Gloria Swanson An Amazing Actress in Sunset Boulevard – A dark comedy, deeply moving tragedy, fabulous film

I’ve been a huge fan of the Movie & Broadway show “Sunset Boulevard” ! So naturally I’ve been mesmerized by the actress Gloria Swanson’s glamourous looks, unique acting skills & her life story.


Gloria Swanson was born in Chicago on March 27th, 1897. Her real name is Gloria Josephine Mae Swenson. She began her career 1913 at Chicago’s Essanay Studios. Back then she was known as Gloria Mae. In 1916, she married Wallace Beery, another Essanay player, and the newlywed couple moved to Hollywood. He was to be the first of six husbands. She then shifted back-and-forth between two studios, Triangle and Paramount, where she appeared in roles that captured audiences hearts, making her a major box-office draw of the silent era. Her first lead role was in Cecil B. DeMille’s Don’t Change Your Husband (1919). DeMille would direct her in six of her box-office triumphs.

In 1925, after returning from France where she filmed Madame Sans-Gene and married her third husband, Marquis Henri de la Falaise, she teamed up with Joseph P. Kennedy, patriarch of the political clan, and began producing her own films. The two had a extra-marital affair, which was effectively hidden from her fans. Her first production effort went over budget and was not successful; but her second, Sadie Thompson (1928), was a commercial and critical success. It was daring for its time: She played a prostitute who was reformed then raped by a religious fanatic. For that role, she received her first Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.

The following year was a tumultuous one for Swanson’s professional career. Although she received her second Academy Award nomination for her role in The Trespasser, her production company also embarked on the ambitious project Queen Kelly, directed by Erich Von Stroheim. Von Stroheim created a financial mess, with numerous reshoots and the injection of erotic and perverse touches into the film. Although he was subsequently fired, the damage had been done. Although given a few screenings in Europe, the film was never shown in the United States. It marked the end of Von Stroheim’s directing career.

She retired in 1934, but attempted several comebacks. Her most successful was her critically lauded star turn in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard, where she played a role with many parallels to her own life.

What they don’t realize is how close “Sunset Boulevard” cuts to the bone. Not just in terms of the fickle system of Hollywood fame, and the ephemeral and illusory nature of Hollywood glamour, but to its specific references to the people involved. Audiences in 1950 would have been able to recognize Gloria Swanson as an ex-silent film star. When she goes to a backlot to visit Cecil B. DeMille, DeMille plays himself, and is actually working on his real film “Samson & Deliliah” (1949). Seeing as “Sunset Boulevard” takes place in flashback, this would have been exactly the film DeMille would have been working on. We’re asked to watch an old silent film of Norma’s at one point, and it is actually “Queen Kelly” (1929) starring Gloria Swanson.

Gloria plays Norma Desmond brilliantly! She is also infected by love. Love of romantic, abstract things. Things like “the spotlight”, “the little people”, “the cheers”, and most of all “the fame”. As a teenager, Norma Desmond was taken under the wing of Cecil B. DeMille. She was a lovely doe. Ready to display her beauty and charm to audiences the world over. Her films were hits, and she became very, very rich. But, as happens so often with teenage stars (from Judy Garland to Britney Spears), the fame went to her head. When she began to fall out of the public eye (due to dwindling roles and the inevitable onset of age), she as no prepared to live life a rung down. She went mad. In her mind, the fame never faded, and the world still wants her, needs, her, adores her, awaits with baited breath her great comeback.

One of her famous line in the movie was : “I am big!” She insists in all seriousness. “It’s the pictures that got small.” ( Dont’ we all have that bitchy diva in al of us? haha )

After a long career in Hollywood, she received her third Academy Award nomination for that film. Her final film appearance was in 1974’s Airport 1975, where she played herself. She died on April 4th, 1983. What an amazing actress and the life she had lived! After watching the “Sunset Blvd” again, I can’t help it to think….. and I am sure all of you agrees with me that Hollywood advertises itself as the Place Where Dreams Come True. The city where streets are paved with gold, and all it takes is a single famous director to recognize you, and you are instantly transported into a world of luxury, adoration, large mansions, swimming pools, and endless money. Not in any ad copy, mind you; it’s just the grand illusion of the place.

Countless young writers and actors have moved to Los Angeles over the decades in the hopes of cashing in on this dream. The joke goes that, to this day, you can go into a restaurant in Hollywood, and ask any given waiter or waitress for their resume and 8×10 glossy, and they may have it for you. Just convince them that you are a legit producer first. It is kinda sad but a reality in LA.

Does the world of high-paid acting really offer more than money? Does it truly offer that ineffable thing we call glamour? Well, to a degree, yes it does. In the minds of the people who still want the dream, and to those who have bought into it, it still lives on. But it’s easy to see that “Fame” and “Glamour” are fleeting things at best, and completely false at worst. Hollywood does not care for you, it only cares for who is most bankable at any given moment. The movie biz is where ineffable things like dreams, glories, and art, mix the most closely with the callous world of high-profit business.

It’s easy to take the glamour seriously. It’s comforting and plush and beautiful. The smart ones prepare for when the paychecks begin to whither. The rest either sink into lower tiers of fame, or they go mad. Going mad is, I think, more common than we assume.

Here is the most famous scene of the movie, the grand finale…… Mr. DeMille, I am ready for my close-up !!! Click on the media player below to see the clip.

I don’t want “Sunset Boulevard” to sound like a depressing resignation of personal tragedy though. Despite the tragic elements, “Sunset Boulevard” is refreshingly alive. We may feel the emptiness in Norma’s soul, but Swanson is able to take the role of this strange woman and make her into a full realized character who is interesting to watch. All the fabulous clothings, the sets & the over the top melodrama, made this dark comedy, a deeply moving tragedy, and a hugely satisfying film experience.

I was so fortunate to received this original Gloria Swanson autographed photo as a farewell gift from my co-workers when I left my at Carmen Marc Valvo as an associated designer in that company. I now hang this beautiful framed photo in my office so I can see it everyday!

I have seen the Sunset Boulevard Broadway Shows 3 times with all four different leading actresses: Glenn Close, Betty Buckley & Patti Lupone! Here is a video of Glenn Close’s performance, simply amazing !

In conclusion of this blog about the movie Sunset Blvd & Gloria Swanson, what an amazing movie! and an amazing actress! Here is a video paying tribute to this fabulous woman Gloria Swanson!

Untill next time, put on your “Gloria Face” and be ready for your “Close-Up” at any time, ’cause you never know who are you gonna meet ! haha

XOXO

Alan + Mei-Mei the pug 🙂

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