Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Swanson the Great
Inspired by a comment by FairyFiligree I thought I'd write a little about a woman I truly look up to; Ms. Gloria Swanson. I have always been uncomfortable with the idea of having an 'idol' but if I have one, it certainly is Swanson. Today she is best known as Norma Desmond, the larger-than-life character of Billy Wilder's Sunset Blvd. (1950). While Norma Desmond is one of my absolute favorite characters and Sunset Blvd. my favorite picture of all time, Gloria Swanson is so much more than Norma Desmond.
Gloria Swanson was born March 27, 1899 and passed away April 4, 1983, at the age of 84. She began acting as an extra back in 1914, and in 1919 she signed with Paramount Pictures, becoming the protegee of Cecil B. DeMille. In her early 20s Swanson became one of the world's greatest stars, along with Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford. Apart from her fascinating life, stunning talent and striking looks, one of the things that most interests me about Gloria Swanson is that she lived and worked through all of the great years of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Having started in 1914, she acted in silent films for over a decade before the coming of sound. While her career as an actress slowed down in the 1930s and the 1940s, she made the transition to talkies and still worked occasionally. In the 1950s she was back at the height of her popularity and received her third Academy Award nomination for Wilder's film. Swanson continued acting in movies, stage and television until mid-1970s. There are not many an actress who have had such a long and successful career.
But Gloria Swanson was so much more than an actress. She was also a mother, a wife, a producer, an artist, an activist, an inventor, a fashion designer and an author of her auto-biography, Swanson on Swanson. And all this during a time when women were not exactly encouraged to be independent and proactive. I really am in awe of her. If I can accomplish even a third of what Glorious Gloria did during her lifetime, I will be a very satisfied woman indeed.
If you have any interest whatsoever in classic Hollywood, Swanson's biography is truly a must read. While it is one of the biggest and thickest Hollywood biographies I've yet to encounter, it really is a fascinating read and impossible to put down. Her story is so fascinating and describes classic Hollywood in such a vivid way - it is almost as if you'd been there yourself.
Gloria Swanson is a pioneer of cinema, an inspiration and a true icon. And that is why I admire her so.