Gloria Swanson

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Gloria Swanson (ca.1920)

Gloria Swanson , real name Gloria May Josephine Svensson (born March 27, 1899 in Chicago , † April 4, 1983 in New York ), was an American actress and producer . She was one of the biggest stars of the silent film era and was one of the style icons of the 1920s before its popularity with the advent of the early 1930s sound film waned. In 1950 she made a comeback on Billy Wilder's Twilight Boulevard . She has been nominated three times for an Oscar for best actress .

Early life and career as a silent film star

Gloria Swanson was born into a Lutheran family to Joseph Theodore Swanson, who served in the US Army , and his wife Adelaide . Swanson's father came from Sweden, the mother had ancestors from Germany, France and Poland. The family lived under rather modest circumstances at various military bases, including on Puerto Rico .

Gloria Swanson (1921)

Gloria Swanson made her film debut in 1914 in the Essanay film The Song of Soul as an extra. She got into the film business by chance when she and her aunt went to see Essanay and they asked her if she wanted to work as an extra for the film studio. Her salary was initially only $ 13.5 a week. She played a small role as a stenographer in the comedy His New Job with Charlie Chaplin , who also directed. At Essaney, she met her first of six husbands, the actor Wallace Beery , and moved with him to Hollywood in 1915 . The actress frequently appeared in the films of comedy specialist Mack Sennett , among others alongside comedian Bobby Vernon. She insisted, however, never to have been one of the bathing beauties who, when lightly clad, provided variety in numerous comedies by Sennett.

In 1919 she got a contract with Paramount , where she rose to one of the studio's biggest stars in just two years. Director Cecil B. DeMille was primarily responsible for this . In his “salon comedies” he used Swanson as a self-confident woman in society who had her own ideas about love and marriage. Films like Don't Change Your Husband , the wrong ways of a marriage and conditions like in paradise , a version of the comedy The Admirable Crichton , helped make Swanson one of the most glamorous women and a style icon of the 1920s. In particular, many female viewers were interested in the lavish Swanson dresses. The actress also appeared together with Rudolph Valentino in 1922 in the film Beyond the Rocks , directed by Sam Wood , which was long thought to be lost but was rediscovered in the Netherlands in 2003. Many of the Swanson films from the 1920s have been lost to this day, including the 1925 costume drama Madame Sans-Gêne , which Swanson named as her favorite film from her work. At the height of her career, she was making $ 22,500 a week. Paramount went to great lengths to establish an alleged rivalry between Swanson and Pola Negri , which Swanson always denied.

Gloria Swanson demonstrated her talent for comedies and imitation of famous stars in various films. So she parodied Charlie Chaplin in Manhandled . Twenty-five years later she re-portrayed him in a scene from Twilight Boulevard . In 1926, Gloria Swanson left Paramount and turned down an offer of a million dollars a year. She produced her own films and distributed them through United Artists in order to gain more artistic control over her productions. Such a procedure was quite common for big stars back then. The Talmadge sisters Norma and Constance , Charlie Chaplin, Corinne Griffith and Colleen Moore were also independent producers. Swanson's first own film, the drama The Love of Sunya , was about a woman who can see into her future with different men. The production was plagued by problems and the finished flick was - unlike most of their films - not very successful at the box office. In 1928, Swanson was filming ... but the meat is weak , which was successful with both critics and audiences. The silent film is based on the play Rain , which takes motifs from Somerset Maugham's story Miss Thompson and was an international success with Jeanne Eagels . In 1928, however, the shooting of the film Queen Kelly , directed by Erich von Stroheim, turned into a fiasco. Swanson realized while filming that the film would never go through censorship in the original version. Stroheim was fired, and even an ending hastily made by Swanson himself could no longer save the film. The filmed material ended up in the archive. Swanson and her then partner Joseph P. Kennedy , the father of future President John F. Kennedy , reportedly lost $ 800,000 on this project.

Gloria Swanson made the switch to sound film passably in the late 1920s, and she was nominated for an Oscar for best actress for her appearance in The Trespasser , directed by Edmund Goulding . However, the change in audience tastes led to a decline in interest in her subsequent films. After 1934, the actress largely withdrew from film.

