Blossoms in the Dust
Walter Pidgeon and Greer Garson did eight films together, and this is the first. Their next one would be Mrs. Miniver, for which she won the Oscar. This is the story … more or less … of Edna Gladney, an early social reformer who crusaded for the rights of orphans and abandoned children. And the true story is so good that it’s a damn shame they made most of it up. They have her growing up with an adoptive sister whose marriage plans were ruined when the groom’s parents discovered she was illegitimate, whereupon she kills herself. All made up, out of whole cloth. It was Edna who was a bastard, born of a 17-year-old mother, raised by an aunt. Stupid, horrible, idiotic change, because it undercuts the whole moral of the story. Later in life she becomes an advocate for bastard children; did they think it would taint the story if she was working not only for the poor children, but for herself as well?
Apparently so. Biographies like this had to be of totally saintly people in those days. Not even a hint of a blemish or a moral ambiguity. So here we see her tirelessly working, all by herself, no community support, constantly attacked on all sides by indolent public servants or blue-nosed old ladies. All made up. None of it true. She had support from the start, there were plenty of women helping out. And in fact she joined many of the progressive women’s groups, she didn’t found them.
It’s hard to remember now that we have liberated and integrated or are in the process of liberating or integrating gays, women, and children of slaves, but before that there were Irish, Italians, Catholics, Jews, all looked down on. (Of course all those are still looked down on in some quarters, but it’s no longer fashionable to admit it. Equality is always a work in progress.) And divorcees. And bastards. Who remembers that, now that over 50% of marriages end in divorce and many, many couples don’t get married at all?
But it used to be important. In Texas, for instance, where the story happens, you couldn’t be a civil servant if it said “illegitimate” on your birth certificate, not to mention the stigma when you went to get married and it was found out you were not from a “good family.” This is what Edna and others changed, and for once and maybe the only time, Texas was in the forefront, no longer mentioning the marital status of your mother on birth records, and even going so far as to issue new ones to those who had been labeled as such before. Quite an accomplishment.
Edna Gladney’s foundation for adoption is still in business in Fort Worth, and has been doing good things for 125 years. Edna deserved a better, truer account of her life than this piece of stupid shit.