When the National Film Board of Canada was looking for a narrator for their 1963 documentary marking the 60th anniversary of the Canadian Film Industry they turned to one of the most respected actors this country has ever produced, Walter Pidgeon.
Born Walter Davis Pidgeon on September 23 1897 in East Saint John, New Brunswick, this future star experienced some of life's hardest blows while still a very young man. After graduating from Saint John High School, Pidgeon felt compelled to join the war effort and dropped out of the University of New Brunswick to enlist. While in training at Camp Petawawa in Ontario he was caught between two gun carriages and severely injured. He spent almost a year-and-a-half in hospital where at one time or another he also contracted pleurisy and pneumonia. But the accident kept him away from the killing fields of France and in 1919 he married a girl he had met and fallen in love with in high school, Edna Pickles. She had moved to Boston to study art, and it was in Boston that Pidgeon would receive some very important help. But first he would face another tragedy when his wife died just two years later, leaving Pidgeon to care for their only child.
Pidgeon was studying singing in Boston, and one night while entertaining at a party, Fred Astaire took note of the tall (6'3") crooner from Canada. Astaire mentioned Pidgeon to one of the legends of that era, Elsie Janis, who was looking for a singer to appear with her in vaudeville. It wasn't long before he was noticed by the growing movie industry and he made his debut in the silent movie Mannequin in 1926. When the "talkies" arrived, the most important attribute an actor had was their voice, and this trained singer was suddenly in high demand. But it took most of the decade before Pidgeon started to come into his own.
His first big role came in 1937 when he was the love interest for Jean Harlow and lost her to Clark Gable in Saratoga. Two years later he starred in the MGM feature, 6000 Enemies opposite Rita Johnson. He also was cast as Nick Carter, Master Detective in 1939 and played the character again in two more movies, Phantom Raiders and Sky Murder, both released in 1940. As his career grew, Pidgeon's name became paired with the greats of Hollywood. For example, one of his best performances came when he met up with Clark Gable again in 1948's Command Decision. He was absolutely charming when he co-starred with Ginger Rogers in Weekend at the Waldorf (1945), and the list of directors he worked with contains some of Hollywood's most legendary names: Fritz Lang, John Ford, William Wyler, Mervyn LeRoy, Sam Wood and Otto Preminger. But when asked much later in life what he thought his best films were, he consistently said it was his work with Greer Garson.
In all, Pidgeon and Garson made eight films together, starting with Blossoms in the Dust in 1941. Their second pairing, 1942's Mrs. Miniver (pictured anove), brought Pidgeon the first of two Oscar® nominations. His second came just one year later for his role again opposite Garson in Madame Curie. This was wartime, and Pidgeon lent his image to the effort in a number of ways. On screen he was a man on-the-run from Hitler's minion's in the 20th Century Fox production of Fritz Lang's Man Hunt (1941). He also returned to Canada a number of times to raise money for the war effort by appearing in Victory Loan shows across the country in 1942 and 1943.
Walter Pidgeon continued to work well past what many consider to be retirement age making his last film appearance when he was 80 years old. He died two days after his 87th birthday, on September 25 1984, following a series of strokes.
Go to Walter Pidgeon's Filmography