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Summary Article: Swanson, Gloria (1899 Chicago, IL-1983 New York City)
from Encyclopedic Dictionary of Women in Early American Films: 1895-1930, An

Courtesy of Silents Are Golden at <SilentsAreGolden.com>

Gloria Swanson was the civilian equivalent of a military brat and lived in various locations including Chicago; Key West, Florida; and San Juan, Puerto Rico. She entered films at the age of sixteen with Essanay Studio in Chicago as an extra in The Fable of Elvira and Farina and the Meal Ticket (1915). She worked between studios—first Keystone then Triangle—and was eventually elevated to star status while at Triangle in 1918 following a string of successful dramas.

After Triangle went bankrupt she signed a contract with Cecile B. DeMille, whose films added impetus to her rise to stardom. He carefully groomed her and the roles she played for maximum impact on the audience, ensuring her success and increasing salary. She excelled at playing misunderstood or wronged wives and sophisticated women of the world. In 1922 she took over the management of her career and was known for her hard-driving ambition. When she left DeMiUe and Paramount in 1926, she was the highest-paid actor at the studio, but she decided that she wanted more control over her films so she went to United Artists.

During this period her chief supporter and film backer was Joseph P. Kennedy, with whom she was having an affair. However, her choices in films were not good and she went into personal debt to complete Queen Kelly (1929). Supposedly she remained in debt until she made Sunset Boulevard in 1950.

When film roles became scarce in the 1930s and 1940s, she turned to stage work. It was believed by some that she lost audience approval because of her extravagant lifestyle while the country reeled from the Depression. She made two comebacks in films—Father Takes a Wife (1941), which was quickly forgotten, and Sunset Boulevard, which was named twelfth on the list of the top 100 movies of the twentieth century by the American Film Institute. She also made guest appearances on television during the 1950s and 1960s.

Even though she stopped making movies in the early 1950s, Swanson always conducted herself as a star. She said in an early interview, “When I am a star, I will be every inch and every moment the star!” Someone once noted that she was the “second woman in Hollywood to make a million [but] the first to spend it.” The rumor in Hollywood was that she had made and spent over $8 million during the height of her career.

When not working, her favorite pastime was collecting husbands. She was married seven times and was the first Hollywood star to marry into the European aristocracy with her marriage to the Marquis de la Falaise de la Coudraye in 1925. Sadly, she was not wise in her choice of husbands; after her seventh divorce in 1981 she remained single.

She wrote her autobiography, Swanson on Swanson, in 1980. Of this book she said, “I've given my memoirs far more thought than any of my marriages. You can't divorce a book.” Her acting style was called “simple and straight-forward” and earned her, during her career, three Oscar nominations for best actress.

After her retirement she remained available for interviews and let it be known that she would return to film for the right role. However, she did not remain idle. She became involved in several business ventures that were relatively successful. She had her own line of designer clothes—a logical direction in which to go since she was known for her fashion sense, perhaps more than for her acting. She also created a line of cosmetics called “Essence of Nature.”

Film Credits
1915 The Fable of Elvira and Farina and the Meal Ticket; His New Job; Sweedie Goes to College; The Romance of an American Duchess; The Broken Pledge; At the End of a Perfect Day; The Ambition of the Baron
1916 A Social Club; The Nick of Time Baby; Hearts and Sparks; Haystacks and Steeples; A Dash of Courage; The Danger Girl
1917 Teddy at the Throttle; The Sultan's Wife; A Pullman Bride; Dangers of a Bride; Whose Baby?; Baseball Madness
1918 Society for Sale; Everywoman ‘s Husband; The Secret Code; You Can't Believe Everything; Wife or Country; Station Content; Shifting Sands; Her Decision; Till I Come Back to You
1919 Don't Change Your Husband; For Better, for Worse; Male and Female
1920 Something to Think About; Why Change Your Wife?
1921 The Great Moment; The Affairs of Anatol; Under the Lash; Don't Tell Everything
1922 Beyond the Rocks; The Impossible Mrs. Bellew; My American Wife; Her Husband's Trademark; Her Gilded Cage
1923 Prodigal Daughters; Bluebeard's Eighth Wife; Zara; Hollywood
1924 The Humming Bird; A Society Scandal; Manhandled; Her Love Story; Wages of Virtue
1925 Madame Sans-Gene; Stage Struck; The Coast of Folly
1926 Untamed Lady; Fine Manners
1927 The Love of Sunya
1928 Sadie Thompson
1929 The Trespasser; Queen Kelly
1930 What a Widow!
1931 Indiscreet; Tonight or Never
1933 Perfect Understanding
1934 Music in the Air
1941 Father Takes a Wife
1949 Down Memory Lane
1950 Sunset Boulevard
1952 Three for Bedroom C
1962 Nero fs Mistress
1974 Airport 1975
Producing Credits
1927 The Love ofSunya
1928 Sadie Thompson
1929 Queen Kelly
1930 What a Widow!
1933 Perfect Understanding
© 2005 by Denise Lowe

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