Name at birth: Gloria May Josephine Swanson
Gloria Swanson was a top box office star in the 1920s, but these days she's remembered mostly for her 1950 film, Sunset Blvd., in which she played a former top box office star of the 1920s. Swanson got her professional start as a teenager in Chicago, working as an extra in short-reel movies. She met and married actor Wallace Beery in 1916, and they moved to Hollywood. Her marriage didn't last long, but she got plenty of work adorning Mack Sennett films and acting in romantic dramas. By the mid-1920s she was one of the most popular and glamorous actresses in Hollywood, thanks to her work in hit movies by Cecil B. De Mille. Unlike her Hollywood contemporaries, Swanson was a petite brunette who played mature, worldy women; she made millions and spent it lavishly, and the gossip sheets loved her (she was married six times). Swanson was also known for her independent streak, and with her money and influence she formed her own production company. Unfortunately, she produced and starred in one of the biggest flops of its time, 1929's Queen Kelly, directed by Erich von Stroheim and financed by Joseph P. Kennedy, with whom Swanson was having a secret affair. Swanson retired from the movies in 1934, and, although she made a few screen appearances, Sunset Blvd. was considered her big comeback. It brought her a third Oscar nomination, but it became more of a swan song than a second chance (her other nominations were for 1928's Sadie Thompson and 1929's The Trespasser). In her later years, Swanson preached the benefits of healthy living, made occasional TV appearances and appeared on Broadway in Butterflies Are Free (1971). Her films include Male and Female (1919), Don't Tell Everything (1921), Zaza (1923), What a Widow (1934), Indiscreet (1931) and, as herself, Airport 1975 (1974).
In the movie Sunset Blvd., Gloria Swanson’s butler is played by Erich von Stroheim, who directed her in Queen Kelly. At one point her character in Sunset Blvd., Nora Desmond, is seen watching an old movie — the clip is from Queen Kelly… It’s in Sunset Blvd. that Swanson delivers the famous line, “All right, Mr. De Mille, I’m ready for my closeup.”