Gloria Swanson

Gloria Swanson

Born Gloria May Josephine Swanson
March 27, 1899(1899-03-27)
Chicago, Illinois, U.S. Died April 4, 1983 (aged 84)
New York City, New York, U.S. Occupation Actress Years active 1914–1981 Spouse Wallace Beery (1916–1919)
Herbert K. Somborn (1919–1922)
Henri de la Falaise (1925–1931)
Michael Farmer (1931–1934)
George Davey (1945–1948)
William Dufty (1976–1983)

Gloria Swanson (March 27, 1899 – April 4, 1983) was an American actress. She was most prominent during the silent film era as both an actress and a fashion icon, especially under the direction of Cecil B. DeMille. In 1929, Swanson successfully transitioned to talkies with The Trespasser. However, personal problems and changing tastes saw her popularity wane during the 1930s. Today she is best known for her role as Norma Desmond in the film Sunset Boulevard (1950).


Swanson was born Gloria Josephine May Swanson[1] in a small house in Chicago, Illinois, the daughter of Adelaide (née Klanowski) and Joseph Theodore Swanson, a soldier. She attended Hawthorne Scholastic Academy. Her father, whose surname was originally “Svensson”, was from a strict Lutheran Swedish American family, and her mother was of German, French and Polish ancestry.[2][3] Swanson herself was raised as a Lutheran. She grew up mainly in Chicago, Puerto Rico and Key West, Florida. It was not her intention to enter show business. Her parents separated when she was still in school. After her formal education ended, she went to a small film studio in Chicago for a visit and ended up being asked to come back to work as an extra.[4]

She made her film debut in 1914 as an extra in The Song of Soul for Chicago’s Essanay Studios. While on a tour of the studio, she asked to be in the movie just for fun. Essanay hired her to feature in several movies, including His New Job, directed by and starring Charlie Chaplin. Swanson auditioned for the leading female role in His New Job, but Chaplin did not see her as leading lady material and cast her in the brief role of a stenographer. She later admitted that she hated slapstick comedy and had been deliberately uncooperative.[citation needed]Swanson moved to California in 1916 to appear in Mack Sennett‘s Keystone comedies opposite Bobby Vernon, and in 1919 she signed with Paramount Pictures and worked often with Cecil B. DeMille, who turned her into a romantic lead in such films as Don’t Change Your Husband (1919), Male and Female (1919), with the famous scene in the lion cage, Why Change Your Wife? (1920), Something to Think About (1920) and The Affairs of Anatol (1921).In the space of two years, Swanson rocketed to stardom and was one of the most sought-after actresses in Hollywood. Swanson later appeared in a series of films directed by Sam Wood. She starred in Beyond the Rocks (1922) with her long-time friend Rudolph Valentino. (This film had been believed lost but was rediscovered in 2004 in a private collection in The Netherlands and is available on DVD.) Swanson continued to make costume drama films for the next few years. So successful were her films for Paramount that the studio was afraid of losing her and gave in to many of her whims and wishes.[citation needed]

