Happy 120th Birthday Norma Shearer

Today was the 120th birthday of the stunningly beautiful actress Norma Shearer.  I can never say enough about The Women as a film and as a must-watch for anyone wanting a well-rounded film education, it is simply brilliant.  The world is a better place because she was in it and still feels the loss that she has left.

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NAME: Norma Shearer
OCCUPATION: Film Actress
BIRTH DATE: August 11, 1900
DEATH DATE: June 12, 1983
Did You Know?: Shearer was cast as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind, but withdrew from the role.
PLACE OF BIRTH: Montreal, Quebec, Canada
PLACE OF DEATH: Woodland Hills, California
REMAINS: Buried, Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery, Glendale, CA
OSCAR: for Best Actress 1930 for The Divorcee
HOLLYWOOD WALK OF FAME: 6638 Hollywood Blvd.

BEST KNOWN FOR:  One of the biggest film stars of the 1930s, Norma Shearer was married to producer Irving Thalberg and won an Academy Award for her role in The Divorcee.

Edith Norma Shearer was born into a wealthy family in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, on August 10, 1900 (some sources state that she was born in 1902; others have stated 1904). After the family lost its money during World War I, Shearer’s mother decided that her pretty daughter becoming a star was the answer to their financial woes. Shearer, her mother and her sister proceeded to move to New York City.

Shearer was not immediately successful in New York. Florenz Ziegfeld turned her down when she auditioned for his Follies, saying, “You are not tall enough for a showgirl, and you cannot dance.” Shearer was also criticized for having thick legs and slightly misaligned eyes. Despite these setbacks, she persevered until she was cast in a few small film roles. Future MGM head of production Irving G. Thalberg noticed Shearer’s performance in The Stealers and signed her to a studio contract in 1923.

Shearer appeared in a few silent movies, but her time in Hollywood coincided with the transition from silent films to sound. She took the lead in MGM’s second “talkie” in 1929. Its success bolstered her career, as did her 1927 marriage to studio chief Thalberg. He may have helped her obtain the lead in The Divorcee, the film that earned Shearer her sole Academy Award (she was nominated for six Oscars during her career).

However, Shearer did not rely solely on Thalberg’s influence. Even as she became more popular, she worked hard to prepare for her roles. Shearer appeared in many films with stage and literary connections, including Noel Coward’s Private Lives (1931), as Elizabeth Barrett Browning in The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934) and as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet (1936).

In 1936, Thalberg passed away. His death was not a surprise, as he had been born with a weak heart, but it was still a blow for Shearer. After taking a break from acting for 18 months—and despite the several million dollars that Thalberg had left her and their two children—Shearer went on to sign a new contract with MGM. Her first job after returning to work was the title role in Marie Antoinette (1938). She went on to impress critics and audiences alike with her performance in The Women (1939).

In 1942, Shearer made Her Cardboard Lover. It was her final film. After retiring from the movies, she married a ski instructor she had met while on vacation.

In 1980, declining health saw Shearer move into the Motion Picture and Television Country House hospital in Woodland Hills, California. She died there on June 12, 1983, at the age of 82. Although Shearer’s reputation had faded in comparison with those of contemporaries like Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford, she left behind a body of work that includes an array of impressive performances.