Later career

A comeback attempt in the film Father Takes a Wife alongside Adolphe Menjou was unsuccessful in 1941. Swanson occasionally played theater during that time and also designed her own series of dresses, which she had sold through a large American retail chain. She worked a lot for the radio and appeared on TV very early on, so she had her own local TV show. In 1948 she was voted "America's Most Beautiful Grandmother" by Life magazine.

Gloria Swanson (1972)

Swanson returned to the big screen in 1950, directed by Billy Wilder . She played the silent film star Norma Desmond in the classic film Boulevard of the Twilight , who obsessively longs for a comeback, at the end of the film he commits a murder and falls into madness. Swanson and her character Desmond had a lot in common, but unlike Desmond, she did not live in the past of her old fame. Swanson's sentences in the film like “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 ”are still often recited today. Swanson received another Oscar nomination for best actress for her performance and won the Golden Globe and the NBR Award . She then appeared in only three other films, also because she turned down many film offers that she found bad imitations of Norma Desmond. She was then only seen in television productions, Broadway plays and musicals.

The actress was also an entrepreneur and owned several companies, including Multiprises, Inc., which Swanson founded in 1937. The company specialized in technical research and employed scientists who had to leave Germany and Austria due to persecution: the chemist Leopold Karniol, Richard Kobler, Anton Kratkym, a metallurgist and the engineer Leopold Neumann.

Private life

Gloria Swanson was married a total of six times: Her first marriage was from 1916 to 1919 with Wallace Beery, who claims to have raped her. From 1919 to 1922 she was married to Herbert K. Somborn, the owner of the Brown Derby restaurant chain. Their first child came from this marriage. Her third marriage led her to the French marquis Henri de la Falaise between 1925 and 1930, who left her because of Constance Bennett . During her marriage to Falaise, she also had a relationship with Joseph P. Kennedy , the head of the Kennedys family and father of John F. Kennedy . She had her second child, Joseph P. Kennedy. In the early 1930s she also had a love affair with actor Herbert Marshall . Swanson's fourth marriage to actor Michael Farmer between 1931 and 1934 resulted in their third child. Her fifth spouse was George William Davey, to whom she was married between 1945 and 1946. It was not until 1976 that she entered into her last marriage to the author William Dufty, which lasted until her death in 1983.

From 1938 she lived in an apartment in New York City (920 Fifth Avenue ) and from the 1970s commuted between her homes in Hollywood, Portugal and New York City. In 1980 she published her successful biography Swanson on Swanson, which has been translated into several languages. She was committed to the Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Republican Party . She was also known as an advocate of a healthy, balanced diet. At the age of 84, she died of heart disease in a New York hospital in 1983 after returning from her second home in Portugal. There her ashes were buried after the cremation in the Church of the Heavenly Rest ( Upper East Side ).

Two stars on Hollywood Boulevard remember the actress. One is located at 6748 Hollywood Boulevard in honor of her cinematic work and the other, at 6301 Hollywood Boulevard, commemorates her television work.

Filmography (selection)


Oscar / Best Actress

Golden Globe Awards

National Board of Review

Further awards

Web links

Commons : Gloria Swanson  - Collection of Images

Individual evidence

  1. Lawrence J. Quirk (1984): The Films of Gloria Swanson , Citadel Press, p. 256. ISBN 0-8065-0874-4 .
  2. Swanson, Gloria (1981). Swanson on Swanson. Chapter 2: Random House. ISBN 0-394-50662-6 .
  3. Gloria Swanson's biography in the New York Times
  4. [1] with detailed descriptions of the business activities of Multiprises as well as other companies that Swanson founded.
  5. Clifford Browder: NO PLACE FOR NORMAL: NEW YORK: 126. Hollywood in New York: Crawford, Garbo, Swanson, Hayworth. In: NO PLACE FOR NORMAL. May 11, 2014, accessed December 8, 2019 .
  6. Gloria Swanson dies; 20's Film Idol article from April 5, 1983 (English)
  7. The grave of Gloria Swanson