Gloria Swanson, 1921

This 1921 Vanity Fair caricature by Ralph Barton[5] shows the famous people who, he imagined, left work each day in Hollywood; use cursor to identify individual figures.During her heyday, audiences went to her films not only for her performances, but also to see her wardrobe. Frequently ornamented with beads, jewels, peacock and ostrich feathers, haute couture of the day or extravagant period pieces, one would hardly suspect that she was barely five feet (1.52 m) tall. Her fashion, hair styles, and jewels were copied around the world. She was the screen’s first clothes horse and was becoming one of the most famous and photographed women in the world.[citation needed]In 1925, she starred in the first French-American co-production, Madame Sans-Gêne, directed by Léonce Perret. Filming was allowed for the first time at many of the historic sites relating to Napoleon. During the production of this film, she met her third husband Henry de la Falaise, Marquis de la Falaise, who was originally hired to be her translator during the film’s production. After four years’ residence in France, she returned to the United States as European nobility, now known as the Marquise. She got a huge welcome home with parades in both New York and Los Angeles. She appeared in a 1925 short produced by Lee DeForest in his Phonofilm sound-on-film process, which was one of the earliest attempts to synchronize sound with a moving image.[citation needed
]She made a number of films for Paramount, among them The Coast of Folly, Stage Struck and Fine Manners. In 1927, she decided to turn down a million dollar a year contract to join the newly-created United Artists. There she was her own boss and could make the films she wanted, with whom she wanted and when.Her first independent film, The Love of Sunya, in which she costarred with John Boles and Pauline Garon, opened the Roxy Theatre in New York City on March 11, 1927 (Swanson was pictured in the ruins of the Roxy on October 14, 1960, during the demolition of the theater in a famous photo taken by Time-Life photographer Eliot Elisofon). She was nominated for the first-ever Academy Award for Best Actress for her next film performance as the title character in the 1928 film Sadie Thompson, costarring and directed by Raoul Walsh, based on Somerset Maugham‘s short story “Miss Thompson”, later called “Rain” (the story was re-filmed under this title in 1932, starring Joan Crawford and directed by Lewis Milestone). Swanson’s unfinished film Queen Kelly (1929) was directed by Erich von Stroheim and produced by Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., father of the future President John F. Kennedy.Swanson ultimately made talkies, even singing in The Trespasser (1929) directed by Edmund Goulding, Indiscreet (1931), and Music in the Air (1934). Even though she managed to make the transition into talkies, her career began to decline. Never one to dwell on the past, she threw herself into painting and sculpting, writing a syndicated column, touring in summer stock, political activism, radio and television work, clothing and accessories design and marketing, and sporadically making appearances on the big screen.

Sunset Boulevard (1950)After Mae West and several former silent screen actresses (including Mary Pickford and Pola Negri) all declined the role,[6] in 1950 Swanson starred in Sunset Boulevard, portraying Norma Desmond, a faded silent movie star who falls in love with the younger screenwriter Joe Gillis, played by William Holden. Norma Desmond lives in the past assisted by her butler Max, played by Erich von Stroheim. Her dreams of a comeback are subverted as she becomes delusional. There are guest cameos from actors of the silent era in the film including Buster Keaton, H. B. Warner and Anna Q. Nilsson. Cecil B. DeMille plays himself in a pivotal scene.This has since been called the greatest film about Hollywood. Many of the lines from the film have entered the language and are often used to describe Swanson herself: “The Greatest Star of them all”, “I am big, it’s the pictures that got small”, “We didn’t need dialogue, we had faces” and “All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.” She was nominated for her third Best Actress Oscar, but lost to Judy Holliday for Born Yesterday.[7]She received several subsequent acting offers but turned most of them down, saying they tended to be pale imitations of Norma Desmond. Her last major Hollywood motion picture role was poorly received Three for Bedroom “C” in 1952. In 1956, Swanson made Nero’s Mistress which also starred Vittorio de Sica and Brigitte Bardot. Her final screen appearance was as herself in Airport 1975.

Swanson hosted one of the first television series in 1948, The Gloria Swanson Hour, in which she invited friends and guests. The show was filmed and broadcast live. Swanson also later hosted a television anthology series, Crown Theatre with Gloria Swanson, in which she occasionally acted.[8] Her last acting role, aside from playing herself in Airport 1975, was in the made-for-TV horror film Killer Bees in 1974.

In her apartment in New York, 1972Through the 1970s and early 1980s, Swanson appeared on various talk and variety shows such as The Carol Burnett Show and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson to recollect on her films and to lampoon them as well. She was twice the “mystery guest” on What’s My Line. Her most famous television appearance is a 1966 episode of The Beverly Hillbillies titled “The Gloria Swanson Story” in which she plays herself. In the episode, the Clampetts mistakenly believe Swanson is destitute and decide to finance a comeback movie for her – in a silent film.Swanson appeared in many plays through her later career starting in the 1940s. She toured with A Goose for the Gander, Reflected Glory and Let Us be Gay. After her success with Sunset Boulevard she starred on Broadway in a revival of Twentieth Century (1951) with Jose Ferrer and in Nina with David Niven. Her last major stage role was in the 1971 Broadway production of Butterflies Are Free at the Booth Theatre.

