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Gloria Swanson

Gloria Swanson

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Indiscreet DVD "Obey Thy Impulse" is the new book written by Anthony Blake. Gloria Swanson... more info $6.98was $6.98 Buy Now

Sadie Thompson DVD This first film version of Somerset Maugham's classic story "Miss Thompson"... more info $29.95was $29.95 Buy Now

Queen Kelly DVD In 1928, after years of struggles within the studio system, Erich von Stroheim... more info $29.95was $29.95 Buy Now

Beyond The Rocks DVD This 1922 silent drama stars Gloria Swanson and Rudolph Valentino, the biggest... more info $29.99was $29.99 Buy Now

Also Known As: Gloria Josephine Mae Svensson, Gloria Mae Died: April 4, 1983
Born: March 27, 1899 Cause of Death: heart ailment
Birth Place: Chicago, Illinois, USA Profession: actor, producer

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

A silent screen legend and the epitome of early Hollywood glamour, actress Gloria Swanson rose to great heights in the 1920s, only to struggle like many of her day did once the age of talkie films took hold. But unlike her silent film contemporaries, Swanson had a trick or two up her sleeve and delivered a powerful, Oscar-nominated performance as the delusional Norma Desmond in Billy Wilder's "Sunset Boulevard" (1950), widely considered to be the greatest film noir ever made. Prior to that triumph, Swanson had reigned supreme during the silent era as a top actress whose elaborate feathered boas and bejeweled headdresses were the height of fashion. She first achieved stardom in several of Cecil B. DeMille's bedroom farces like "Don't Change Your Husband" (1919) and "Why Change Your Wife?" (1920) before making a series of dramas that propelled her to the top. Mid-decade, Swanson became one of the most famous stars in the world thanks to roles in "Zaza" (1923), "Madame Sans-Gene" (1925) and "The Untamed Lady" (1926). Prompted to break out and produce her movies independently, Swanson staggered a bit with the production-plagued "The Love of Sunya" (1927), but rebounded with "Sadie Thompson" (1928) - her...

A silent screen legend and the epitome of early Hollywood glamour, actress Gloria Swanson rose to great heights in the 1920s, only to struggle like many of her day did once the age of talkie films took hold. But unlike her silent film contemporaries, Swanson had a trick or two up her sleeve and delivered a powerful, Oscar-nominated performance as the delusional Norma Desmond in Billy Wilder's "Sunset Boulevard" (1950), widely considered to be the greatest film noir ever made. Prior to that triumph, Swanson had reigned supreme during the silent era as a top actress whose elaborate feathered boas and bejeweled headdresses were the height of fashion. She first achieved stardom in several of Cecil B. DeMille's bedroom farces like "Don't Change Your Husband" (1919) and "Why Change Your Wife?" (1920) before making a series of dramas that propelled her to the top. Mid-decade, Swanson became one of the most famous stars in the world thanks to roles in "Zaza" (1923), "Madame Sans-Gene" (1925) and "The Untamed Lady" (1926). Prompted to break out and produce her movies independently, Swanson staggered a bit with the production-plagued "The Love of Sunya" (1927), but rebounded with "Sadie Thompson" (1928) - her last critical and financial hit until "Sunset Boulevard." Following the disaster that was "Queen Kelly" (1929), which was partially bankrolled by lover Joseph P. Kennedy, Swanson largely left the big screen in favor of Broadway and the small screen, where she stayed for the remainder of her career. Despite few hits for a large part of her career, Swanson remained until her death in 1983 a true Tinseltown legend.

Born on March 27, 1899 in Chicago, IL, Swanson was raised in a strict Lutheran home by her father, Joseph, an Army officer, and her mother, Adelaide, who took care of her only child by herself while Joseph was stationed overseas. She also moved around, living in such far flung places as Puerto Rico and Key West. Almost on a whim, Swanson entered into the entertainment industry by way of becoming an extra for a small production company in Chicago called Essanay Studios in 1913, where she worked alongside future comedy icon, Charlie Chaplin, in such silent shorts as "His New Job" (1915). After leaving school to focus on acting fulltime, Swanson married fellow Essanay actor Wallace Beery and moved to Hollywood, where they were both hired by Mack Sennett's Keystone Company. Her brief marriage to Beery was fraught with peril, however, when Swanson later revealed in her autobiography that her new husband had gotten drunk on their wedding night and raped her. When they later discovered that she had become pregnant, Beery tricked Swanson intro drinking a concoction that induced an abortion. Though separated after a few months of being married, the two continued to work together and were officially divorced in 1919.

