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Gloria Swanson

Gloria Swanson: Ready for Her Close-Up

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 480
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    Gloria Swanson
    Book Description:

    Gloria Swanson: Ready for Her Close-Up shows how a talented, self-confident actress negotiated a creative path through seven decades of celebrity. It also illuminates a little-known chapter in American media history: how the powerful women of early Hollywood transformed their remarkable careers after their stars dimmed. This book brings Swanson (1899-1983) back into the spotlight, revealing her as a complex, creative, entrepreneurial, and thoroughly modern woman.

    Swanson cavorted in slapstick short films with Charlie Chaplin and Mack Sennett in the 1910s. The popularity of her films with Cecil B. DeMille helped create the star system. A glamour icon, Swanson became the most talked-about star in Hollywood, earning three Academy Award nominations, receiving 10,000 fan letters every week, and living up to a reputation as Queen of Hollywood. She bought mansions and penthouses, dressed in fur and feathers, and flitted through Paris, London, and New York engaging in passionate love affairs that made headlines and caused scandals.

    Frustrated with the studio system, Swanson turned down a million-dollar-a-year contract. After a wild ride making unforgettable movies with some of Hollywood's most colorful characters--including her lover Joseph Kennedy and maverick director Erich von Stroheim--she was a million dollars in debt. Without hesitation she went looking for her next challenge, beginning her long second act.

    Swanson became a talented businesswoman who patented inventions and won fashion awards for her clothing designs; a natural foods activist decades before it was fashionable; an exhibited sculptor; and a designer employed by the United Nations. All the while she continued to act in films, theater, and television at home and abroad. Though she had one of Hollywood's most famous exit lines--"All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up"--the real Gloria Swanson never looked back.

    eISBN: 978-1-62103-991-4
    Subjects: History, Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-2)
  3. CHAPTER 1 Glory
    (pp. 3-19)

    Gloria swanson always believed she had picked her parents. “This time,” she said, she wanted “a long, exciting life,” so she set her sights on a newlywed couple making love in the summer of 1898 and “willed” herself into existence, arriving “from infinity” on March 27, 1899.¹

    Joseph and Adelaide Klanowsky Swanson had begun their marriage a year earlier in a modest second-floor apartment behind Lincoln Park on Chicago’s North Side. Joseph was a twenty-eight-year-old army supply clerk whose livelihood depended on his following the regiment, and he was often away from his bride. Adelaide—called Addie—was barely nineteen...

  4. CHAPTER 2 Funny Girl
    (pp. 20-35)

    In february 1916, gloria and her mother arrived in los angeles, looking for a new beginning. Packed deep in Gloria’s trunk was a letter of introduction to Mack Sennett, an acquaintance she wasn’t sure she wanted. Her experience at Essanay had not made her any more impressed with funny movies or the people who made them. Now, however, she had another role to consider: breadwinner for her shrinking family. Adelaide had left her husband, a choice which pulled Gloria away from her father as well.

    Wallace Beery met the train when Gloria and her mother disembarked. He had made the...

  5. CHAPTER 3 Triangle
    (pp. 36-46)

    If gloria swanson ever seriously considered leaving movies, her budding fame decided the question: she liked being famous. However, she wanted to make serious pictures. Everyone told her this was unlikely: “In those days, once you were a villain with a black moustache you were branded. Once you played butlers you played butlers for the rest of your life.”¹ Swanson determined that her best chance was to approach a studio with both a comedy troupe and a dramatic section; at least she would be nearer to her ambition.

    Garbed in a bottle-green suit with a squirrel collar for which she...

  6. CHAPTER 4 The Lions’ Den
    (pp. 47-62)

    Swanson always remembered her first scene for cecil b. demille. She was in costume, packing a trunk, with lights and cameras trained on her. Suddenly a noise of whistles and car horns erupted, and people started dancing, hugging, and shouting for joy: the war was over. The euphoria on the lot seemed like a good omen to Gloria, who was also feeling jubilant.¹ For the second time she had landed, not only on her feet, but another rung up the professional ladder. However, she was too busy to take much notice of the world outside the studio gates: working for...

  7. CHAPTER 5 In the Family Way
    (pp. 63-80)

    The buzz about male and female was heady, and fpl wanted Swanson right at its center. The studio sent Gloria and her grandmother Bertha to New York for the film’s premiere at the palatial Rivoli Theatre on Broadway, even springing for a private drawing room on the train east. The days of Swanson having whole railcars to herself were not far off.

    Hungry for self-improvement, Gloria read thirty-seven Haldeman-Julius paperbacks on the five-day train trip. The distinctive Little Blue Books were inexpensively bound paperbacks that promised “a University in Print.” They offered Gloria a crash course in the classics she...

