Norma Shearer


Actor
Norma Shearer

About

Also Known As
Edith Norma Shearer
Birth Place
Montreal, Quebec, CA
Born
August 10, 1902
Died
June 12, 1983
Cause of Death
Bronchial Pneumonia

Biography

A child model and bit player in New York-based films whose appearance in "The Stealers" (1920) caught the attention of producer Irving Thalberg. Thalberg signed Shearer to a long-term contract with MGM in 1923 and she quickly became a popular star in such films as "He Who Gets Slapped" (1924), "His Secretary" (1925) and "The Student Prince" (1927), typically as a gentle but vivacious ing...

Photos & Videos

Romeo and Juliet (1936) - Lobby Card
Marie Antoinette - Norma Shearer Publicity Stills
The Divorcee - Norma Shearer Publicity Stills

Family & Companions

Irving G Thalberg
Husband
Producer, executive. Born on May 30, 1899 with congenital heart defect in Brooklyn; married from September 29, 1927 until his death on September 14, 1936 of lobar pneumonia; nicknamed 'The Boy Wonder' and 'The Oracle' for his rapid rise to executive status and his ability to produce hit films.
James Stewart
Companion
Actor. Involved after Thalberg's death.
George Raft
Companion
Actor. Popular star in action films and melodramas of the 1930s and 40s; became romantically involved with Shearer in 1940; attempted to get a divorce from his estranged wife, but she refused; relationship ended later that year.
Howard Hughes
Companion
Producer, industrialist. Had relationship after Thalberg's death.

Bibliography

"Norma Shearer"
Gavin Lambert, Alfred A. Knopf (1990)
"Norma: The Story of Norma Shearer"
Lawrence J. Quirk, St. Martin's Press (1989)
"The Films of Norma Shearer"
Jack Jacobs and Myron Braum, Citadel Press (1976)

Notes

Some sources list August 11 as the date of Ms. Shearer's birth, but public records indicate that the August 10 date is correct.

Besides Oscar win for "The Divorcee" (1930), Shearer was also nominated for "Their Own Desire" (1930, multiple nominations for the same year then possible under Academy rules of the time), "A Free Soul" (1931), "The Barretts of Wimpole Street" (1934), "Romeo and Juliet" (1936), and "Marie Antoinette" (1938).

Biography

A child model and bit player in New York-based films whose appearance in "The Stealers" (1920) caught the attention of producer Irving Thalberg. Thalberg signed Shearer to a long-term contract with MGM in 1923 and she quickly became a popular star in such films as "He Who Gets Slapped" (1924), "His Secretary" (1925) and "The Student Prince" (1927), typically as a gentle but vivacious ingenue. Thalberg married his star in 1927, after which she had her pick of films, parts and directors. A striking and often lovely brunette actress with a great profile, Shearer compensated for a slight lack of conventional beauty with great poise, elegance and charm. She played a wide range of roles in a glittering array of films; among her most notable efforts were "The Divorcee" (1930), for which she won an Oscar, "A Free Soul" (1931), "Private Lives" (1931; an especially fine and rare comic performance at this stage in her career), "Smilin' Through" (1932; one of her loveliest performances, and most romantic films) and "Romeo and Juliet" (1936).

One of MGM's biggest stars of the 1930s, the ultra-chic Shearer eschewed the more innocent image of her silent stardom during the racy pre-Code period of the early 30s to play a series of wronged wives who fight the double standard by turning into silken sinners in films including "The Divorcee," "Strangers May Kiss" (1931) and "Riptide" (1934). She quickly became, along with Garbo, the studio's resident "prestige" star, and later in the decade played in several classy costume dramas, the most popular of which was "The Barretts of Wimpole Street" (1934, as poet Elizabeth Barrett).

Shearer lost interest in her career after Thalberg's death in 1936; this, coupled with a poor choice of roles (she turned down the leads in "Gone With the Wind" 1939 and "Mrs. Miniver" 1942 and opted instead for fluffy comedies) led her to retire from the screen in 1942. She did, however, leave her admirers with two excellent performances, easily among her finest, in two of her best-remembered films: as the tragic title heroine of the lavish, underrated "Marie Antoinette" (1938), and as the cheated-upon husband who must endure the "help" of her catty girlfriends in the all-star, all-female comedy, "The Women" (1939, in which she was first-billed over longstanding rival Joan Crawford).