After appearing in a series of Mack Sennett's romantic comedies at Triangle, Swanson moved to Paramount, only to find her way back to Triangle where she began starring in dramas like "Society for Sale" (1918), "Shifting Sands" (1918) and "The Secret Code" (1918). But she soon left Triangle to head back to Paramount again, only this time she joined Cecil B. DeMille's unit and achieved stardom in the director's snappy, sophisticated bedroom farces like "Male and Female" (1919), "Don't Change Your Husband" (1919), "Why Change Your Wife?" (1920) and "The Affairs of Anatol" (1921). In short order, Swanson had become a bona fide star and one of Hollywood's most in-demand actresses. Moving away from DeMille, Swanson made a series of films with director Sam Wood, including "Under the Lash" (1921), "Her Gilded Age" (1922) and "Beyond the Rocks" (1922), which also starred her long-time friend Rudolph Valentino. Meanwhile, her tumultuous personal life continued unabated when she married restaurateur, Herbert Somborn, in 1919, only to see him file for divorce a year into their marriage after he discovered her affair with director Marshall Neilan.

During the height of her fame, audiences were enthralled with Swanson's lavish wardrobe - which often entailed ostrich feathers, jeweled headdresses and the like - as much as they were with her performances. By the mid-1920s, the larger-than-life Swanson was at the peak of her popularity, starring in such lavish vehicles as "Bluebeard's Eighth Wife" (1923), "Zaza" (1923), "Madame Sans-Gene" (1925), and "The Untamed Lady" (1926). She traveled to Paris to film "Madame Sans-Gene" and returned to the United States with her third husband, Marquis de la Falaise de la Coudraye. Married in 1925, she returned home to a royal reception that included parades in New York and Los Angeles. Meanwhile, she finished out her Paramount contract with "Stage Struck" (1925) and "Fine Manners" (1926), and turned down a million dollar to strike out on her own and have her films distributed by United Artists. The first was the production plagued drama "The Love of Sunya" (1927), which ran way over budget because of problems trying to secure competent cameramen. Following this failure, Swanson tackled more controversial material with "Sadie Thompson" (1928), playing a prostitute who encounters a zealous missionary (Lionel Barrymore) on the island of Pago Pago. Though she ran afoul with censors prior to the film's production, Swanson nonetheless had a critical and financial hit, and earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.

It was through her investor and erstwhile lover, Joseph P. Kennedy, that Swanson was producing her own films, including "Sadie Thompson." She began the affair with the infamous tycoon while she was still married to the Marquis, who himself was engaged in a romance with his future wife, Constance Bennett. The married Kennedy assumed control of Swanson's personal and business affairs, which in the end proved detrimental to her career. Following the success of "Sadie Thompson," she embarked on her next independent project, "Queen Kelly" (1929), a disastrous production directed by Erich von Stroheim that failed to see theatrical release in the United States - it did play in Europe and South America after an alternate ending was shot in 1931 - and left Swanson financially in poor shape. Swanson and Kennedy ended their illicit affair, with the actress soon divorcing the Marquis in 1930. By this time, silent films were left behind in favor of talkies, and Swanson eagerly made the transition with "The Trespasser" (1929), in which she played a so-called kept woman able to maintain her lavish lifestyle through her domineering husband (Robert Ames). The film was a hit and earned her another Oscar nomination for Best Actress, though it would prove to be her last significant effort for nearly two decades.

Temporarily relieved from the failure of "Queen Kelly," Swanson hit hard times again when her next few talkies - "Indiscreet" (1931), "Tonight or Never" (1931), "Perfect Understanding" (1933) and "Music in the Air" (1934) - all failed at the box office. So she left Hollywood in 1938 and relocated to New York City, where she spent the war years operating a patents and inventions company that recruited Jewish scientist from all over Europe, helping them escape the Nazis while also benefiting from their inventions. Swanson did appear in the comedy "Father Takes a Wife" (1941) while performing in several stage productions. In 1948, she hosted the local television show "The Gloria Swanson Hour," which aired interviews she conducted with various guests. Swanson left New York to return to Hollywood when Billy Wilder cast her in "Sunset Boulevard" (1950), arguably the most important film in her career. Swanson played Norma Desmond, a faded silent movie star living in seclusion with her stoic butler (Erich von Stroheim) who hires a struggling writer (William Holden) to pen her comeback picture, only to rapidly descend into delusion and keep him prisoner in her gloomy mansion, culminating in the classic line, "I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille." Widely hailed as a masterpiece of film noir, "Sunset Boulevard" briefly resurrected Swanson's career - which very much mirrored Norma Desmond's - and earned the actress her third Oscar nomination for Best Actress. Included inside the film were scenes from "Queen Kelly" that were presented as a movie from Desmond's, marking the first time American audiences saw any of the footage.

