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Gloria Swanson

Ready for Her Close-Up

Tricia Welsch

Publication Year: 2013

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.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-11

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1. Glory

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pp. 3-19

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...

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2. Funny Girl

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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...

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3. Triangle

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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...

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4. The Lions’ Den

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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...

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5. In the Family Way

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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....

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6. The Great Moment

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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...

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7. Her Gilded Cage

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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...

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8. East Coaster

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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...

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9. French Idyll

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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...

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10. American Royalty

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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...

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11. Declaration of Independence

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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...

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12. Let It Rain

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pp. 180-201

For her twenty-eighth bi rthday, 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...

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13. The Swamp

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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...

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14. People Will Talk

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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...

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15. The Crash

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pp. 244-261

With The Trespasser, Swanson successful ly 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...

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16. Mad about the Boy

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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...

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17. Perfect Misunderstanding

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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....

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18. Reinventing Herself

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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...

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19. “You Used to Be Big”

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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...

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20. Dressing the Part

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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...

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21. Not Ready for Her Retrospective

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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...

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22. Last Act

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pp. 372-390

Th ough 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...

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pp. 391-395

Though Gloria Swanson repeatedly denied her interest in writing an autobiography, she produced several drafts and recorded many, many hours of reminiscences over the years. The version in Swanson on Swanson—for my money, the best Hollywood memoir ever written...


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pp. 396-435


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pp. 436-447


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pp. 448-455


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pp. 456-460


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pp. 461-479


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pp. 481-512

E-ISBN-13: 9781621039914
E-ISBN-10: 1621039919
Print-ISBN-13: 9781617037498

Page Count: 480
Publication Year: 2013