Today is the 125th birthday of actress and producer Gloria Swanson. A proponent of vegetarianism and yoga and the Republican Party and mandatory school prayer, she had layers, some of which normally seem in conflict with each other. She has by far, one of the most quoted movie lines of all time. The world is a better place because she was in it and still feels the loss that she has left.
NAME: Gloria Swanson
AKA: Gloria May Josephine Svensson
DATE OF BIRTH: 27-Mar-1897
PLACE OF BIRTH: Chicago, IL
DATE OF DEATH: 4-Apr-1983
PLACE OF DEATH: New York City
NATURAL CAUSES: Natural Causes
REMAINS: Cremated, Church of Heavenly Rest, Manhattan, NY
FATHER: Joseph Theodore Swanson (d. 2-Oct-1923)
MOTHER: Adelaide Klanowsky
HUSBAND: Wallace Beery (actor, m. 1916, div. 1919)
HUSBAND: Herbert K. Somborn (Brown Derby chain, m. 20-Dec-1919, div. 9-Aug-1922)
DAUGHTER: Gloria Swanson Somborn (b. 7-Oct-1920)
SON: Joseph Patrick Swanson (adopted, b. 31-Oct-1922, d. 9-Jul-1975)
BOYFRIEND: Mickey Neilen (engaged during 1920’s, called off)
HUSBAND: Henri de la Falaise (Marquis, m. 28-Jan-1925, div. 1931)
HUSBAND: Michael Farmer (m. 16-Aug-1931, div. 1934)
DAUGHTER: Michelle Bridgit Farmer (b. 5-Apr-1932)
HUSBAND: William Davey (m. 29-Jan-1945, div. 1948)
BOYFRIEND: Joseph P. Kennedy (patriarch of Kennedy clan)
BOYFRIEND: Herbert Marshall
HUSBAND: William Dufty (author, m. 1976, until her death)
HOLLYWOOD WALK OF FAME motion pictures, 6748 Hollywood Blvd
HOLLYWOOD WALK OF FAME television, 6301 Hollywood Blvd
BEST KNOWN FOR: Gloria May Josephine Swanson was an American actress, producer, and businesswoman. She first achieved fame acting in dozens of silent films in the 1920s and was nominated three times for the Academy Award for Best Actress, most famously for her 1950 return in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard, which also earned her a Golden Globe Award.
Swanson was born in Chicago and raised in a military family that moved from base to base. Her schoolgirl crush on Essanay Studios actor Francis X. Bushman led to her aunt taking her to tour the actor’s Chicago studio. The 15-year-old Swanson was offered a brief walk-on for one film as an extra, beginning her life’s career in front of the cameras. Swanson was soon hired to work in California for Mack Sennett’s Keystone Studios comedy shorts opposite Bobby Vernon.
She was eventually recruited by Famous Players-Lasky/Paramount Pictures, where she was put under contract for seven years. With the company she became a global superstar. She starred in a series of films about society, directed by Cecil B. DeMille, including Male and Female (1919). She continued as a successful movie star in The Affairs of Anatol (1921) and Beyond the Rocks (1922). She also starred in critically acclaimed performances such as Zaza (1923) and Madame Sans-Gêne (1925).
In 1925, Swanson joined United Artists as one of the film industry’s pioneering women filmmakers. She produced and starred in the 1928 film Sadie Thompson, earning her a nomination for Best Actress at the first annual Academy Awards. Her sound film debut performance in the 1929 The Trespasser, earned her a second Academy Award nomination. Queen Kelly (1929) was a box office disaster, but is remembered as a silent classic. After almost two decades in front of the cameras, her film success waned during the 1930s. Swanson received renewed praise for her comeback role in Sunset Boulevard (1950). She only made three more films, but guest starred on several television shows, and acted in road productions of stage plays.
Swanson was a vegetarian and an early health food advocate who was known for bringing her own meals to public functions in a tin box. In 1975, Swanson traveled the United States and helped to promote the book Sugar Blues written by her husband, William Dufty. He also ghostwrote Swanson’s 1981 autobiography Swanson on Swanson, which became a commercial success. The same year, she designed a stamp cachet for the United Nations Decade for Women, which was her last creative project.