Following her acclaimed turn in "Sunset Boulevard," Swanson received scripts and offers for other roles, which she turned down because they largely felt like cheap caricatures of Norma Desmond. So instead she returned to Broadway, starring in a production of "Twentieth Century" (1951), while also appearing in the anthology series "Hollywood Opening Night" (CBS/NBC, 1950-53). Continuing to work on the small screen, Swanson hosted her own series, "Crow Theater with Gloria Swanson" (syndicated, 1953-54), also known as "The Gloria Swanson Show." Throughout the 1960s up to the early 1980s, Swanson appeared on numerous talk shows like "The Dick Cavett Show" (1968-1986) and "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" (NBC, 1962-1992) while taking fewer guest starring turns on television. Following her last major stage role, playing the overprotective mother of a blind man in "Butterflies Are Free" (1971), she made her first television movie as an iron-willed matriarch in the thriller "Killer Bees" (ABC, 1974) and made her last film appearance in a cameo as herself in the disaster flick "Airport 75" (1975). After marrying her sixth and final husband, author William Duffy, in 1976, Swanson settled into a life of painting, sculpture and promoting macrobiotic diets - which she first began practicing in the mid-1920s. She released her autobiography Swanson on Swanson to great success in 1980. Upon returning home from Portugal, Swanson suffered a heart ailment and died on April 4, 1983, which triggered headlines the world over. She was 84.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Airport '75 (1975) Herself
2.
 Killer Bees (1974) Madame Van Bohlen; Maria
3.
4.
5.
 Nero's Mistress (1956) Agrippina
6.
 3 for Bedroom C (1952) Ann Haven
7.
 Sunset Blvd. (1950) Norma Desmond
8.
 Down Memory Lane (1949)
9.
 Father Takes a Wife (1941) Leslie Collier
10.
 Music in the Air (1934) Frieda [Hotzfelt]
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1915:
Became an extra at Essanay studios in Chicago
1915:
First acting role, "Elvira Farina"
1916:
Went to Hollywood with Wallace Beery; both hired by Mack Sennett's Keystone company
1917:
Followed Sennett when he left Triangle to join Paramount
:
Returned to Triangle; starred in dramas
1919:
Moved to Cecil B DeMille's unit at Paramount; began starring in series of sophisticated bedroom farces including "Don't Change Your Husband" and "Male and Female"
1922:
Teamed on screen with Valentino in "Beyond the Rocks"
1924:
First did her Chaplin impression on screen in "Manhandled"
1925:
Starred in "Madame Sans Gene", filmed on location in France
1926:
Left Paramount
1927:
Bankrolled by Joseph P Kennedy; formed own production company, with films released through United Artists
1927:
Experienced box office flop with "The Love of Sunya"
1928:
Received first Best Actress Academy Award nomination for title role in "Sadie Thompson"
1928:
Starred in the silent film "Queen Kelly", produced by Kennedy and directed by Erich von Stroheim; Swanson put together a version for release in Europe but it was a box office disappointment; footage later interpolated in "Sunset Boulevard"
1929:
Garnered second Best Actress Oscar nomination for "The Trespasser", her first talking picture
1933:
Went to Great Britain to star in "Perfect Understanding"
1934:
Played last starring role for seven years in the musical comedy "Music in the Air"; temporarily retired
1941:
Made a screen comeback in "Father Takes a Wife"
1950:
Resumed screen career with her signature role of Norma Desmond in "Sunset Boulevard", directed by Billy Wilder; earned third Best Actress Academy Award nomination
1951:
Returned to Broadway in "Twentieth Century"
1951:
Made TV appearance in an episode of "Hollywood Opening Night"
1953:
Hosted and acted in the syndicated TV show "Crown Theater With Gloria Swanson" (aka "The Gloria Swanson Show")
1961:
Guest starred on "Dr. Kildare"
1966:
Appeared in an episode of the CBS sitcom "The Beverly Hillbillies"
1967:
Made rare musical appearance as a guest on "The Carol Burnett Show" (CBS)
1970:
Succeeded Eileen Heckart in the role of the overprotective mother of a blind man in the comedy-drama "Butterflies Are Free" on Broadway; later toured with the play
1974:
Acted in final film, "Airport 1975"
1974:
TV-movie debut, "Killer Bees" (ABC)
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Notes