As with Garbo, Shearer did receive offers after she left MGM and considered return vehicles to the cinema; in several cases, she backed out or else the projects never really got off the ground. Her glamorous image, though, was more accessible, less distant than Garbo's and so her absence from films never really contributed to any aloof star mystique; as the decades progressed she unjustly became somewhat forgotten and by the time the vogue in classical Hollywood nostalgia reached its apex her health had already begun to decline. Shearer did enjoy four decades of marriage, though, to her second husband, a former ski instructor and land developer she met and married in 1942. Her brother, Douglas Shearer (1899-1971), was a pioneering sound technician who won 12 Oscars and developed several key technical innovations.

Filmography

 

Cast (Feature Film)

MGM: When the Lion Roars (1992)
Her Cardboard Lover (1942)
Consuelo Croyden
We Were Dancing (1942)
Vicki Wilomirska
Escape (1940)
Countess [Ruby] Von Treck
The Women (1939)
Mrs. Stephen Haines, Mary
Idiot's Delight (1939)
Irene
Marie Antoinette (1938)
Marie Antoinette
Romeo and Juliet (1936)
Juliet, daughter to Capulet
Riptide (1934)
[Lady] Mary [Rexford]
The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934)
Elizabeth Barrett
Strange Interlude (1932)
Nina Leeds [Evans]
Smilin' Through (1932)
Kathleen [/Moonyean Clare]
Private Lives (1931)
Amanda [Prynne]
Strangers May Kiss (1931)
Lisbeth [Corbin]
A Free Soul (1931)
Jan Ashe
The Divorcee (1930)
Jerry
Let Us Be Gay (1930)
Kitty Brown
Their Own Desire (1929)
Lally
The Last of Mrs. Cheyney (1929)
Mrs. Cheyney
The Trial of Mary Dugan (1929)
Mary Dugan
The Hollywood Revue of 1929 (1929)
The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg (1928)
Kathi
The Latest From Paris (1928)
Ann Dolan
The Actress (1928)
Rose Trelawney
A Lady of Chance (1928)
Dolly
Too Many Wives (1927)
After Midnight (1927)
Mary
The Demi-Bride (1927)
Criquette
Upstage (1926)
Dolly Haven
The Waning Sex (1926)
Nina Duane
The Devil's Circus (1926)
Mary
Pretty Ladies (1925)
Frances White
The Tower of Lies (1925)
Glory
A Slave of Fashion (1925)
Katherine Emerson
His Secretary (1925)
Ruth Lawrence
Lady of the Night (1925)
Molly/Florence
Excuse Me (1925)
Marjorie Newton
Waking Up the Town (1925)
Mary Ellen Hope
The Wolf Man (1924)
Elizabeth Gordon
He Who Gets Slapped (1924)
Consuelo
The Snob (1924)
Nancy Claxton
Empty Hands (1924)
Claire Endicott
Broken Barriers (1924)
Grace Durland
Broadway After Dark (1924)
Rose Dulane
Married Flirts (1924)
The Wolf Man (1924)
Trail of the Law (1923)
A Clouded Name (1923)
Marjorie Dare
The Devil's Partner (1923)
Jeanne
Pleasure Mad (1923)
Elinor Benton
The Wanters (1923)
Marjorie
Man and Wife (1923)
Dora Perkins
Lucretia Lombard (1923)
Mimi
The Man Who Paid (1922)
Jeanne, his wife
The Bootleggers (1922)
Helen Barnes
Channing of the Northwest (1922)
Jes Driscoll
The Flapper (1920)
The Stealers (1920)
Julia Martin
Way Down East (1920)
Barn dancer

Cast (Short)

Cavalcade of the Academy Awards (1940)
Herself
Another Romance of Celluloid (1938)
Herself
Hollywood Goes to Town (1938)
Herself
THE CHRISTMAS PARTY (1931)
Herself
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer 1925 Studio Tour (1925)
Herself

Misc. Crew (Short)

