Nationality: American. Born: Gloria Finch in Santa Monica, California, on 4 July 1910. Education: Santa Monica High School, University of California at Berkeley. Family: Married Blair Gordon Newell on 21, June 1930, Divorced in 1934; Married Arthur Sheekman in 29 July 1934; Had one child Sylvia Thompson, born in 1935; four grandchildren. Career: After she trod the boards of the Pasadena Playhouse in the classics, she graced the classic horror films of James Whale, including The Old Dark House and The Invisible Man ; other highlights include the melodrama, Sweepings , and the musical, Gold Diggers of 1935 , and films by such major directors as William Wellman, George Stevens, John Ford; unable to make a splash on Broadway after her film career dissipated, she became an accomplished painter and, later, a renowned book designer and printer; after decades of virtual inactivity, she staged Cinema's most spectacular renascence in Titanic. Awards: Academy of Family Films and Television Honor, 1997; Screen Actors Guild Award, for best supporting actress, for Titanic , 1997; Screen Actors Guild Award, special achievement award, 1998. Address: Jeff Hunter, the William Morris Agency, 1325 Avenue of the Americas, New York, New York 10019, U.S.A.
Street of Women (Mayo) (as Doris Baldwin); The All-American (Mack) (as Ellen Steffens); The Old Dark House (Whale) (as Margaret Waverton); Air Mail (Ford) (as Ruth Barnes)
Sweepings (Cromwell) (as Phoebe Pardway Gilitziv); The Invisible Man (Whale) (as Flora Cranley); Hollywood on Parade No. 9 (Film Short) (as Herself); The Girl in 419 (Hall and Somnes) (as Mary Dolan); The Kiss Before The Mirror (Whale) (as Frau Lucie Bernsdorf); Secret of the Blue Room (Neumann) (as Irene Von Helldorf); Private Jones (Mack) (as Mary Gregg); Laughter in Hell (Cahn) (as Lorraine); It's Great To Be Alive (Werker) (as Dorothy Wilton); Roman Scandals (Berkeley) (as Princess Sylvia)
Beloved (Schertzinger) (as Lucy Hausmann); The Love Captive (Marcin) (as Alice Trask); I'll Tell The World (Sedgwick) (as Jane Hamilton); Here Comes The Navy (Bacon) (as Dorothy Martin); Gift of Gab (Freund) (as Barbara Kelton); I Like It That Way (Lachman) (As Anne Rogers)
Laddie (Stevens) (as Pamela Pryor); Gold Diggers of 1935 (Berkeley) (as Ann Prentiss); Maybe It's Love (Wellman) (as Bobby Halevy)
Professional Soldier (Garnett) (as Countess Sonia); The Prisoner of Shark Island (Ford) (as Peggy Mudd); Poor Little Rich Girl (Cummings) (as Margaret Allen); Girl Overboard (Salkow) (as Mary Chesbrooke); The Girl on the Front Page (Beaumont) (as Joan Langford); 36 Hours to Kill (Forde) (as Anne Marvis); Wanted: Jane Turner (Killy) (as Doris Martin); The Crime of Dr. Forbes (Marshall) (as Ellen Godfrey)
Life Begins in College (Seiter) (as Janet O' Hara); The Lady Escapes (Forde) (as Linda Ryan)
Keep Smiling (Leeds) (as Carol Walters); The Lady Objects (Kenton) (as Ann Adams); Island in the Sky (Leeds) (as Julie Hayes); Change of Heart (Tinling) (as Carol Murdock); Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (Dwan) (as Gwen Warren); Time Out for Murder (Humberstone) (as Margie Ross)
It Could Happen to You (Werker) (as Doris Winslow); Winner Take All (Brower) (as Julie Harrison); The Three Musketeers (Dwan) (As Queen Anne)
Here Comes Elmer (Stanley) (as Glenda Forbes)
The Whistler (Castle) (as Alice Walker); Enemy of Women (Zeisler) (as Bertha)
She Wrote the Book (Lamont) (Phyllis Fowler)
The Legend of Lizzie Borden (Wendkos—for TV) (as Store Customer); Adventures of the Queen (Rich—for TV); Barbary Coast (Bixby—for TV)
Flood (Bellamy—for TV) (as Mrs. Parker); Gibbsville (AKA: The Turning Point of Jim Malloy) (Gilroy—for TV)
In the Glitter Palace (Butler—for TV) (as Mrs. Bowman)
The Two Worlds of Jenny Logan (de Felitta—for TV) (as Roberta)
The Incredible Journey of Dr. Meg Laurel (Green—for TV) (as Rose); The Best Place to Be (Miller—for TV)
Fun and Games (Smithee—for TV)
Merlene of the Movies (Malone—for TV) (as Evangeline Eaton); The Violation of Sarah Mc David (Llewelyn Moxey—for TV) (as Mrs. Fowler)
My Favorite Year (Benjamin) (as Mrs. Horn)
Mass Appeal (Jordan) (as Mrs. Curry)
Wildcats (Ritchie) (as Mrs. Connoly)
Shootdown (Pressman—for TV) (as Gertrude)
Titanic (Cameron) (as Old Rose)
The Love Letter (Ho-Sun Chan) (as Eleanor)
The Million Dollar Hotel (Wenders) (as Jessica); My Mother the Spy (Keene—for TV) (as Grandma)
I Just Kept Hoping , with Sylvia Thompson, Boston, New York, London, 1999.
