Gloria Swanson


Actor
Gloria Swanson

About

Also Known As
Gloria Josephine Mae Svensson, Gloria Mae
Birth Place
Chicago, Illinois, USA
Born
March 27, 1899
Died
April 04, 1983
Cause of Death
Heart Ailment

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 Wil...

Family & Companions

Wallace Beery
Husband
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.
Craney Gratz
Companion
Playboy Swanson dated after moving to Southern California.
Herbert K Somborn
Husband
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.
Marshall Neilan
Companion
Director. Involved in the early 1920s; Swanson's husband Herbert Somborn sued her for divorce based on her relationship with Neilan.

Bibliography

"The Films of Gloria Swanson"
Lawrence J Quirk, Citadel Press (1988)
"Swanson on Swanson"
Gloria Swanson (1980)
"Four Fabulous Faces: Swanson, Garbo, Crawford, Dietrich"
Larry Carr
"Gloria Swanson"
Richard M Hudson and Raymond Lee

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"

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 last critical and financial hit until "Sunset Boulevard." 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.

Filmography

 

Cast (Feature Film)

Airport '75 (1975)
Herself
Killer Bees (1974)
Madame Van Bohlen; Maria
Chaplinesque, My Life and Hard Times (1972)
Narrator
When Comedy Was King (1960)
Nero's Mistress (1956)
Agrippina
3 for Bedroom C (1952)
Ann Haven
Sunset Blvd. (1950)
Norma Desmond
Down Memory Lane (1949)
Father Takes a Wife (1941)
Leslie Collier
Music in the Air (1934)
Frieda [Hotzfelt]
Perfect Understanding (1933)
Judy Rogers
Indiscreet (1931)
Geraldine "Jerry" Trent
Tonight or Never (1931)
Nella Vago
What a Widow (1930)
Tamarind
The Trespasser (1929)
Marion Donnell
Sadie Thompson (1928)
Sadie Thompson
Queen Kelly (1928)
Patricia Kelly, an orphan
The Love of Sunya (1927)
Sunya
The Untamed Lady (1926)
St. Clair Van Tassel
Fine Manners (1926)
Orchid Murphy
Stage Struck (1925)
Jennie Hagen
Madame Sans-GĂȘne (1925)
Catherine Hubscher
The Coast of Folly (1925)
Nadine Gathway/Joyce Gathway
The Humming Bird (1924)
Toinette
Her Love Story (1924)
Princess Marie
Wages of Virtue (1924)
Carmelita
A Society Scandal (1924)
Marjorie Colbert
Manhandled (1924)
Tessie McGuire
My American Wife (1923)
Natalie Chester
Prodigal Daughters (1923)
Elinor ["Swiftie"] Forbes
Bluebeard's 8th Wife (1923)
Mona de Briac
Hollywood (1923)
Zaza (1923)
Zaza, an actress
Her Gilded Cage (1922)
Suzanne Ornoff, a cabaret dancer
Beyond the Rocks (1922)
Theodora Fitzgerald
Her Husband's Trademark (1922)
Lois Miller
The Impossible Mrs. Bellew (1922)
Betty Bellew
Don't Tell Everything (1921)
Marian Westover
Under the Lash (1921)
Deborah Krillet
The Affairs of Anatol (1921)
Vivian, his wife
The Great Moment (1921)
Nada Pelham/Nadine Pelham
Something to Think About (1920)
Ruth Anderson
Why Change Your Wife? (1920)
Beth Gordon
Male and Female (1919)
Lady Mary Lasenby
Don't Change Your Husband (1919)
Leila Porter, his wife
For Better, for Worse (1919)
Sylvia Norcross
Society for Sale (1918)
Phyllis Clyne
Everywoman's Husband (1918)
Edith Emerson
Her Decision (1918)
Phyllis Dunbar
Secret Code (1918)
Sally Carter Rand
Station Content (1918)
Kitty Manning
You Can't Believe Everything (1918)
Patria Reynolds
Shifting Sands (1918)
Marcia Grey
Wife or Country (1918)
Sylvia Hamilton

Costume-Wardrobe (Feature Film)

3 for Bedroom C (1952)
Wardrobe creations by

Cast (Special)

Men Who Rate a "10" (1980)
Hedda Hopper's Hollywood (1960)
Guest
The Gloria Swanson Hour (1948)
Host

Cast (Short)

Teddy at the Throttle (1917)

Misc. Crew (Short)

Gloria Swanson (1961)
Archival Footage

Life Events

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

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

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"

1928

Received first Best Actress Academy Award nomination for title role in "Sadie Thompson"

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)

Photo Collections

Sunset Blvd. - Publicity Stills
Sunset Blvd. - Publicity Stills
Beyond the Rocks - Lobby Cards
Here are a few Lobby Cards from Beyond the Rocks (1922), starring Gloria Swanson and Rudolph Valentino. 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.

