Today: The remarkable role actress Gloria Stuart waited a lifetime for.
Born in Santa Monica in 1910 Gloria became an actress while a student at U.C. Berkeley. There she met Gordon Newell, an attractive young sculptor and they were married in 1930.
Shortly afterward the couple moved to Carmel, CA and joined a thriving artistic community. Gloria acted in local theater productions and in 1932, a visiting Hollywood director saw her in a Chekhov play and invited her to reprise her role at the famed Pasadena Playhouse.
She accepted and soon casting directors from Universal Studios and Paramount Pictures saw her and she signed with Universal. And three years later, she switched to 20th Century Fox.
From 1932 – 39, she was in 42 movies, often co-staring, including “The Old Dark House” (1932) with Boris Karloff, “The Invisible Man” (1933) with Claude Rains, “Here Comes the Navy” (1934) with James Cagney, “Gold Diggers of 1935” with Dick Powell and “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm” (1938) with Shirley Temple.
But Gloria also got roles she described as “stupid parts with nothing to do” – “girl reporter, girl detective, girl nurse” and she grew frustrated as “it became increasingly evident to me I wasn’t going to get to be a big star like Katherine Hepburn and Loretta Young.”
In 1939, 20th Century Fox did not renew her contract and over the next seven years she was in just four films. After a minor role in a small 1946 film she left movie making and fell into Hollywood obscurity, forgotten by film audiences for the next 30 years.
In Gloria’s personal life, her marriage to Gordon Newell ended in divorce in 1934. That year she married screenwriter Arthur Sheekman.
His film credits included Marx Brothers movies such as “Monkey Business” (1931) and “Duck Soup” (1933) and later many more films including “Welcome Stranger” (1947) starring Bing Crosby and “Some Came Running” (1958) starring Frank Sinatra, Shirley MacLaine and Dean Martin, which was nominated for five Academy Awards.
The couple would remain married until Arthur’s passing 44 years later. They had a daughter, who as an adult became well known cookbook writer Sylvia Vaughn Sheekman Thompson.
Attempting to continue her acting career Gloria tried Summer Stock Theater and Broadway both without success.
But she didn’t give-up. As a strong independent woman, Gloria still desired to be an artist and was deeply moved by the impressionist painters of the latter 19th and early 20th centuries. She studied painting and became a painter eventually so good, her paintings became part of a one woman show at the Hammer Galleries in New York and were displayed at other major galleries.
In 1975, nearly 30 years after her last movie, through 1988, Gloria returned to acting and was in a series of minor roles in television shows and movies. Most memorable of those roles was when she danced with Peter O’Toole in a nightclub scene in the 1982 hit movie, “My Favorite Year.”
Gloria also took up bonsai and with time became so good at it; her lovingly shaped trees are in the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanic Gardens in San Marino, CA.
In 1983, five years a widow, Gloria reestablished her friendship with an old college friend, Ward Ritchie and they fell in love. He had since become a world renowned master printer and he taught her the art of fine lettering and presented her with her own hand press. They remained close until his passing at the age of 91 in 1996.
Gloria became so talented a master printer, her Imprenta Gloria books are in the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Library of Congress in Washington, DC and in other prominent venues.
Then suddenly out of the blue, Hollywood wanted 86 year old Gloria again.
And what they offered was the movie role she had waited a lifetime for. It was as “Old Rose” in the movie epic “Titanic.”
In this role, 101 year old Titanic survivor Rose Calvert arrives at a 1996 Titanic search expedition in which the crew is not only fascinated by the Titanic but by the priceless blue diamond necklace a beautiful young woman is wearing in a sketch made just before the ship sunk after hitting an iceberg in 1912.
Rose informs everyone the sketch is of her. She then wistfully tells the story of how it came into being and of herself as a young woman, played by Kate Winslet, who is part of high society and about to marry a rich man when she meets drifter Jack, played by Leonardo DiCaprio. She also tells the story of the final days of the Titanic.
The movie swept the Academy Awards, winning 11 including Best Picture (1997). And it broke all film box office records up to that time.
“I knew the role I had wanted and waited for all these many years had arrived,” Gloria said in her 1999 autobiography, Gloria Stuart: I Just Kept Hoping. “I could taste the role of Old Rose.”
From the movie’s incredible success, Gloria won many awards and was flooded with interview requests and fan mail. She was also offered new acting roles.
“I cannot begin to tell you how rewarding and nourishing this is,” Gloria said at the presentation of her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2000, as hundreds of people cheered her. “I wake up every day and say, ‘What a wonderful life. How lucky I am.’ “
And it was a wonderful life she led until passing away in her Los Angeles home on September 26th, 2010 at the age of 100. She is survived by her daughter, four grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
Her greatest legacy was her daughter and her 44 year marriage. But after that, it was her role in the “Titanic,” that resurrected her career and gave her such joy, a role that will enthrall audiences for endless generations to come.
Success Tip of the Week:
In her personal and professional life, Gloria was up and down on many occasions, including surviving breast cancer. But each time life put her down, Gloria found a new direction. Each of us is also confronted by failure and illness.
While we can’t always control the events, like her, we can control our reactions to them and pick ourselves up by our bootstraps and do something new and meaningful.
In the next KazanToday:
An ex-slave becomes a successful businesswoman and then buys a California Gold Rush landmark.