Joseph Kennedy ensured Swanson had the services of Hollywood’s famous beauty therapist Sylvia of Hollywood[9]. Swanson became a vegetarian around 1928 and was an early health food advocate who was known for bringing her own meals to public functions in a paper bag. Swanson told actor Dirk Benedict about macrobiotic diets when he was battling prostate cancer at a very young age. He had refused conventional therapies and credited this kind of diet and healthy eating with his recovery[10]. Later Swanson traveled the United States and helped to promote the book Sugar Blues written by her husband, William Dufty.

Gloria Swanson in a frame or production still from the 1919 film Don’t Change Your Husband.

Swanson’s first husband was Wallace Beery, whom she married on her 17th birthday. She wrote, in her autobiography Swanson on Swanson, that Beery raped her on their wedding night. Beery also impregnated Swanson in 1917. Not wanting her to have the child, he tricked her into drinking a concoction that induced an abortion. They divorced two years later.She married Herbert K. Somborn (1881–1934), then president of Equity Pictures Corporation and later the owner of the Brown Derby restaurant, in 1919. Their daughter, Gloria Swanson Somborn (October 7, 1920—December 28, 2000)[11], was born in 1920. Their divorce, finalized in January 1925, was sensational. Somborn accused her of adultery with 13 men including Cecil B. DeMille, Rudolph Valentino, and Marshall Neilan. During this divorce in 1923 Swanson adopted a baby boy, Sonny Smith (1922–1975), whom she renamed Joseph Patrick Swanson.Her third husband was French aristocrat Henry de la Falaise, Marquis de la Falaise whom she married in 1925 after the Somborn divorce was finalized. He became a film executive representing Pathé (USA) in France. She conceived a child with him, but had an abortion which, in her autobiography, she said she regretted. This marriage ended in divorce in 1931.[citation needed]Swanson had an affair with married tycoon Joseph P. Kennedy for a number of years. He became her business partner and their relationship was an open secret in Hollywood.[citation needed]In August 1931, she married Mi

chael Farmer (1902–1975). Swanson’s divorce from La Falaise had not been finalized at the time, making the actress a bigamist. She was forced to remarry Farmer the following November, by which time she was four months pregnant with Michelle Bridget Farmer, who was born in 1932. Swanson and Farmer divorced in 1934.In 1945, she married William N. Davey. According to Swanson, after discovering Davey in a drunken stupor, she and daughter Michelle, believing they were being helpful, left a trail of Alcoholics Anonymous literature around their apartment. Davey quickly packed up and left.[citation needed]

Gloria Swanson in a frame or production still from the 1920 film Why Change Your Wife?.Swanson joined the ranks of celebrities to be stalked. In the early 1950s she was pursued by a World War II veteran, Samuel Golden, who claimed that the two were destined to be married and would give her 2/3 of his children as well as divulge secrets about the Navy’s computer systems if she would run away with him. Recent declassified FBI documents disclose J. Edgar Hoover‘s obsession with seeing Golden tried for treason, but Golden dropped out of sight, apparently in the Greater Boston area.[citation needed]Swanson’s final marriage was in 1976 and lasted until her death. Her sixth husband and widower, writer William Dufty (1916–2002), was the co-author of Billie Holiday‘s autobiography Lady Sings the Blues, the author of Sugar Blues, a 1975 best-selling health book still in print, and the author of the English version of Georges Ohsawa‘s You Are All Sanpaku. He was best-known as a ghost-writer. He wrote Swanson’s best-selling 1980 autobiography, “Swanson on Swanson” for her with her help. Swanson shared her husband’s enthusiasm for macrobiotic diets and they traveled widely together. Dufty died of cancer in 2002.