  8. CHAPTER 6 The Great Moment
    (pp. 81-94)

    The biggest splash in hollywood in fall 1920 was made by a woman in her mid-‘50s with flaming red hair and emerald eyes who had come to California to create a movie scenario for Gloria Swanson. British novelist Elinor Glyn was part of Adolph Zukor’s plan to hire prominent authors to write for the screen. Glyn had produced the most notorious book in recent memory: Three Weeks chronicled a young man’s erotic coming of age in Lucerne and Venice under the tutelage of a mysterious older woman. Its unashamed endorsement of sensuality made for ripe reading: it was denounced, banned,...

  9. CHAPTER 7 Her Gilded Cage
    (pp. 95-117)

    Once fpl’s management team realized that swanson’s viewers would not be satisfied seeing her in frumpy clothes or cheap settings, they looked to control costs another way. Her newest picture was a retread, an unused episode from The Affairs of Anatol featuring Wallace Reid and Elliott Dexter as friends both in love with Swanson. Sam Wood fleshed it out with a week’s shooting. Then FPL gave it the enigmatic title Don’t Tell Everything and hustled it into theaters. This was a clever way of keeping Wally Reid, who was unwell and unable to work, on screen; he made only one...

  10. CHAPTER 8 East Coaster
    (pp. 118-134)

    Swanson was in a rebellious mood as she fled to new york. She felt bruised by DeMille’s betrayal and angry at Paramount’s unwillingness to see her as anything other than a clotheshorse. Lasky and company had manipulated her; now they would get a taste of their own medicine. Before Gloria dealt with her female trouble, she intended to take care of some movie business. She presented herself to Walter Wanger, the general manager of Paramount in New York: she was here about the role of Zaza.¹ Allan Dwan wanted her, and she wanted it. Her health crisis would keep.


  11. CHAPTER 9 French Idyll
    (pp. 135-147)

    When gloria swanson was passionate about something, everyone around her knew it. She was on fire for Madame Sans-Gêne, a project Forrest Halsey had found with a great role for her that cried out to be shot in Paris. The studio agreed: a high-profile period picture, made in cooperation with the company’s French office, could be a very good idea. Paramount wanted to develop demand for its stars in Europe as a way of strengthening its hold on business abroad.¹ Furthermore, productions could be mounted in Europe for a fraction of their cost in America, and the prestige of adapting...

  12. CHAPTER 10 American Royalty
    (pp. 148-166)

    Gloria and henri finally sailed for america in mid-march. paramount was eager to have Swanson home, to show her fans she was ready to make movies and to show her on her new husband’s arm. If two divorces was nothing to brag about, all was forgiven when the actress acquired an attractive, titled Frenchman as Husband #3. Gloria, still delicate, was much less excited about returning to the States: she had some idea of what Paramount expected. Her marriage and her illness had kept her in the headlines for weeks, giving the studio “millions upon millions of dollars’ worth of...

  13. CHAPTER 11 Declaration of Independence
    (pp. 167-179)

    In spring 1926, the papers were full of the news that gloria Swanson was going independent. Reports of how much money Paramount had offered her to stay varied widely, but all the numbers were jaw-dropping. While she finished her last Paramount picture, Swanson tried to learn her new business. In addition to selecting her upcoming projects, as a one-fifth partner in United Artists she was suddenly immersed in a flood of details and decisions relating to the company’s ongoing affairs. Should UA partner with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to gain better access to theaters? Should it buy or build theaters of its own?...

  14. CHAPTER 12 Let It Rain
    (pp. 180-201)

    For her twenty-eighth birthday, the gift swanson wanted most was a juicy part in a great story. She hoped to show her fans and detractors alike the kind of picture she was capable of making. If The Love of Sunya had not been an adventurous choice, now she would err in the opposite direction.

    Swanson’s salary for her first UA picture was a hefty $150,000: if she had stayed with Paramount, however, she would have made twice that amount during the nine months she spent on Sunya, even at her former rate of $7,000 a week. Never mind how much...

  15. CHAPTER 13 The Swamp
    (pp. 202-224)

    Joseph kennedy looked nothing like any banker swanson had ever met. The boyish, freckled, blue-eyed Irishman wore an ill-fitting suit, and his thick Boston accent made him seem more like “any average working-class person’s uncle” than the man who had been the youngest bank president in America.¹ Paramount’s Robert Kane had suggested that Swanson discuss financing for her next picture with Kennedy, but at first she could not understand why. They met at the Savoy Plaza, and Kennedy said his whole family was impressed that he was lunching with Gloria Swanson.

    He watched her pick at her braised vegetables, while...

  16. CHAPTER 14 People Will Talk
    (pp. 225-243)

    When swanson walked off the set of queen kelly in january 1929, she had already spent more than $600,000 on Stroheim’s vertiginous vision of a convent girl’s coming of age. Swanson, however, was not a schoolgirl but a veteran performer and producer with almost fifteen years’ experience in the business. She shut down an expensive picture because, finally, she trusted her own judgment. She knew the film would be unacceptable to the censors and her fans, and she was unwilling to spend more time and money on a project she herself found objectionable. Queen Kelly would ultimately be an important...