Silent films : 1919–1928

Year Title Role Director Other cast members Notes
1919 The Star Boarder Member of the Big V Beauty Squad Larry Semon Larry Semon, Lucille Carlisle, Frank Alexander
1920 The Flapper uncredited Alan Crosland Olive Thomas, Warren Cook
Way Down East Barn dancer D. W. Griffith Lillian Gish, Richard Barthelmess
The Restless Sex uncredited Leon D’Usseau, Robert Z. Leonard Marion Davies, Ralph Kellard
Torchy’s Millions uncredited Johnny Hines, Dorothy Mackaill
The Stealers Julie Martin Christy Cabanne William H. Tooker, Robert Kenyon, Myrtle Morse
1921 The Sign on the Door uncredited Herbert Brenon Norma Talmadge, Charles Richman, Lew Cody
1922 The Leather Pushers uncredited Edward Laemmle Reginald Denny, Billy Sullivan Partially lost
The End of the World uncredited Harvey G. Matherson Jack Pickford
The Man Who Paid Jeanne Thornton Oscar Apfel Wilfred Lytell, Florence Rogan Lost film
Channing of the Northwest Jess Driscoll Ralph Ince Eugene O’Brien, Gladden James Lost film
The Bootleggers Helen Barnes Roy Sheldon Walter Miller, Paul Panzer, Jules Cowles, Hazel Flint Lost film
1923 A Clouded Name Marjorie Dare Austin O. Huhn Gladden James, Yvonne Logan, Richard Neill
Man and Wife Dora Perkins John L. McCutcheon Maurice Costello, Gladys Leslie
The Devil’s Partner Jeanne Caryl S. Fleming Charles Delaney, Henry Sedley
Pleasure Mad Elinor Benton Reginald Barker Huntley Gordon, Mary Alden
The Wanters Marjorie John M. Stahl Marie Prevost, Robert Ellis, Gertrude Astor Lost film
Lucretia Lombard Mimi Winship Jack Conway Irene Rich, Monte Blue, Marc McDermott
1924 The Trail of the Law Jerry Vardon Oscar Apfel Wilfred Lytell, John P. Morse
The Wolf Man Elizabeth Gordon Edmund Mortimer John Gilbert, Alma Francis, Eugene Pallette Lost film
Blue Water Lillian Denton David Hartford Pierre Gendron, Jane Thomas Lost film
Broadway After Dark Rose Dulane Monta Bell Adolphe Menjou, Anna Q. Nilsson, Edmund Burns, Carmel Myers Lost film
Broken Barriers Grace Durland Reginald Barker James Kirkwood, Adolphe Menjou, Mae Busch Status unknown
Empty Hands Claire Endicott Victor Fleming Jack Holt, Charles Clary Lost film
Married Flirts cameo appearance Robert G. Vignola Pauline Frederick, Conrad Nagel, Mae Busch Lost film
He Who Gets Slapped Consuelo Victor Sjöström Lon Chaney, John Gilbert, Tully Marshall
The Snob Nancy Claxton Monta Bell John Gilbert, Conrad Nagel, Phyllis Haver, Hedda Hopper Lost film
1925 1925 Studio Tour herself Short subject
Excuse Me Marjorie Newton Alfred J. Goulding Conrad Nagel, Renée Adorée, Walter Hiers, John Boles Status unknown
Lady of the Night Molly Helmer / Florence Banning Monta Bell Malcolm McGregor, Dale Fuller Joan Crawford appears uncredited as Norma Shearer’s body double
Waking Up the Town Mary Ellen Hope James Cruze Jack Pickford, Claire McDowell, Alec B. Francis Complete LOC
Pretty Ladies Frances White Monta Bell ZaSu Pitts, Tom Moore, Ann Pennington, Lilyan Tashman Joan Crawford and Myrna Loy appear as chorus girls
A Slave of Fashion Katherine Emerson Hobart Henley Lew Cody, William Haines, Mary Carr Lost film
The Tower of Lies Glory/Goldie Victor Sjöström Lon Chaney, Ian Keith, Claire McDowell, William Haines Lost film
His Secretary Ruth Lawrence Hobart Henley Lew Cody, Willard Louis, Karl Dane Reels 3 and 4 missing
1926 The Devil’s Circus Mary Benjamin Christensen Charles Emmett-Mack, Carmel Myers, John Milian, Claire McDowell
Screen Snapshots herself Charlie Chaplin, Billie Dove, Leatrice Joy, Elinor Glyn, Paul Bern, William S. Hart, Tom Mix Short subject
The Waning Sex Nina Duane Robert Z. Leonard Conrad Nagel, George K. Arthur, Mary McAllister
Upstage Dolly Haven Monta Bell Oscar Shaw, Tenen Holz, Gwen Lee
1927 The Demi-Bride Criquette Robert Z. Leonard Lew Cody, Lionel Belmore, Tenen Holz, Carmel Myers, Dorothy Sebastian Lost film
After Midnight Mary Miller Monta Bell Lawrence Gray, Gwen Lee, Eddie Sturgis
The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg Kathi Ernst Lubitsch Ramón Novarro, Jean Hersholt, Philippe De Lacy
1928 The Latest from Paris Ann Dolan Sam Wood George Sydney, Ralph Forbes, Tenen Holz Reel Four Missing
The Actress Rose Trelawny Sidney Franklin Owen Moore, Gwen Lee, Lee Moran, Ralph Forbes Lost film
Voices Across the Sea herself Ernest Torrence, John Gilbert, Joan Crawford Short subject
A Lady of Chance Angel Face Crandall Robert Z. Leonard Lowell Sherman, Gwen Lee, Johnny Mack Brown, Eugenie Besserer

