In the 20th Century Fox classic The Ghost and Mrs. Muir ( 1947 ), the portrait of Captain Daniel Gregg ( Rex Harrison ) plays a prominent part in the movie. When Lucy Muir ( Gene Tierney ) first arrives at Gull Cottage as a prospective buyer she opens the door to the living room and finds two eyes glaring at her....it turns out to be the light reflecting off of an oil portrait of the former owner, Captain Gregg. "I thought for a moment....."
After she decides to rent the cottage and meets Captain Gregg in person - spirit though he be - he agrees to let her stay in his house but makes one special request as part of the bargain, "I want me painting hung in the bedroom". Mrs. Muir is reluctant to do so and doesn't think the portrait does him justice..."Must I? It's a very poor painting"...but nevertheless she does as he bids and comes to love the painting as much as we, the audience, do.
Later, when Captain Gregg steps out of her life, she tells Martha one day, "I think we might put that portrait of Captain Gregg up in the attic..it was a silly idea to hang it in here. I don't know what possessed me. Atmosphere, I suppose."
And so he got chucked in the attic.
But now we ask....Whatever became of the portrait of Captain Gregg? I was pondering this a few days ago and this led me to wondering what happened to many of the other famous "oil portraits" seen on films...the enormous Mary Meredith portrait in The Uninvited, the Alice Alquist Empress Theodora portrait in Gaslight, the famous "blue velvet" Scarlett O'Hara full-figured portrait in Gone With the Wind and of course, the unforgettable portrait of Laura Hunt, in Laura.
Most of these oil portraits were painted from a photograph of the actor/actress posing in costume, while some - such as the Laura portrait - were in fact, acrylic brushings over an enlargement of the photo itself. We'll look into all of these portraits in another post, right now we want to focus on Captain Gregg.
A newspaper from 1947 stated the following about the portrait : "Being a perfectionist, Rex Harrison, who made his American film debut in Anna and the King of Siam, felt that his role as the ghost in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir required a beard. The studio objected to hiding the face that all the ladies love. Nevertheless, together with Ben Nye, makeup director, and artist John George Vogel, Harrison had his portrait painted wearing a beard. When this was shown to Darryl F. Zanuck, he was immediately sold on Mr. Harrison's beard and rescinded his orders that the Harrison face remain clean-shaven."
Whether it was Vogel who painted the portrait seen in the film we do not know, and even if it was he, that still doesn't answer our question....whatever became of the portrait? During the early 1960s the painting popped up in several classic comedies... All Hands on Deck ( 1961 ) where it is hanging in the office of the Navy admiral; and Mr.Hobbs Takes A Vacation, where it is hiding in the back hallway behind the stairs ( shame on them for not putting it in the living room! ).
In 1968, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir was brought to the small screen in a television series starring Hope Lange as Mrs. Muir and Edward Mulhare as Captain Gregg but lo! the familiar portrait was replaced by a new one bearing the great Mulhare's likeness. This beautiful portrait was painted by Eddie Martinez who shared with us the actual whereabouts of the original Captain Gregg portrait.
Martinez had an amazing career in the Los Angeles area, working on portraits, murals, and production design in film, television, and in the theme park industry. He was a versatile imagineer like Marc Davis and Herbert Ryman and today spends his time in retirement doing his favorite work, researching and illustrating historical figures. In addition to The Ghost and Mrs. Muir he also created portrait paintings for Peyton Place, The Dean Martin Show, The Tonight Show and Batman. More info about his work can be found here.
As Martinez explained, "I was asked to paint Edward Mulhare's face over the original Captain Gregg portrait of Rex Harrison. As you can see in the photographs, I also removed the ship's wheel on the bottom left of the painting".
After the series ended, Martinez's wife attended an auction at 20th Century Fox in an attempt to bid on the portrait, but it was sold to a businessman...Leland Ayers, who later became the mayor of Burbank and was instrumental in acquiring the Bob Hope Airport from Lockheed Corp. Mr. Ayers passed away on Sept. 2, 2013 and it is presumed that the painting is still kept in his family.
A mystery we - and many other fans - have pondered over for years has now been solved...and we would like to give a special thanks to Eddie Martinez for sharing with us the real story behind the whereabouts of this beautiful portrait of Captain Gregg, a character larger than life.