Norma Shearer (1962)
Archival Footage

Life Events

1920

Moved with mother, brother, and sister to New York; began appearing in films in bit parts (e.g., "The Flapper" and D.W. Griffith's "Way Down East")

1923

Signed with MGM; moved to California

1924

Began appearing in leading roles; had major successes in "He Who Gets Slapped" and "The Snob"

1925

Appeared in single loan-out during two-decade tenure at MGM, in "Waking Up the Town"

1929

Made successful talkie debut, "The Trial of Mary Dugan"

1932

Appeared on exhibitors' poll of ten most popular boxoffice stars for three years in a row, in sixth, ninth and tenth place, respectively

1933

Took lengthy vacation in Europe with Thalberg as he recovered from heart attack

1934

Returned to films; made two popular films, "The Barretts of Wimpole Street" and "Riptide"

1935

Took another year off from filmmaking to give birth to daughter Katherine; began preliminary work toward the end of the year on "Romeo and Juliet" (1936)

1937

Resisted a flat settlement with MGM regarding Thalberg's estate; held MGM executives to an agreement Thalberg had forged: successfully fought for her stock and for a percentage of the profits made on all films produced from the inception of MGM in 1924 through the end of December, 1938

1937

Successfully returned to films to make "Marie Antoinette", which Thalberg had prepared for production; signed six-picture deal with MGM at $150,000 per film

1939

Starred in what is perhaps her best-remembered film, the all-star, all-female "The Women"

1942

Last film, "Her Cardboard Lover"

1943

Turned down co-starring but secondary role opposite Bette Davis in "Old Acquaintance"

1946

Made preliminary agreement to star in films for producer David Lewis' Enterprise Productions; company had financial problems; no films made

1947

Discovered Janet Leigh (nee Jeanette Morrison) while on skiing vacation; helped set up screen test for her at MGM

1957

Selected Robert Evans to play the role of Irving Thalberg in a film about the life of film star Lon Chaney, "Man of a Thousand Faces"

Photo Collections

Romeo and Juliet (1936) - Lobby Card
Here is a lobby card from MGM's Romeo and Juliet (1936), starring Leslie Howard and Norma Shearer. Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
Marie Antoinette - Norma Shearer Publicity Stills
Here are a few stills of Norma Shearer taken to help publicize MGM's Marie Antoinette (1938).
The Divorcee - Norma Shearer Publicity Stills
Here are a few photos taken of Norma Shearer to help publicize MGM's The Divorcee (1930).
The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934) - Movie Poster
Here is the American one-sheet movie poster for The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934). One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.
The Women - Publicity Stills
Here are a few photos taken to help publicize MGM's The Women (1939), starring Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer, and Rosalind Russell. Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.
A Free Soul - Norma Shearer Publicity Still
Here is a photo of Norma Shearer taken to help publicize A Free Soul (1931), directed by Clarence Brown.
Smilin' Through (1932) - Lobby Cards
Here are a few Lobby Cards from MGM's Smilin' Through (1932), starring Norma Shearer and Fredric March. Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
Escape - Movie Poster
Here is the American 1-Sheet movie poster for MGM's Escape (1940), starring Robert Taylor and Norma Shearer.
The Women - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are a few photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of MGM's The Women (1939), directed by George Cukor and featuring an all-star, all-female cast.
Strangers May Kiss - Movie Poster
Here is an original advertising poster for Strangers May Kiss (1931), starring Norma Shearer.
Upstage - Title Lobby Card
Here is the Title Lobby Card for MGM's Upstage (1926), starring Norma Shearer. (The pictures here show the card before-and-after professional restoration).
The Women - Movie Posters
Here are a few original-release and re-issue American movie posters for MGM's The Women (1939).
The Women - Scene Stills
Here are a number of scene stills from MGM's The Women (1939), starring Norman Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, Mary Boland, Paulette Goddard, and Joan Fontaine.
Private Lives - Scene Stills
Here are a few scene stills from MGM's Private Lives (1931), starring Norma Shearer and Robert Montgomery.
Norma Shearer - State Express Cigarette Card
This is a small cigarette card of actress Norma Shearer. These trading cards were included in Cigarette packs in the 30's and 40's and were collectible items. Customers could even purchase books to organize and collect these cards. State Express was an active Cigarette Card producer, creating a wide range of cards featuring famous people of which film stars were an often popular draw.