On April 4, 1983, Swanson died in New York City from a heart ailment, aged 84; she was cremated and her ashes interred at the Episcopal Church of the Heavenly Rest on Fifth Avenue, in New York City.[12]

Gloria Swanson has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one for motion pictures at 6748 Hollywood Boulevard and another for television at 6301 Hollywood Boulevard. Before her death, she sold her archives including photographs, copies of films and private papers to the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin.In the last years of her life Swanson professed a desire to see Beyond the Rocks, but the film was unavailable and considered lost. The film was later rediscovered and screened in 2005.

Swanson has been played both on television and in film by:

  • Debi Mazar in Return to Babylon (2008)
  • Ann Turkel in White Hot: The Mysterious Murder of Thelma Todd (1991)
  • Madolyn Smith Osborne in The Kennedy’s of Massachusetts (1990)
  • Diane Venora in The Cotton Club (1984)[13]

  • Society for Sale (1918)
  • Her Decision (1918)
  • Station Content (1918)
  • You Can’t Believe Everything (1918)
  • Everywoman’s Husband (1918)
  • Shifting Sands (1918)
  • The Secret Code (1918)
  • Wife or Country (1918)
  • Don’t Change Your Husband (1919)
  • For Better, for Worse (1919)
  • Male and Female (1919)
  • Why Change Your Wife? (1920)
  • Something to Think About (1920)
  • The Great Moment (1921)
  • The Affairs of Anatol (1921)
  • Under the Lash (1921)
  • Don’t Tell Everything (1921)
  • Her Husband’s Trademark (1922)
  • Her Gilded Cage (1922)
  • Beyond the Rocks (1922)
  • The Impossible Mrs. Bellew (1922)
  • My American Wife (1922)
  • Prodigal Daughters (1923)
  • Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife (1923)
  • Hollywood (1923) (cameo)
  • Zaza (1923)
  • The Humming Bird (1924)
  • A Society Scandal (1924)
  • Manhandled (1924)
  • Her Love Story (1924)
  • Wages of Virtue (1924)
  • Madame Sans-Gêne (1924)
  • The Coast of Folly (1925)
  • Stage Struck (1925)
  • The Untamed Lady (1926)
  • Fine Manners (1926)
  • The Love of Sunya (1927)
  • Sadie Thompson (1928)
  • Queen Kelly (1929)
  • The Trespasser (1929)
  • What a Widow! (1930)
  • Indiscreet (1931)
  • Tonight or Never (1931)
  • Perfect Understanding (1933)
  • Music in the Air (1934)
  • Father Takes a Wife (1941)
  • Sunset Boulevard (1950)
  • Three for Bedroom “C” (1952)
  • Nero’s Mistress (1956)
  • Chaplinesque, My Life and Hard Times (1972) (documentary) (narrator)
  • Airport 1975 (1974)

  • The Song of the Soul (1914)
  • At the End of a Perfect Day (1915)
  • The Ambition of the Baron (1915)
  • The Fable of Elvira and Farina and the Meal Ticket (1915)
  • His New Job (1915)
  • Sweedie Goes to College (1915)
  • The Romance of an American Duchess (1915)
  • The Broken Pledge (1915)
  • The Nick of Time Baby (1916)
  • A Dash of Courage (1916)
  • Hearts and Sparks (1916)
  • A Social Cub (1916)
  • The Danger Girl (1916)
  • Haystacks and Steeples (1916)
  • Teddy at the Throttle (1917)
  • Baseball Madness (1917)
  • Dangers of a Bride (1917)
  • Whose Baby? (1917)
  • The Sultan’s Wife (1917)
  • The Pullman Bride (1917)
  • A Trip to Paramountown (1922)
  • Gloria Swanson Dialogue (1925)

  • The Peter Lind Hayes Show (1 episode, 1950)
  • What’s My Line? (2 episodes, 1950, 1965)
  • Hollywood Opening Night (1 episode, 1953)
  • Crown Theatre with Gloria Swanson (Host, 1954–1955)
  • The Steve Allen Show (1 episode, 1957)
  • Straightaway (1 episode, 1961)
  • Dr. Kildare (1 episode, 1963)
  • Kraft Suspense Theatre (1 episode, 1964)
  • The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (1 episode, 1964)
  • Burke’s Law (2 episodes, 1963–1964)
  • My Three Sons (1 episode, 1965)
  • Ben Casey (1 episode, 1965)
  • The Beverly Hillbillies (1 episode, 1966)
  • Killer Bees (1974)