Some sources list 1897 as the year of Ms. Swanson's birth.

"Whether Miss Swanson's tiny body, disproportionately large head, prognathous jaw, huge eyes, dished nose and enormous white teeth add up to great beauty or not is something fans have disputed for years. But nobody has ever disputed that here is a woman who looks like drama." --Richard Griffith, "The Movie Star"

A wag reportedly once described one of Swanson's most common facial expressions--eyes wide open with a kind of coy seduction, lips open yet somewhat pursed, her front teeth jutting forth--as looking like "a hungry rabbit lustily eyeing a piece of lettuce". Marion Davies did a memorable parody of this expression whenever her character, an aspiring film actress, was called upon to look glamorous in King Vidor's charming comedy, "Show People" (1928).

"We didn't need voices. We had faces." --Gloria Swanson in her most famous role as Norma Desmond, speaking about silent actors, in "Sunset Boulevard" (1950).

Swanson attempted to mount a stage musical version of "Sunset Boulevard" in the 1960s but the project came to naught. Various writers attempted to turn the material into a Broadway musical over the years until Andrew Lloyd Webber managed it in 1994.

Companions close complete companion listing

husband:
Wallace Beery. Actor. Born in 1895; married in 1916; reportedly got drunk on their wedding night and sexually assaulted Swanson; when Swanson became pregnant, Beery allegedly poisoned her so she would have a miscarriage; separated after only a few months of marriage; divorced 1919; died in 1949.
companion:
Craney Gratz. Playboy Swanson dated after moving to Southern California.
husband:
Herbert K Somborn. Executive, restaurateur. Born in 1881; met Swanson when he was president of Equity Pictures Corporation; married in 1919; managed the famous Brown Derby restaurant from 1926 until his death; separated after about a year of marriage; divorced in 1922; father of Swanson's daughter Gloria; died in 1934.
companion:
Marshall Neilan. Director. Involved in the early 1920s; Swanson's husband Herbert Somborn sued her for divorce based on her relationship with Neilan.
husband:
Marquis de la Falaise de la Coudraye. French nobleman; born in 1898; met in 1924; married in 1925; became involved with actress Constance Bennett (whom he later married) while Swanson was seeing Joseph P Kennedy; divorced in 1930; died in 1972.
companion:
Joseph P Kennedy. Diplomat, executive, financier, producer. Born in 1888; involved in the late 1920s; produced three of Swanson's films including "Sadie Thompson" and "Queen Kelly"; later served as ambassador to Great Britain (1937-40); father of US President John F Kennedy and US Senators Robert F Kennedy and Edward M Kennedy; died in 1969.
husband:
Michael Farmer. Actor. European playboy; born in 1902; introduced by Noel Coward; married in 1931 when Swanson discovered she was pregnant; divorced in 1934; died in 1975.
husband:
William Davey. Married in 1945; separated after 45 days when Swanson discovered he was an alcoholic.
husband:
William Dufty. Writer. Author of "Sugar Blues"; married from 1976 until her death in 1983.
VIEW COMPLETE COMPANION LISTING

Family close complete family listing

daughter:
Gloria Somborn. Died of brain cancer on December 11, 2000 at age 80.
son:
Joseph Swanson. Adopted following divorce from Somborn.
daughter:
Michelle Bridget Farmer. Born on April 5, 1932.

Bibliography close complete biography

"Four Fabulous Faces: Swanson, Garbo, Crawford, Dietrich"
"Swanson on Swanson"
"The Films of Gloria Swanson" Citadel Press
"Gloria Swanson"
"Gloria and Joe: The Star-Crossed Love Affair of Gloria Swanson and Joseph P Kennedy"
VIEW COMPLETE BIBLIOGRAPHY

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