Silents are Golden: Silent Superstars – The eternally glamorous Gloria Swansonn
When you hear the words “glamor” and “movie star”, which famous name comes to mind? Chances are, someone like Marilyn Monroe or Sophia Loren. Or maybe – hopefully! – You thought of Gloria Swanson. Damn it, even her name Sounds like “glamor”. For a little girl (she was about 5 feet 7 inches tall and didn’t joke about it) she left a great legacy.
A former “military brat” who grew up on various military bases, her family lived in Chicago when Swanson was a teenager. She developed a crush-female crush Francis X. Bushman, who gave her aunt Inga the idea to take her on a tour of Bushman’s Essanay studio in Chicago. This was a dream for the young Swanson, and miraculously it led to another dream also coming true. Swanson, who had decided to dress up, was discovered by an Essanay casting director and he allowed her to play a walk-in role in a Gerda Holmes film. With Essanay’s approval, she was then hired as a small player and extra. The girl’s lifelong career had begun.
She decided to drop out of school and work full-time in “moving images”, stayed with Essanay and soon took on major roles. In 1915 she starred in the comedy Swedie goes to college with Wallace Beery (now known as one of the villains of the silent film scene). When Beery was hired by Mack Sennett’s Keystone studio in Los Angeles, Swanson also headed west. She and Beery married in 1916.
The marriage didn’t last long – Swanson regretted the mismatched union almost immediately – and Beery only worked in a few films at Keystone before he was fired. Fortunately, Swanson was a hit with Keystone. She was in comic book romances like with the equally tiny Bobby Vernon The nick of time baby and Teddy on the accelerator (both 1917). And contrary to popular legend, she was never one of the Sennett Bathing Beauties – photos of her in an old-fashioned swimsuit were often advertised for her leading role in The Pullman bride (1917) (Bathing beauties always appeared as an uncredited group).
While she was popular, the generous Swanson disliked the Sennet slapstick and sought more “moonlight and magnolia” roles – in later years she said dryly, “I was more of a squeamish young lady at the time.” She got her chance in Triangle’s 1918 dramas Your decision and You can’t believe everything. These films caught the attention of legendary director Cecil B. DeMille, who offered her a contract. Moonlight and magnolias were finally within reach.
DeMille directed six of her films, often starring alongside matinee idol Thomas Meighan. These light comedy dramas, centered on romantic complications, were set in wealthy homes and featured loads of prom dresses and expensive parties. Swanson also turned out to be in for more than just posing in smart clothes – in a fantasy sequence Male and female (1919) she insisted on playing a dangerous scene with a real lion. Under DeMille’s direction, she quickly gained her rightful place as one of the greatest movie stars of the 1920s.
Her many popular features from the 1920s included sharing the screen with Rudolph Valentino in Beyond the rocks (1922), leading role in the Franco-American Madame Sans-Gêne (1925) was filmed at historical sites related to Napoleon and starred in the eyebrows Sadie Thompson (1928), filmed by her own Gloria Swanson Productions. The latter became notable for the number of swear words that lip-reading moviegoers could spot.
Swanson was known not only for her beauty and talent, but also for her flamboyant lifestyle, befitting one of the most bankable stars of the jazz age. She is said to receive 10,000 fan letters a week and had a mansion in Beverly Hills that was occupied by a dozen servants. She later recalled, “We lived like kings and queens, and why not? We were in love with life … We had just fought the war that was to end all wars, and everyone believed that nothing but peace and joy lay before us. ”
Her private life was also often in the gossip columns, as she married a total of six times. A marriage was to a marquis (though not rich) and between the husbands she was usually involved in affairs (both real and rumored). Her last and longest-running marriage was to William Dufty in 1976, which lasted until her death.
When talkies became popular in the late 1920s, she tried a final silence: Queen Kelly, Director: Erich von Stroheim. The expensive production was fraught with problems, including long hours and Swanson’s objections to unnecessary innuendos and a “dark” story set in Africa. Stroheim was eventually fired and a worked, milder one Queen Kelly had a limited release in 1932.
As her busy career finally came to an end in the 1930s, Swanson began to appear less on screen and move to other pursuits. In the 1940s and 50s she was an avid painter and sculptor, designing clothing, performing on the radio and on stage, advocating a healthy lifestyle (she was a vegetarian), was a politically active Republican, and even hosted her own television show , The Gloria Swanson lesson. Always busy, she also distributed a newsletter with the title in 1954 Gloria Swanson’s diary.
In 1950 she was offered a prominent role: the aging former silent film star Norma Desmond in Twilight Boulevard. Swanson was ready to play the role other former silent film-era actresses had turned down and thrown themselves into it. Erich von Stroheim surreally played her butler, and in one scene he operates a projector so that Norma can give a demonstration Queen Kelly. Her “comeback” (maybe we should call it a return) earned her an Oscar nomination.
For the rest of her career, Swanson appeared frequently on talk shows and appeared on television shows like Burke’s Law and The Beverly Hillbillies –without appearing on stage. Her last film appearance was as herself in the hit drama Airport 1975 (1974). She and her husband William Dufty also gave lectures on nutrition, particularly macrobiotic nutrition. After a full and busy life, she died of heart disease in a New York hospital in 1983. An icon in her time, she has remained so to this day, an elegant symbol of Hollywood glamor.
–Lea Stans for Classic Movie Hub
You can read all of the articles on Leas Silents are Golden here.
Lea Stans is a born and raised Minnesota woman with a degree in English and an obsessive interest in the silent film era (which she largely attributes to Buster Keaton). Not only does she blog about her passion on her website Silent-ology, but she is also a columnist for them Quarterly silent film and has also written for The Keaton Chronicle.