Videos

Movie Clip

Divorcee, The (1930) - Any Way She Likes Norma Shearer (as "Jerry"), in an early provocative role, with husband Ted (Chester Morris) discovering she's not so comfortable after all with their "open" marriage, in The Divorcee, 1930.
Free Soul, A (1931) - Fighting Mad Mighty Quick Sound quality confirms they really went to the beach, where Dwight (Leslie Howard) shows impeccable form, getting the brush-off from betrothed Jan (Norma Shearer), in A Free Soul, 1931, from the novel by Adela Rogers St. Johns.
Free Soul, A (1931) - Open, Modern Girl About as MGM as movies get, opening credits and first scene with a gag between father Lionel Barrymore and daughter Norma Shearer, from A Free Soul, 1931, also starring Leslie Howard and Clark Gable.
Marie Antoinette (1938) - I Shall Be Queen By a mile the largest thing W.S. ("One-Take Woody) Van Dyke II ever directed, Norma Shearer in the title role nothing but charming, Cecil Cunningham her aide "Feldy," Alma Kruger her mother the Austrian empress, ambassador Henry Stephenson making a bow, opening MGM's lavish Marie Antoinette, 1938, co-starring Tyrone Power.
Barretts Of Wimpole Street, The (1934) -- This Amazing Imprudence! Suitor Robert Browning (Fredric March) encourages heretofore invalid fellow poet Elizabeth Barrett (Norma Shearer) in making her way around her London home until her father (Charles Laughton), less supportive of her recovery, interrupts, in The Barretts Of Wimpole Street, 1934.
Barretts Of Wimpole Street, The (1934) -- Your Brave And Lovely Verses London, 1845, Anabel and Henrietta (Katharine Alexander, Maureen O’Sullivan) persuade their invalid poet sister Elizabeth Barrett (Norma Shearer) to receive admiring fellow poet Robert Browning (Fredric March), calling for the first time, in MGM’s The Barretts Of Wimpole Street, 1934.
Smilin' Through (1932) - Rather Sweet Of Me MGM travels through time, as Carteret (Leslie Howard) and Owen (O.P. Heggie) join Kathleen (first Cora Sue Collins then Norma Shearer) for her 5th and 21st birthdays, then with suitor Willie (Ralph Forbes), in director Sidney Franklin's Smilin' Through, 1932.
Smilin' Through (1932) - Just Ghastly Stuffy boyfriend Willie (Ralph Forbes) and Kathleen (Norma Shearer) have been hiding from a storm in the old mansion, not realizing that the guy who just turned up (Fredric March) is rightful owner Kenneth, in MGM's Smilin' Through, 1932.
Last Of Mrs. Cheyney, The (1929) - The Widow Of A Rich Australian Joining the first scene, a garden outside a London charity concert, Lord Dilling (Basil Rathbone) with stuffier Lord Elton (Herbert Bunston) and Maria (Hedda Hopper) discuss the hostess (Norma Shearer, title character) until she appears, George Barraud the butler, in The Last Of Mrs. Cheyney, 1929.
Last Of Mrs. Cheyney, The (1929) - Carefree And Happy Big reveal, after the charity concert, as we learn that footman George (George K. Arthur), hostess Fay (Norma Shearer, title character), and others apparently led by Charles (George Barraud), who posed as the butler, are cohorts in some elaborate scam, early in The Last Of Mrs. Cheyney, 1929.
Barretts Of Wimpole Street, The (1934) -- I Am Most Displeased! All siblings here, Norma Shearer as invalid poet Elizabeth Barrett (later Browning), Maureen O’Sullivan lively sister Henrietta, Matthew Smith, Neville Clark among brothers when their autocratic father (Charles Laughton) appears, framing the story, early in MGM’s The Barretts Of Wimpole Street, 1934.
Private Lives (1931) - I'm On My Honeymoon Hans Kraly's adaptation of the Noel Coward play, as honeymooning Amanda (Norma Shearer) detects a familar tune, then ex-husband Elyot (Robert Montgomery), in MGM's Private Lives, 1931.

