peggy Ann and Elizabeth were both born February of 1932. They became child stars in ’45 with A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and National Velvet, respectively, with critics and audiences applauding their intense performances. Garner and Taylor were natural performers, far superior to the era’s typical child actors. Garner received a special Oscar for her work, Elizabeth Taylor became Metro’s favorite child performer.
What’s a shame is that 20th Century Fox continued to treat Peggy Ann Garner as just another child performer, back to playing small roles. MGM created vehicles for their similarly intense child star, Margaret O’ Brien. And with National Velvet, MGM treated Elizabeth like a prized jewel, carefully guiding her through any gawky phases. By the late ‘40s, Garner was freelancing, stuck in B-movies like Bomba, the Jungle Boy.
|Peggy Ann Garner with her special Oscar for 'Tree.'|
Still, Garner persevered and found work as a television actress in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Peggy Ann Garner’s career ended on a high note, when her one-time TV director Robert Altman cast her in his 1978 comedy, A Wedding. Garner seemed plucky, working as a realtor during the dry spells of showbiz, weathering three failed marriages. Peggy Ann Garner died of cancer, at the Hollywood Motion & Television Country House and Hospital, survived by a daughter, who died over a decade later herself. Stardom seemed to come easily to Elizabeth Taylor, but fans know that her real life was not. And it seems that neither came easy for Peggy Ann Garner. If nothing else, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn stands as a tribute to Garner’s talent.