She was a pupil of the yoga guru Indra Devi and was photographed performing a series of yoga poses, reportedly looking much younger than her age, for Devi to use in her book Forever Young, Forever Healthy; but the publisher Prentice-Hall decided to use the photographs for Swanson’s book, not Devi’s. In return, Swanson, who normally never did publicity events, helped to launch Devi’s book at the Waldorf-Astoria in 1953.
As a Republican she supported the 1940 and 1944 campaigns for president of Wendell Willkie and the 1964 presidential campaign of Barry Goldwater. In 1980, she chaired the New York chapter of Seniors for Reagan-Bush.
In 1964, Swanson spoke at a “Project Prayer” rally attended by 2,500 at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. The gathering, which was hosted by Anthony Eisley, a star of ABC’s Hawaiian Eye series, sought to flood the United States Congress with letters in support of mandatory school prayer, following two decisions in 1962 and 1963 of the United States Supreme Court, which struck down mandatory prayer as conflicting with the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Joining Swanson and Eisley at the Project Prayer rally were Walter Brennan, Lloyd Nolan, Rhonda Fleming, Pat Boone, and Dale Evans. Swanson declared “Under God we became the freest, strongest, wealthiest nation on earth. Should we change that?”
Wallace Beery and Swanson married on her 17th birthday on March 27, 1916, but by her wedding night she felt she had made a mistake and saw no way out of it. She did not like his home or his family and was repulsed by him as a lover. After becoming pregnant, she saw her husband with other women and learned he had been fired from Keystone. Taking medication given to her by Beery, purported to be for morning sickness, she aborted the fetus and was taken unconscious to the hospital. Soon afterwards, she filed for divorce, which was not finalized until December 13, 1918. Under California law in that era, there was a one-year waiting period after a divorce was granted before it became finalized and either of the parties could remarry.
She married Herbert K. Somborn on December 20, 1919. He was at that time president of Equity Pictures Corporation and later the owner of the Brown Derby restaurant. Their daughter, Gloria Swanson Somborn, was born October 7, 1920. In 1923, she adopted 1-year-old Sonny Smith, whom she renamed Joseph Patrick Swanson after her father. During their divorce proceedings, Somborn accused her of adultery with 13 men, including Cecil B. DeMille, and Marshall Neilan. The public sensationalism led to Swanson having a “morals clause” added to her studio contract. Somborn was granted a divorce in Los Angeles, on September 20, 1923.
During the production of Madame Sans-Gêne, Swanson met her third husband, Henri, Marquis de la Falaise, who had been hired to be her translator during the film’s production. Though Henri was a Marquis and related to the famous Hennessy cognac family, he had no personal wealth. She had conceived a child with him before her divorce from Somborn was final, a situation that would have led to a public scandal and possible end of her film career. She had an abortion, which she later regretted. They married on January 28, 1925, after the Somborn divorce was finalized. Following a four-month recuperation from her abortion, they returned to the United States as European nobility. Swanson now held the title of Marquise. She received a huge welcome home with parades in both New York and Los Angeles. He became a film executive representing Pathé (USA) in France. This marriage ended in divorce in 1930.
In spite of the divorce, they remained close and Falaise became a partner in her World War II efforts to aid potential scientist refugees fleeing from behind Nazi lines. Swanson described herself as a “mental vampire”, someone with a searching curiosity about how things worked, and who pursued the possibilities of turning those ideas into reality. In 1939, she created Multiprises, an inventions and patents company; Henri de la Falaise provided a transitional Paris office for the scientists and gave written documentation to authorities guaranteeing jobs for them. Viennese electronics engineer Richard Kobler, chemist Leopold Karniol, metallurgist Anton Kratky, and acoustical engineer Leopold Neumann, were brought to New York and headquartered in Rockefeller Center. The group nicknamed her “Big Chief”.
While still married to Henri, Swanson had a lengthy affair with the married Joseph P. Kennedy, father of future President John F. Kennedy. He became her business partner and their relationship was an open secret in Hollywood. He took over all of her personal and business affairs and was supposed to make her millions. Kennedy left her after the disastrous Queen Kelly.