"Gloria Stuart," interview with Gregory William Mank, in American Cinematographer , (Los Angeles), 1999.
"Ready for My Close-Up," by Gloria Stuart and Sylvia Thompson, in McCall's , (New York), September 1999.
Gatiss, Mark, James Whale: or the Would-Be Gentleman , Lon-don, 1995.
Curtis, James, James Whale: A New World of Gods and Monsters , London, 1999.
Sayre, Nora, "Survivor: Not of the Titanic , but of an Actor's Life," New York Times (New York), 29 December 1997.
Purtell, Tim, "Her Old Dark Past," Entertainment Weekly (New York), 1 January 1998.
GK, "Best Supporting Actress," Entertainment Weekly (New York), 16 January 1998.
Steyn, Mark, "Class Act," Spectator (New York), 24 January 1998.
Weinraub, Bernard, " Titanic Leads the Oscar List," New York Times (New York), 11 February 1998.
Foege, Alec, and Carol Day, et al, "Women of the Titanic ," People , (New York), 23 February 1998.
Fierman, Daniel, "Their Next Big Things," Entertainment Weekly (New York), 3 April 1998.
"Ship of Jewels," in People (New York), 6 April 1998.
Graham, Nancy Perry, and Hugh McCarten, "Insider Column," People (New York), 5 May 1998.
"Gloria Stuart," in People (New York), 11 May 1998.
Daly, Steve, and Troy Patterson, "Fear and Loathing: You Know Where," in Entertainment Weekly (New York), 24 July 1998.
"Flavors of the Year," in People (New York), 14 September 1998.
Graham, Nancy Perry, "Insider Column," in People (New York), 21 September 1998.
Roisman-Cooper, Barbara, "She's Queen of the World," in Modern Maturity (New York), March /April 1999.
Orecklin, Michelle, on Gloria Stuart's Memoir, in People (New York), 6 September 1999.
* * *
When a cherished actress's stardom fades, moviegoers customarily consign their favorite to the "Whatever Happened to Her" category. You cannot, however, take shortcuts through the life of Gloria Stuart.
Was it so long ago that film enthusiasts took female beauty for granted? In that faraway Hollywood, where film stars seemed like mythical creatures born into their Orry-Kelly creations, no one was lovelier than Gloria Stuart. And yet, Stuart was never just another pretty face; she dreamt about Max Reinhardt, not Max Factor. Having distinguished herself in the Los Angeles theatrical community, she took Movieland by storm as the prize in a bidding war between Paramount and Universal Studios. Ironically, after Universal claimed her, the sought-after actress was subsequently deprived of the star-making opportunities that would have revealed her range. Of all the second acts in show biz history, however, only Gloria Swanson's reemergence in Sunset Boulevard rivals Stuart's 1997 comeback in Titanic. The first phase of her career demonstrates the validity of the expression, "Beauty is a curse." When you first gaze at Stuart in, for example, The Kiss Before The Mirror , you're so distracted by aesthetic perfection that you're initially distanced from the acuity of her portrayal. A proponent of seamless acting, she never succumbed to the Sturm and Drang tactics that might have garnered attention. In Hollywood, you don't score points for being a dutiful leading lady; that's the mold she quickly found herself trapped in. As long as youth holds out, a leading lady works, but rarely gets the chance to step into an unshared spotlight.