Year Award Result Category Film or series
1929 Academy Award Nominated Best Actress in a Leading Role Sadie Thompson
1930 The Trespasser
1951 Sunset Boulevard
1951 Golden Globe Award Won Best Motion Picture Actress – Drama Sunset Boulevard
1964 Nominated Best TV Star – Female Burke’s Law
1951 Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists Won Best Actress – Foreign Film (Migliore Attrice Straniera) Sunset Boulevard
1951 Jussi Award Won Foreign Actress Sunset Boulevard
1950 National Board of Review of Motion Pictures Won Best Actress Sunset Boulevard
1980 Career Achievement Award
1975 Saturn Award Won Special Award

  • Swanson, Gloria, Swanson on Swanson, 1980.
  • Quirk, Lawrence J., The Films of Gloria Swanson, Citadel Press, 1984.
  • Hudson, Richard, Gloria Swanson, Castle Books, 1970.
  • Tapert, Annette, The Power of Glamour, Crown Publishers, 1998, chapter 1.
  • Beauchamp, Cari, Joseph P. Kennedy Presents, His Hollywood Years, 2009.
  • Kessler, Ronald, The Sins of the Father: Joseph P. Kennedy and the Dynasty He Founded, Warner, 1996, ISBN 0-446-60384-8, chapter 6.
  • Dufty, William, Sugar Blues, 1975 (and reprint), introduction.
  • Lockwood, Charles, Dream Palaces – Hollywood at Home, 1981.
  • Staggs, Sam, Close-up on Sunset Boulevard: Billy Wilder, Norma Desmond, and the Dark Hollywood Dream, 2003.

  • ^ Cornell Sarvady, Andrea; Miller, Frank; Haskell, Molly; Osborne, Robert (2006). Leading Ladies: The 50 Most Unforgettable Actresses of the Studio Era. Chronicle Books. pp. 185. ISBN 0-811-85248-2. 
  • ^ Quirk, Lawrence J. (1984). The Films of Gloria Swanson. Citadel Press. pp. 256. ISBN 0806508744. 
  • ^ Harzig, Christiane (1996). Peasant Maids, City Women. Cornell University Press. pp. 283. ISBN 0801483956. 
  • ^ Swanson, Gloria (1981). Swanson on Swanson. Chapter 2: Random House. 
  • ^ Vanity Fair magazine September 1921, accessed 2009
  • ^ Staggs, Sam (2003). Close-up on Sunset Boulevard: Billy Wilder, Norma Desmond, and the Dark Hollywood Dream. Macmillan. pp. 54. ISBN 0-312-30254-1. 
  • ^ Staggs, Sam (2003). Close-up on Sunset Boulevard: Billy Wilder, Norma Desmond, and the Dark Hollywood Dream. Macmillan. pp. 70. ISBN 031-2302-541. 
  • ^ Kashner, Sam; MacNair, Jennifer (2003). The Bad & the Beautiful: Hollywood in the Fifties. W. W. Norton & Company. pp. 345. ISBN 0-393-32436-2. 
  • ^ Beauchamp, Cari (2009) Joseph Kennedy Presents: His Hollywood Years p 263-5, Knopf, New York. ISBN 978-1400040001
  • ^ Benedict, Dirk (1991). Confessions of a Kamikase Cowboy. Avery Publishing Group. 
  • ^ on Gloria Somborn Anderson, daughter of Gloria Swanson and Herbert Somborn
  • ^ Donnelley, Paul (2003). Fade to Black: A Book of Movie Obituaries. Omnibus. pp. 887. ISBN 0-711-99512-5. 
  • ^ Diane Venora IMDb profile
    • 1900 United States Federal Census, Chicago Ward 25, Town of Lakeview, Cook County, Illinois, Enumeration District 760, p. 8A (J.T. Swanson)


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