“I have decided that when I am a star, I will be every inch and every moment a star.”
Gloria Swanson was born Gloria May Josephine Svensson in Chicago, Illinois. She was destined to be perhaps one of the biggest stars of the silent movie era. Her personality and antics in private definitely made her a favorite with America’s movie-going public. Gloria certainly didn’t intend on going into show business. After her formal education in the Chicago school system and elsewhere, she began work in a department store as a salesclerk. In 1915, at the age of 18, she decided to go to a Chicago movie studio with an aunt to see how motion pictures were made. She was plucked out of the crowd, because of her beauty, to be included as a bit player in the film The Fable of Elvira and Farina and the Meal Ticket (1915).
In 1916, she first appeared with future husband Wallace Beery. Once married, the two pulled up stakes in Chicago and moved to Los Angeles to the film colony of Hollywood. Once out west, Gloria continued her torrid pace in films. She seemed to be in hit after hit in such films as The Pullman Bride (1917), Shifting Sands (1918), and Don’t Change Your Husband (1919).
By the time of the latter, Gloria had divorced Beery and was remarried, but it was not to be her last marriage, as she collected a total of seven husbands.
“I’ve given my memoirs far more thought than any of my marriages. You can’t divorce a book.”
By the middle 1920s, she was the highest-paid actress in Hollywood. It has been said that Gloria made and spent over $8 million in the ’20s alone. That, along with the seven marriages she had, kept the fans spellbound with her escapades for over 60 years. They just couldn’t get enough of her.
“When I die, my epitaph should read “She Paid the Bills”. That’s the story of my private life.”
Gloria was 30 when the sound revolution hit, and there was speculation as to whether she could adapt. She did. In 1928, she received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress for her role of Sadie Thompson in the film of the same name but lost to Mary Pickford in Coquette (1929). The following year, she again was nominated for the same award in The Trespasser (1929). This time, she lost out to Norma Shearer in The Divorcee (1930). By the 1930s, Gloria pared back her work with only four films during that time. She had taken a hiatus from film work after 1934’s Music in the Air (1934) and would not be seen again until Father Takes a Wife (1941). That was to be it until 1950, when she starred in Sunset Blvd. (1950) as Norma Desmond opposite William Holden. She played a movie actress who was all but washed up. The movie was a box office smash and earned her a third Academy Award nomination as Best Actress. The film is considered one of the best in the history of film and, on June 16, 1998, was named one of the top 100 films of all time by the American Film Institute, placing 12th.
After a few more films in the 1950s, Gloria more or less retired. Throughout the 1960s, she appeared mostly on television. Her last fling with the silver screen was Airport 1975 (1974), wherein she played herself. Gloria died on April 4, 1983, in New York City at the age of 86. There was never anyone like her, before or since.