Felicitously teamed with director James Whale, Stuart stood out in two of his classics. In The Invisible Man , she meets the challenge of playing a standard girlfriend role to someone who isn't even there. Never resorting to obvious theatrics, she grounds the H.G. Welles scenario in reality, so that the story's fancifulness doesn't alienate the audience. In The Old Dark House , Whale insisted she wear a white gown that Stuart thought was improbably glamorous for this mystery's plot purposes. (Even after emerging from a downpour, apparently screen goddesses don't get wet.) The visionary Whale wanted her to run through the mise-en-scene "A White Flame," and Stuart more than embodied that description. Not only does Stuart scream in a compelling variety of keys, but she also provides a stark contrast for the film's unremitting parade of physical and psychological ugliness. For Whale's ouevre alone, she had secured a place in film history, but Stuart could have done so much more.
In the unjustly overlooked Gold Diggers of 1935 , she manages to make Dick Powell seem less callow than usual. Effortlessly exhibiting the drop-dead timing of the best screwball comediennes, she plays a nouveau riche heiress regarded by her social-climbing mother as her surrogate entree into high society. In a fairer world, Stuart might have given Carole Lombard a run for her money, but those patrician looks would once again prove a stumbling block. She never found another James Whale who understood her bohemian spirit; Hollywood couldn't get past that luminescent blondeness to glimpse a brunette spirit smoldering underneath.
If the frustrated actress didn't score many laughs onscreen, she found them offscreen as the wife of the Marx Brothers' favorite writer, Arthur Sheekman. During this long-term union, she became the film colony's premier hostess for Hollywood personalities witty enough to supply their own dialogue. Apparently typecast by her husband as the perfect wife, Stuart must have also bristled at the limited acting opportunities coming her way, including two gigs as a prop for Shirley Temple. Nor did Darryl F. Zanuck reward her with any juicy roles for gamely agreeing to provide a shoulder for Shirley to cry on. Unfulfilled, she drifted into B movies, as younger decorative players came and went.
It is at this point that Stuart's remarkable resiliency comes to the fore. In real life, Stuart got to play the variety of roles denied her in her studio heyday. Having helped to organize the Screen Actors Guild, she fought against Nazi oppression before it became popular. Out of the Hollywood rat race, she funneled her artistic blockage into a new venues throughout the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s; she became an acclaimed painter with several one-woman shows and an accomplished book designer/printer with exquisite hand-made volumes to her credit. Still, to paraphrase the title of her memoirs, she just kept hoping.
Several decades later, that hope bore fruit. (One bright spot of this period was a guest role on a 1987 Murder, She Wrote episode, entitled "The Days Dwindle Down.") Although the 1980s added only bit parts to her filmography, a movie about a legendary boat sinking would lift Stuart's career out of its submerged status. The biggest money-maker of all time, Titanic was an epic whose truest distinction lies in Stuart's elegant acting as shipwreck survivor, Old Rose; she is the heart and soul of the film. With her impeccable line readings, Stuart lent an air of gravity to a spectacle that portrayed the oceanic catastrophe as a backdrop for doomed romance. Stuart might be justifiably grateful to James Cameron for resurrecting her stardom, but he was damned lucky to have found her. The oldest performer ever to be nominated for an Academy Award, Stuart lost that statuette but plunged into a career as a character actress at age 87. Yet, her real triumph is that she has never lived her life as a has-been. Has any other under-utilized star ever had such delicious vindication? To see her interviewed on TV talk shows is to witness a free spirit, whose undimmed loveliness and grit make her a poster girl for all vintage souls. What Stuart's resurrection as a performer demonstrates is the durability of talent. What her life demonstrates is the magic of believing in second chances. Symbolically, she puts miracles within the grasp of anyone, who's ever waited for opportunity to knock twice. As a movie icon, she's had the last laugh on all those long-dead moguls who never gave her a first chance in the first place.
—Robert J. Pardi