After the marriage to Henri and her affair with Kennedy was over, Swanson became acquainted with Michael Farmer, the man who would become her fourth husband. They met by chance in Paris when Swanson was being fitted by Coco Chanel for her 1931 film Tonight or Never. Farmer was a man of independent financial means who seemed not to have been employed. Rumors were that he was a gigolo. Swanson began spending time with him, during which she discovered a breast lump and also became pregnant, but was not yet divorced from Henri. She was not interested in marrying Farmer, but he did not want to break off the relationship. When Farmer found out she was pregnant, he threatened to go public with the news unless she agreed to marry him, something she did not want to do. Her friends, some of whom openly disliked him, thought she was making a mistake. They married on August 16, 1931, and separated 2 years later.
Because of the possibility that Swanson’s divorce from La Falaise had not been finalized at the time of the wedding, she was forced to remarry Farmer the following November, by which time she was four months pregnant with Michelle Bridget Farmer, who was born on April 5, 1932.
Swanson and Farmer divorced in 1934 after she became involved with married British actor Herbert Marshall. The media reported widely on her affair with Marshall. After almost three years with the actor, Swanson left him once she became convinced he would never divorce his wife Edna Best, for her. In an early manuscript of her autobiography written in her own hand decades later, Swanson recalled “I was never so convincingly and thoroughly loved as I was by Herbert Marshall.”
Davey was a wealthy investment broker whom Swanson met in October 1944 while she was appearing in A Goose for the Gander. They married January 29, 1945. Swanson had initially thought she was going to be able to retire from acting, but the marriage was troubled by Davey’s alcoholism from the start. Erratic behavior and acrimonious recriminations followed. Swanson and her daughter Michelle Farmer visited an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and gathered AA pamphlets, which they placed around the apartment. Davey moved out. In the subsequent legal separation proceedings, the judge ordered him to pay Swanson alimony. In an effort to avoid the payments, Davey unsuccessfully filed for divorce on the grounds of mental cruelty. He died within a year, not having paid anything to Swanson, and left the bulk of his estate to the Damon Runyon Memorial Fund.
Swanson’s final marriage occurred in 1976 and lasted until her death. Her sixth husband William Dufty was a writer who worked for many years at the New York Post, where he was assistant to the editor from 1951 to 1960. He was the co-author (ghostwriter) of Billie Holiday’s autobiography Lady Sings the Blues, the author of Sugar Blues, a 1975 best-selling health book still in print, and the author of the English version of Georges Ohsawa’s You Are All Sanpaku. They met in the mid-1960s and moved in together. Swanson shared her husband’s enthusiasm for macrobiotic diets, and they traveled widely together to speak about nutrition. Swanson and her husband first got to know John Lennon and Yoko Ono because they were fans of Dufty’s work. Swanson testified on Lennon’s behalf at his immigration hearing in New York City, which led to his becoming a permanent resident. Besides her Fifth Avenue apartment, she and Dufty spent time at their homes in Beverly Hills, California; Colares, Portugal; Croton-on-Hudson, New York; and Palm Springs, California. After Swanson’s death, Dufty returned to his former home in Birmingham, Michigan. He died of cancer in 2002.
Swanson died of a heart ailment at the New York Hospital on April 4, 1983. She had just returned from her home in the Portuguese Riviera. She was cremated and her ashes interred at the Episcopal Church of the Heavenly Rest on Fifth Avenue in New York City, attended by only a small circle of family. The church was the same one where the funeral of Chester A. Arthur had taken place.
After Swanson’s death, there was a series of auctions from August to September 1983 at William Doyle Galleries in New York. Collectors bought her furniture and decorations, jewellery, clothing, and memorabilia from her personal life and career.
SELECTED FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR
Airport 1975 (18-Oct-1974) · Herself
Sunset Blvd. (4-Aug-1950) · Norma Desmond
Father Takes a Wife (4-Sep-1941) · Leslie Collier
Music in the Air (13-Dec-1934)
Perfect Understanding (24-Feb-1933) · Judy Rogers
Tonight or Never (17-Dec-1931)
What a Widow! (13-Sep-1930)
The Trespasser (11-Nov-1929) · Marion Donnell
Queen Kelly (1929)
Sadie Thompson (7-Jan-1928) · Sadie Thompson
The Love of Sunya (11-Mar-1927)
Fine Manners (29-Aug-1926)
Stage Struck (16-Nov-1925)
Beyond the Rocks (7-May-1922) · Theodora Fitzgerald
Her Husband’s Trademark (Feb-1922)
The Affairs of Anatol (25-Sep-1921) · Vivian
Why Change Your Wife? (21-May-1920)
Male and Female (23-Nov-1919)