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Beacon Senior News

Movie stars who did (and didn’t) pose with a Thanksgiving turkey

Oct 26, 2020 02:05PM ● By Jacqueline Lynch
Barbara Bates thanksgiving turkey

Barbara Bates poses as a sexy pilgrim for a Thanksgiving day shoot.

Thanksgiving brought out some weird impulses from Hollywood studio publicity departments in the form of photos of starlets posing with turkeys. This pictorial parade every November became such a cliché that actress Teresa Wright put her foot down. She would pose for no pictures with turkeys, or any other holiday props for that matter.

You’ll recognize many of the starlets who were obligated by the publicity department of their studios to provide fodder for the newspaper and magazine holiday editions. 

There’s one of young Judy Garland dressed as a male Pilgrim. She looks like she is befriending the turkey rather than stalking it for dinner.

Bette Davis, as a female Pilgrim, appeared to be employing a turkey as a draft animal to pull a kiddie wagon full of harvest bounty from the fields (or the prop department).

Barbara Bates was clothed as a sexy Pilgrim who appeared to be dressing up the turkey in formal attire. Perhaps they were going out on a date to have Thanksgiving dinner at the Mocambo.

 Marilyn Monroe dressed as a cutie-pie sexy Pilgrim and did not appear particularly threatening to that turkey. I think he liked her.

 Doris Day appeared ready to get down to business with a hatchet. I can’t think of a grimmer publicity photo for Thanksgiving, and for that reason it makes me laugh more than the others. 

 

But Teresa Wright would have none of it.

Wright—the future star of “Mrs. Miniver,” “The Best Years of Our Lives,” “Shadow of a Doubt” and “Pride of the Yankees”—was just an ingenue of 21 playing in “Life with Father” on Broadway. Her introduction to film came when she was hired by producer Samuel Goldwyn to play Bette Davis’ daughter in “The Little Foxes.” Wright came to Hollywood with a certain level of wariness, and her contract with Goldwyn contained the following unusual clause—now famous in film industry lore—that showed Wright’s independence of thought, her serious attitude towards acting and a sly sense of humor. 

“Teresa Wright shall not be required to pose for photographs in a bathing suit unless she is in the water. Neither may she be photographed running on the beach with her hair flying in the wind. Nor may she pose in any of the following situations: in shorts, playing with a cocker spaniel; digging in a garden; whipping up a meal; attired in firecrackers and holding skyrockets for the Fourth of July; looking insinuatingly at a turkey for Thanksgiving;  wearing a bunny cap with long ears for Easter; twinkling on prop snow in a skiing outfit while a  fan blows her scarf; assuming an athletic stance while pretending to hit something with a bow and arrow.”

That must’ve had the legal department in a panic. 

Incredibly, Wright won an Academy Award nomination for that first movie role, and then two more for the next two movies she made, both in the same year. She also won a Best Supporting Oscar for “Mrs. Miniver.” No one to date has equaled that magnificent start to a film career. 

But her independence of thought would later compromise her career when Goldwyn fired her for refusing to go on a publicity tour. Wright expressed no regrets at leaving the studio system, declaring, “We have no privacies which producers cannot invade. They trade us like cattle, boss us like children.” Her public declaration of independence was as famous as her no-cheesy-photos-with-Thanksgiving -turkeys contract clause had been. 

Though her career did not end there, it never took on the remarkable ascent of its early years. That might have happened regardless, as Hollywood was always a difficult place to survive for aging female stars. Some of Wright’s best work in later years was on television and back on the stage. She showed many fine qualities in her excellent work, that funny and intelligent contract clause not least among them. 

Recently, I had to stop my car only about a mile from my home to let a small, flustered flock of wild turkeys half-fly, half-stumble across the road. No Hollywood starlets were chasing them with a hatchet, so I’m pretty sure they got away. 

Families change, but Thanksgiving never will