Videos

Movie Clip

Sadie Thompson (1928) -- (Movie Clip) Your Own Salvation Stuck together for now in a Pago Pago (a.k.a. American Samoa) inn, taking advantage of the forgiving nature of the title character (Gloria Swanson, also the producer, whose profession is known but never named), crusading freelance moralist Davidson (Lionel Barrymore) begins his campaign, in Sadie Thompson, 1928, from the famous Somerset Maugham story.
Sadie Thompson (1928) -- (Movie Clip) It's Bound To Be Worse Tomorrow The quick pictorial introductions of the key characters, Lionel Barrymore and Blanche Frederici as the puritanical Davidsons, Charles Lane the more worldly MacPhail, then Gloria Swanson, the producer in the title role, in the first feature based on the provocative Somerset Maugham story, co-starring and directed by Raoul Walsh, Sadie Thompson, 1928.
Sunset Blvd. (1950) -- (Movie Clip) You Want A Valentino Screenwriter Joe (William Holden), now dependent on faded star Norma (Gloria Swanson), realizes that she's planned the New Year's Eve party for just two, in Billy Wilder's Sunset Blvd., 1950.
Sunset Blvd. (1950) -- (Movie Clip) The Whole Truth Starting, as has been noted, in the gutter, the opening credits and the first part of William Holden (as "Joe Gillis") narrating his own homicide, from Billy Wilder's Sunset Blvd., 1950.
Sunset Blvd. (1950) -- (Movie Clip) You Used To Be Big The first appearance of Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), instructing screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden), who's there because he had a blowout while fleeing repo-men, on her chimp's funeral, having presumed he's the undertaker she called, from Billy Wilder's Sunset Blvd., 1950.
Father Takes A Wife (1941) -- (Movie Clip) You'll Always Be An Actress Here we meet actress Leslie (Gloria Swanson, in a comeback role), whom we’ve learned is betrothed to shipping magnate Adolphe Menjou, with her aunt (Helen Broderick), preparing to meet his son before her final performance, in Father Takes A Wife, 1941.
Father Takes A Wife (1941) -- (Movie Clip) Drop Your Anchor, Dear Having argued through several days of their honeymoon, shipping tycoon Frederick (Adolphe Menjou) and just retired actress Leslie (Gloria Swanson) discuss the Latino singer stowaway (Desi Arnaz) who’s just been found on his private yacht, in Father Takes A Wife, 1941.
Sunset Blvd. (1950) -- (Movie Clip) Still More Norma Desmonds Hard-up screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden), now resigned to residing with ex-movie star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) while he re-writes her comeback picture, offers details of his life with her, in Billy Wilder's Sunset Blvd., 1950.
Beyond The Rocks -- (Movie Clip) Bolder Than The Rest Visiting Versailles, amorous Lord Hector (Rudolph Valentino) relates a story to married Theodora (Gloria Swanson), inducing period costumes, in Paramount's Beyond The Rocks, 1922.
Beyond The Rocks -- (Movie Clip) Not The Marrying Kind Early scenes introducing poor-but-eligible Theodora (Gloria Swanson) and English but Latin Lord Hector Bracondale (Rudolph Valentino), a rescue in order, in Beyond The Rocks, 1922.
Beyond The Rocks -- (Movie Clip) Help Is Coming! On her Alpine honeymoon attempting a snapshot, Theodora (Gloria Swanson) slips, requiring her second rescue by the coincidentally nearby Lord Hector (Rudolph Valentino), in Beyond The Rocks, 1922.

Family

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

Companions

Wallace Beery
Husband
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.
Craney Gratz
Companion
Playboy Swanson dated after moving to Southern California.
Herbert K Somborn
Husband
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.
Marshall Neilan
Companion
Director. Involved in the early 1920s; Swanson's husband Herbert Somborn sued her for divorce based on her relationship with Neilan.
Marquis de la Falaise de la Coudraye
Husband
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.
Joseph P Kennedy
Companion
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.
Michael Farmer
Husband
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.
William Davey
Husband
Married in 1945; separated after 45 days when Swanson discovered he was an alcoholic.
William Dufty
Husband
Writer. Author of "Sugar Blues"; married from 1976 until her death in 1983.

Bibliography

"The Films of Gloria Swanson"
Lawrence J Quirk, Citadel Press (1988)
"Swanson on Swanson"
Gloria Swanson (1980)
"Four Fabulous Faces: Swanson, Garbo, Crawford, Dietrich"
Larry Carr
"Gloria Swanson"
Richard M Hudson and Raymond Lee
"Gloria and Joe: The Star-Crossed Love Affair of Gloria Swanson and Joseph P Kennedy"
Axel Madsen

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.