Gloria Grahame Profile
* Films in Bold Type Air on 8/13
A chubby, moon-faced Gloria made her stage debut as a fairy in Jean's Playhouse production of The Blue Bird. Forced to sell the family home on Madeline Drive, Jean rented an apartment in Hollywood and enrolled Gloria in Hollywood High School. A sixteen year-old Gloria played the doomed courtesan Violetta in a 1940 radio dramatization of La Traviata, an apt indicator of her later career. For a year at the Grand Playhouse she acted in the hillbilly farce Maid in the Ozarks, alongside a young Robert Mitchum. Making a go of New York, she understudied Miriam Hopkins in the 1942 Broadway production of The Skin of Our Teeth and was discovered by MGM president Louis B. Mayer, who offered her a studio contract. She made her film debut as Gloria Grahame in Blonde Fever (1944) but her days on the Metro lot were consumed by nothing so grand as posing for cheesecake photos as an MGM starlet. To alleviate her boredom, she signed on for war bond drives. On a USO tour of Texas, she met her first husband, Stanley Clements.
Gloria Grahame's three year marriage to Clements, a jobbing actor who resented her blossoming success, was plagued by violent arguments that left the actress bruised and battered. On loan-out to RKO, Gloria made a big impression as a small town floozy in Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life (1946). Although MGM had doubled her weekly salary, she left the studio after playing a murder victim in Song of the Thin Man (1947), the last of the popular "Nick and Nora" whodunits starring William Powell and Myrna Loy. That same year she worked for two days on RKO's Crossfire (alongside her old Maid in the Ozarks trouper Robert Mitchum) and walked away with an Academy Award® nomination for her sadly sensual turn as a ginmill doxy. By now, Gloria Grahame had been branded as an archetypal fallen woman, alluring but tragic. Her marriage to Clements disintegrated while shooting Mark Robson's Roughshod (1949). A divorce was granted in June of 1948, by which time Gloria had taken up with Nicholas Ray, her director on A Woman's Secret (1949). For this flashback-driven attempted murder mystery, Gloria was third-billed beneath Maureen O'Hara and Melvyn Douglas but she would soon find herself paired on the screen with one of Hollywood's biggest stars.
Humphrey Bogart had wanted wife Lauren Bacall to appear alongside him in In a Lonely Place (1950), an adaptation of the pulp novel by Dorothy B. Hughes made for his Santana Pictures Corporation. When Warner Brothers (who held Bacall's contract) refused the loan-out, Grahame got the part of a failed actress who falls for a Hollywood screenwriter when he is implicated in a murder case. Given the director's chair was Nicholas Ray, who helmed Santana's maiden voyage, Knock on Any Door (1949), the previous year. The film is considered to be among Gloria Grahame's finest but reflected all too transparently her troubled marriage to Ray, whose gambling, bisexual infidelities and sundry cruelties drove her into the arms of his teenage son from a prior marriage. The four-year union produced one child, conceived out of wedlock during production of A Woman's Secret, with the birth explained as premature to deflect scandal. Gloria would later marry Ray's adult son, Tony, following a short-lived coupling with writer Cy Howard. Despite her personal woes, Gloria enjoyed high profile roles in Sudden Fear (1952) with Joan Crawford and Jack Palance, in Vincente Minnelli's The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) and in Fritz Lang's The Big Heat (1953) and Human Desire (1954) at Columbia.
Gloria Grahame's most dynamic period was tempered by bitter career disappointments. She tested for Columbia's Born Yesterday (1950) but the role of Billie Dawn was returned to Judy Holliday, who had created it on Broadway. Gloria was desperate to play the doomed wife of Montgomery Clift in A Place in the Sun (1951) but RKO president Howard Hughes plugged her instead into Macao (1952), which was begun by Josef von Sternberg but finished by Gloria's now-estranged husband Nicholas Ray. (Fifth-billed beneath Robert Mitchum, Jane Russell, William Bendix and Thomas Gomez, Gloria reportedly told Ray that she would forfeit alimony if he could just get her off the picture.) After only a few years, Gloria's residency at RKO was beginning to mirror her unhappy time with MGM. Risking suspension for refusing parts, she also began to experiment with altering her looks. To give her mouth a "bee stung" appearance, she wadded tissue paper beneath her upper lip, which often fell out during love scenes. Insisting on doing her own makeup, she was frequently late to the set and held up shooting. These eccentricities, combined with a disinclination to stick to blocking, got Gloria labeled "difficult" and "unprofessional" within the industry.
Despite winning the Oscar® for Best Supporting Actress in The Bad and the Beautiful and appearing in the 1953 Best Picture winner The Greatest Show on Earth, Gloria Grahame's Hollywood stock took a downturn. After stealing the show as "a girl who can't say no" in Fred Zinnemann's 1955 film adaptation of the Broadway smash Oklahoma! (in which she sang in her own imperfect voice after years of being dubbed by vocal artists), good scripts were few and far between. Between her divorce from Cy Howard in 1957 and her 1960 marriage to Tony Ray (a union that lasted fourteen years and produced two children), she was reteamed with her old Crossfire costar Robert Ryan for the incendiary Odds Against Tomorrow (1959). Nevertheless, she vanished from the big screen for seven years. As she aged, she traded on her reputation as a femme fatale for low budget fare such as Blood and Lace (1971) and Mama's Dirty Girls (1974). She had one scene apiece in Chandler (1971) with Warren Oates and the made-for-TV The Girl on the Late, Late Show (1974), which repurposed clips from her old films in the service of a modern day Hollywood mystery.
Diagnosed with cancer in 1974 (in the midst of her divorce from Tony Ray and a battle for the custody of their children), Gloria Grahame embraced holistic medicines and Christian Science, going so far as to foreswear painkillers following a ovariectomy, which left her in agony. She returned to live theatre during this time, touring as Lady Macbeth and playing Sadie Thompson in a London production of Somerset Maugham's Rain. She had better roles in the American independent features Head Over Heels (1979) and Melvin and Howard (1980) and was preparing for a London revival of Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie when her cancer progressed to the terminal stage. She was cared for in England by a friend and former lover (Peter Turner chronicled these last days in Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool), until her children could bring her back to the United States. Gloria Grahame died in New York City on October 5, 1981, at the age of 57.
"The movie gods played a mean trick on Grahame," wrote LA Times critic Chuck Wilson at the time of a two-week Gloria Grahame retrospective at UCLA in April of 2002. "The instinct-driven unpredictability that made her such a scene-stealer onscreen is the very quality that led her to upend her life over and over again." In support of the same festival, Wilson's colleague Susan King found that the late actress concealed "vulnerability beneath her cynicism a pathos that made her sympathetic to audiences." Perhaps the best eulogy for Gloria Grahame came during her lifetime, from her Greatest Show on Earth director Cecil B. DeMille: "She has the manner of a school girl and the eyes of a sorceress."
by Richard Harland Smith
Suicide Blonde: The Life of Gloria Grahame by Vincent Curcio
Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool by Peter Turner
"Gloria Grahame: The Tart with a Heart," by Dean Goodman, Films of the Golden Age 1996
Bogart by A.M. Sperber and Eric Lax
Robert Mitchum: "Baby, I Don't Care by Lee Server
Joan Crawford: The Essential Biography by Lawrence J. Quirk and William Schoell
Joan Crawford: Hollywood Martyr by David Bret
'Tis Herself: An Autobiography by Maureen O'Hara and John Nicoletti
Fred Zinnemann: Interviews
Internet Movie Database
Internet Broadway Database