Gloria Swanson Poster

Biography

Gloria Swanson went to public schools in Chicago; Key West, Florida; and San Juan, Puerto Rico. Her film debut was as an extra in The Fable of Elvira and Farina and the Meal Ticket (1915). From the following year on, she had leading roles in pictures for Keystone, then a year with Triangle, and, in 1919, a contract with Cecil B. DeMille. DeMille transformed her from a typical Mack Sennett comedienne into a lively, provocative, even predatory, star. She collected husbands (e.g., the indigent Henri de la Falaise) and lovers (e.g., Joseph P. Kennedy, father of President John F. Kennedy). Kennedy produced her Queen Kelly (1932), directed by Erich von Stroheim (it was von Stroheim's copy of this film that Swanson was watching as Norma Desmond in Sunset Blvd. (1950) when she leaped into the projection beam shouting, "Have they forgotten what a star looks like? I'll be up there again, so help me!"--ironic in that the butler-projectionist was, again, von Stroheim). She survived the switch to talkies, even learning how to sing for Music in the Air (1934), but her kinds of films were over with by that time. She returned to the stage in the 1940s ("Reflected Glory," "Let us Be Gay," "A Goose for a Gander"). She was a clothes designer and artist; she founded Essence of Nature Cosmetics; and she made television appearances through the 1960s and 1970s, doing cameos and pushing health foods. She received Best Actress nominations for Sadie Thompson (1928), The Trespasser (1929) and Sunset Blvd. (1950).