Brought to Hollywood by producer David O. Selznick on the strength of her stage performance, McGuire starred in her first film, a movie adaptation of her Broadway success, Claudia, and portrayed the character of a child bride who almost destroys her marriage through her selfishness. Her inaugural screen performance was popular with both the public and critics alike and was the catalyst for not only a sequel, Claudia and David (both movies co-starring Robert Young), but also for numerous other film roles.
By 1943, at the age of 27, she was already playing mother roles, in such movies as A Tree Grows In Brooklyn. She was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1947 for Gentleman's Agreement. Other notable films include The Enchanted Cottage, A Summer Place , Three Coins in the Fountain, Friendly Persuasion, Old Yeller, Swiss Family Robinson, The Greatest Story Ever Told, and The Dark at the Top of the Stairs.
McGuire had a long Hollywood career. Her versatility served her well in taut melodramas, such as The Spiral Staircase and Make Haste to Live, as well as in light, frothy comedies, such as Mother Didn't Tell Me and Mister 880.
Married to Life magazine photographer John Swope (1908–1979) for more than 35 years, she had a son, photographer Mark Swope, and a daughter Topo (born 1948), who also became an actress.
McGuire died of cardiac arrest following a brief illness at the age of 85 in 2001.
For her contribution to the motion picture industry, Dorothy McGuire has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6933 Hollywood Blvd
“No rain last night or today. I finished dragging and marked it one way this forenoon. Father marked it the other way this afternoon and we planted the corn. Will Holmes and his man and Pat Wallace helped me this afternoon. Has been a beautiful day. Went up town this evening and got my new mower bought off T. W. Brierly.”