A Tribute to Gloria Swanson
She was once the highest-paid actress in Hollywood. She enjoyed a free-spending, flamboyant lifestyle and had a total of six husbands and a famous lover. She was multi-talented, and found success in fields as diverse as fashion, inventions, and sculpture. Today she is remembered, if at all, primarily for a legendary film she made thirty years after her heyday, in which she played a fading silent film star much like herself. Such are the ironies of Hollywood.
Gloria Swanson was born in Chicago on March 27, 1899, as Gloria May Josephine Svensson. As a teenager, she visited Chicago’s Essanay Film Co. (yes, there were movie studios in Chicago then). A very pretty girl with some amateur performing experience and a love for beautiful clothes (inspired by her mother), she was picked from the crowd for a small part in a film with the unlikely title, The Fable Of Elvira And Farina And The Meal Ticket. More parts soon followed.
She married Wallace Beery in 1915 and moved to Hollywood with, then signed a contract with Mack Sennett’s Triangle-Keystone studio, where she found success as a comedienne, though she wasn’t satisfied with it. Within a few years she had joined up with Cecil B. DeMille, who put her in more dramatic films and succeeded in making her a silent film superstar and style trendsetter.
In 1925 she starred in Madame Sans Gene, made in France, and when she came back, she had her third husband, the Marquis Henri de la Falaise de Coudray. She tried becoming an independent producer for United Artists, but The Love of Sunya (1927) was a flop. Sadie Thompson(1928) was much more successful, giving her her first Oscar nomination. Then came the legendary silent Queen Kelly (1928), directed by Erich von Stroheim and never completed (though a version was later pieced together and greeted warmly by many critics).
She successfully made the transition to talkies with The Trespasser (1929), giving her a second Oscar nomination, but her film career was already beginning to fade. Her subsequent efforts were not successful, and she stopped making films from 1934 to 1941 in order to pursue other interests. (You’ll find an excellent description of them on Phillip Oliver’s site listed below.) Her famous “comeback” in 1950 was Sunset Boulevard, for which she gained a third Oscar nomination, costarring with William Holden in a role that could have been written for her personally (though it was first offered to Mae West). The film is now considered one of the best of all time, but it didn’t return Gloria to her previous box office standing. She appeared on stage and on TV during the 1960s. Her last film was Airport 1975. She died on April 4, 1983 at the age of 84.
Part I: Introduction
Part III: Movie Reviews & Where to Find Her Movies
Part IV: Photos and Posters