Sound films : 1929–1942

Year Title Role Director Other cast members Notes
1929 The Trial of Mary Dugan Mary Dugan Bayard Veiller Lewis Stone, H. B. Warner, Raymond Hackett, Lilyan Tashman
The Last of Mrs. Cheyney Fay Cheyney Sidney Franklin Basil Rathbone, George Barraud, Herbert Bunston, Hedda Hopper
The Hollywood Revue of 1929 herself as Juliet Charles Reisner Conrad Nagel, Jack Benny, John Gilbert, Marion Davies, Joan Crawford, William Haines, Buster Keaton, Bessie Love, Marie Dressler “Romeo and Juliet” sequence with Shearer and Gilbert shot in two-color Technicolor
Their Own Desire Lucia “Lally” Marlett E. Mason Hopper Belle Bennett, Lewis Stone, Robert Montgomery, Helene Millard, Cecil Cunningham Nomination — Academy Award for Best Actress
(nominated for two films, Shearer won for The Divorcee)
1930 The Divorcee Jerry Bernard Martin Robert Z. Leonard Chester Morris, Conrad Nagel, Robert Montgomery, Florence Eldridge Academy Award for Best Actress
Let Us Be Gay Mrs. Katherine Brown Robert Z. Leonard Marie Dressler, Rod La Rocque, Gilbert Emery, Hedda Hopper, Raymond Hackett, Sally Eilers
1931 Jackie Cooper’s Birthday Party herself Charles Reisner Jackie Cooper, Lionel Barrymore, Matthew ‘Stymie’ Beard, Wallace Beery, Marion Davies, Marie Dressler, Jimmy Durante, Clark Gable, Charlotte Greenwood, Harpo Marx, Ramón Novarro, Anita Page short subject
Strangers May Kiss Lisbeth Corbin George Fitzmaurice Robert Montgomery, Neil Hamilton, Marjorie Rambeau, Irene Rich
The Stolen Jools herself William C. McGann Wallace Beery, Buster Keaton, Edward G. Robinson short subject
A Free Soul Jan Ashe Clarence Brown Leslie Howard, Lionel Barrymore, James Gleason, Clark Gable Nomination — Academy Award for Best Actress
(won by Marie Dressler for Min and Bill)
Private Lives Amanda Sidney Franklin Robert Montgomery, Reginald Denny, Una Merkel, Jean Hersholt
The Christmas Party herself Charles Reisner Jerry Madden, Jackie Cooper, Reginald Denny, Clark Gable, Charlotte Greenwood, Cliff Edwards, Ramón Novarro, Marion Davies, Anita Page short subject
1932 Smilin’ Through Kathleen Sidney Franklin Fredric March, Leslie Howard, O. P. Heggie
Strange Interlude Nina Leeds Robert Z. Leonard Clark Gable, Alexander Kirkland, Ralph Morgan, Robert Young, May Robson, Maureen O’Sullivan
1934 Riptide Lady Mary Rexford Edmund Goulding Robert Montgomery, Herbert Marshall, Lilyan Tashman
The Barretts of Wimpole Street Elizabeth Barrett Browning Sidney Franklin Fredric March, Charles Laughton, Maureen O’Sullivan Nomination — Academy Award for Best Actress
(won by Claudette Colbert for It Happened One Night)
1936 Romeo and Juliet Juliet George Cukor Leslie Howard, John Barrymore, Edna May Oliver, Basil Rathbone, C. Aubrey Smith Nomination — Academy Award for Best Actress
(won by Luise Rainer for The Great Ziegfeld)
1938 Marie Antoinette Marie Antoinette W. S. Van Dyke Tyrone Power, John Barrymore, Robert Morley, Anita Louise, Gladys George, Joseph Schildkraut, Henry Stephenson Nomination — Academy Award for Best Actress
(won by Bette Davis in Jezebel)
Volpi Cup for Best Actress
Hollywood Goes to Town herself Herman Hoffman short subject, featuring film performers as themselves
1939 Idiot’s Delight Irene Fellara Clarence Brown Clark Gable, Edward Arnold, Charles Coburn, Joseph Schildkraut, Burgess Meredith, Laura Hope Crews
The Women Mrs. Stephen Haines (Mary) George Cukor Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, Mary Boland, Paulette Goddard, Phyllis Povah, Joan Fontaine, Virginia Weidler, Lucile Watson, Marjorie Main, Virginia Grey, Ruth Hussey notable for its all-female cast
1940 Escape Countess Ruby von Treck Mervyn LeRoy Robert Taylor, Conrad Veidt, Alla Nazimova
1942 We Were Dancing Victoria Anastasia ‘Vicki’ Wilomirska Robert Z. Leonard Melvyn Douglas, Gail Patrick, Lee Bowman, Marjorie Main
Her Cardboard Lover Consuelo Croyden George Cukor Robert Taylor, George Sanders

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