  17. CHAPTER 15 The Crash
    (pp. 244-261)

    With the trespasser, swanson successfully made the transition to sound. She had a host of new opportunities to explore, including theater and the singing career that had been her childhood dream. However, the end of her thirtieth year also found her separated from her third husband and humiliated by a romantic rival. Swanson’s affair with Joe Kennedy was finally losing steam; the financial problems he had pledged to solve had not been improved by their association. Queen Kelly, the film they had made together, was still a shambles, and The Trespasser, a critical and popular hit, was more her baby...

  18. CHAPTER 16 Mad about the Boy
    (pp. 262-278)

    Gloria swanson did not admit defeat easily. nor did she have the luxury of mourning her losses for long: “It was as if the two men—my ex-husband and my ex-paramour—had in some mysterious way, through me, canceled each other out … I was completely on my own again, without love and without security.”¹

    Swanson’s insecurity deepened as the Depression reached Hollywood. The large capital outlays required for the conversion to sound made the studios more reliant on Wall Street financing, and that meant further oversight—some said interference—from money managers intent on protecting their investments. Established stars,...

  19. CHAPTER 17 Perfect Misunderstanding
    (pp. 279-298)

    Swanson had married in haste, and she would repent at leisure—a lot more leisure than she expected. She left the country with her two children and her new husband as soon as her duties on Tonight or Never ended, sailing off without a word to Joe Schenck about her plans. No one would pressure her into having another abortion: she had married Michael Farmer so she could have her baby legitimately. When they arrived in France she wrote Schenck saying she needed to rest before making another movie. She wanted a break from worrying about the motion picture business...

  20. CHAPTER 18 Reinventing Herself
    (pp. 299-317)

    After her outburst against harry cohn, swanson was finished with movies. She had once told Adolph Zukor that every artist should be compelled to leave California for three months a year. Now she knew it was time to pull up stakes, to go somewhere she could feed her imagination and leave behind the same old conversations about the same old business. So Swanson threw herself a farewell party, packed her bags, and left the industry—and the industry town—where she found fame and fortune. Beyond the spotlights, without the guaranteed paychecks and the intense scrutiny of the fans, the...

  21. CHAPTER 19 “You Used to Be Big”
    (pp. 318-335)

    When paramount producer charles brackett called swanson in September 1948 about Sunset Boulevard, she was already getting tired of TV. She liked the idea of taking a lucrative break in California to do a movie bit for Brackett and Billy Wilder, the hottest producer-director team in Hollywood. Fifteen years earlier, Wilder had been a struggling writer on Music in the Air; now he had eight Oscar nominations and two wins—for direction and screenplay—to his credit. Gloria felt certain she could get a week or two off from her show. No, Brackett said, she would be needed for longer:...

  22. CHAPTER 20 Dressing the Part
    (pp. 336-351)

    Gloria swanson’s personal creativity had long been visible in the way she chose and wore clothes. The child’s large bows and boys’ coats gave way to Paramount’s furs and feathered headdresses, then the sleek, modern styles of the 1930s and ’40s, yet Gloria never lost her fascination with fashion. In September 1950, she received the Neiman-Marcus Award for Distinguished Service in the Field of Fashion, presented since 1938 to the most sophisticated designers and style icons. It was the fashion world’s Oscar, and Swanson was the first actress to be chosen. For her trip to Dallas, she designed three gowns,...

  23. CHAPTER 21 Not Ready for Her Retrospective
    (pp. 352-371)

    It was all gloria swanson could do to appear surprised when NBC-TV’s Ralph Edwards called her onstage in January 1957 for This Is Your Life: the guest of honor had figured out what was in store. One by one, figures from her past—including Jesse Lasky, Rod LaRocque, Lois Wilson, Mack Sennett, Francis X. Bushman, and Allan Dwan—paid tribute to Gloria’s long career in the entertainment industry. At fifty-eight, however, Swanson was by no means ready for her retrospective.

    During the 1950s and ‘60s she was more visible than ever, crossing the country for her fashion and theater jobs...

  24. CHAPTER 22 Last Act
    (pp. 372-390)

    Though gloria swanson would never have traded places with anyone, Coco Chanel’s life might have tempted her. So when word came that Katharine Hepburn was leaving the Broadway musical Coco, Gloria threw her beret in the ring: “Here I was, seventy years old, being offered a chance to do something I’d never done. What did I have to lose?”¹ She faced down the footlights, singing Mickey Neilan’s “Wonderful One” and a patter song from The King and I for the producers.

    As negotiations got underway, Swanson headed west to Palm Springs, where she trained “like a prize fighter” for the...

    (pp. 391-395)
  26. NOTES
    (pp. 396-435)
    (pp. 436-447)
    (pp. 448-455)
    (pp. 456-460)
  30. INDEX
    (pp. 461-480)
  31. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)