Trailer

Family

James Shearer
Grandfather
Carpenter, later a successful timber merchant. Grew up in northern highlands of Scotland; moved to Canada in 1843.
Andrew Shearer
Father
Born c. 1864; died in 1944; took over father's business, which later failed; divorced from Shearer's mother; remarried c. 1931, second wife's name Elizabeth.
Edith Shearer
Mother
Born in 1873 in Islington, Ontario; left her husband with the children after he was unable to provide for them.
Douglas Shearer
Brother
Sound technician and designer. Born on November 17, 1899; died in 1971; long with MGM.
Athole Shearer
Sister
Born in 1900; married to film director Howard Hawks c. 1928-40; died in 1984.
Irving Thalberg Jr
Son
Professor of philosophy. Born August 25, 1930; died of cancer in 1987 at age 57.
Katherine Stirling
Daughter
Bookstore owner. Born on June 13, 1935; at one time married to actor Richard Anderson (perhaps best remembered from TV's "The Six Million Dollar Man"); as of September 1991 owner of the Explorers Bookshop in Aspen, Colorado; married to Bill Stirling.

Companions

Irving G Thalberg
Husband
Producer, executive. Born on May 30, 1899 with congenital heart defect in Brooklyn; married from September 29, 1927 until his death on September 14, 1936 of lobar pneumonia; nicknamed 'The Boy Wonder' and 'The Oracle' for his rapid rise to executive status and his ability to produce hit films.
James Stewart
Companion
Actor. Involved after Thalberg's death.
George Raft
Companion
Actor. Popular star in action films and melodramas of the 1930s and 40s; became romantically involved with Shearer in 1940; attempted to get a divorce from his estranged wife, but she refused; relationship ended later that year.
Howard Hughes
Companion
Producer, industrialist. Had relationship after Thalberg's death.
Mickey Rooney
Companion
Actor. Rooney was still a teenager when they embarked on their relationship.
Martin Jacques Arrouge
Husband
Ski instructor, later real estate developer and entrepreneur. Born on March 23, 1914 in San Francisco; married from August 23, 1942 until Shearer's death; remarried in 1985; died in L.A. on August 8, 1999 at age 85.

Bibliography

"Norma Shearer"
Gavin Lambert, Alfred A. Knopf (1990)
"Norma: The Story of Norma Shearer"
Lawrence J. Quirk, St. Martin's Press (1989)
"The Films of Norma Shearer"
Jack Jacobs and Myron Braum, Citadel Press (1976)

Notes

Some sources list August 11 as the date of Ms. Shearer's birth, but public records indicate that the August 10 date is correct.

Besides Oscar win for "The Divorcee" (1930), Shearer was also nominated for "Their Own Desire" (1930, multiple nominations for the same year then possible under Academy rules of the time), "A Free Soul" (1931), "The Barretts of Wimpole Street" (1934), "Romeo and Juliet" (1936), and "Marie Antoinette" (1938).

Shearer had a slight cast in her left eye as a child which became less noticeable as she grew into adulthood. The observant can still notice it in some shots in her films, but cinematographers filmed her carefully and Shearer did therapeutic exercises to minimize its presence.

Among Shearer's admirers were F. Scott Fitzgerald, who wanted her to play Nicole in a film version of his novel, "Tender Is the Night" and used her as the model for a character in his short story, "Crazy Sunday".

Actor Robert Morley, appearing with Shearer in "Marie Antoinette" (1938), reportedly once asked her, "How did you become a movie star?" She replied, "I wanted to!" --reported by Lambert's "Norma Shearer" 1990.

"In her final years, Norma Shearer, looking and behaving more like Miss Haversham than one of the 1930s big movie stars, would clutch the wrists of friends visiting her at the Motion Picture Country House hospital in the San Fernando Valley and ask, 'Are you Irving? Were we married?'" --Leah Rozen in her review of Gavin Lambert's "Norma Shearer" in People, June 25, 1990.

In his later years, Alfred Hitchcock would reportedly lament the absence of movie queens in contemporary cinema by asking, "Where are the Norma Shearers?" --reported by Gavin Lambert in his 1990 biography "Norma Shearer".