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Gloria Swanson (March 27, 1897 — April 4, 1983) was an American actress.
Born Gloria May Josephine Swanson (or Svensson) in a small house in Chicago, Illinois to a Swedish-American father, who was a soldier, but she grew up mainly in Puerto Rico, Chicago, and Key West, Florida.
Her film debut was in 1915 as an extra in The Fable of Elvira and Farina and the Meal Ticket, but she was a star the next year in A Dash of Courage. She played in many Mack Sennett slapstick comedies, and in 1919 she signed with Cecil B. DeMille, who turned her into a romantic lead. She starred in the 1922 silent film Beyond the Rocks with Rudolph Valentino (this film had been believed lost but was rediscovered in 2004 in a private collection in The Netherlands.)
Swanson's 1929 film Queen Kelly was directed by Erich von Stroheim and produced by Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., father of President John F. Kennedy. She was romantically linked to the elder Kennedy at the time.
Swanson ultimately made it into the "talkies," even singing in Music in the Air.
Comeback in Sunset Boulevard
After several other former silent screen actresses (including Mary Pickford and Mae West) turned down the role, Swanson starred in 1950's Sunset Boulevard and it is scenes from Queen Kelly that her character Norma Desmond watches with von Stroheim, who plays her butler. She was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar but lost to Judy Holliday (who reportedly sat next to her in New York during the telecast). She received several subsequent acting offers but turned most of them down, saying they tended to be pale imitations of Norma Desmond.
Her last Hollywood motion picture was Three for Bedroom C (her first color film) in 1952. Swanson played an aging movie star who, along with her precocious daughter, hides out in the compartment of a scientist (Warren) during a cross-country rail journey from New York to Los Angeles. Shot exclusively aboard Super Chief passenger cars loaned to the production company by the Santa Fe Railway, the film met with lukewarm reviews and did not, as had been hoped, revitalize Swanson's career.
Swanson subsequently appeared in the Italian production of Mio figlio Nerone.
Swanson hosted a television anthology series, Crown Theatre with Gloria Swanson, in which she occasionally acted. Her last acting role was in the television horror film Killer Bees in 1974, though she also appeared as herself in the movie Airport 1975, also released in 1974.
She married actor Wallace Beery (1885-1949) in 1916. They divorced in 1919 with no children but according to Swanson she miscarried after Beery, encouraged by his mother, secretly gave her a poison intended to induce an abortion.
She married Herbert K. Somborn (1881-1934), then president of Equity Pictures Corporation and later the owner of the Brown Derby restaurant, in 1919. Their daughter, Gloria Swanson Somborn, was born in 1920. Their divorce, finalized in January 1925, was sensational. Somborn accused her of adultery with 13 men including Cecil B. DeMille and Marshall Neilan. During this divorce in 1923 Swanson adopted a baby boy named Sonny Smith (1922-1975). She renamed him Joseph Patrick Swanson in tribute to Joseph Patrick Kennedy Sr., her lover.
Her third husband was French aristocrat Henry de la Falaise, Marquis de la Falaise whom she married in 1925 after the Somborn divorce was finalized. He became a film executive representing Pathй in the United States. She conceived a child with him but had an abortion which she said (in her autobiography, Swanson on Swanson) she regretted. This marriage ended in divorce in 1931.
In August 1931, Swanson married Michael Farmer (1902-1975). Although frequently described as a sportsman the only evidence of the Irishman's prowess was his frequent betrothals. Unfortunately Swanson's divorce from La Falaise had not been finalized at the time, making the actress technically a bigamist. She was forced to remarry Farmer the following November, by which time she was four months pregnant with Michelle Bridget Farmer who was born in 1932. The Farmers were divorced in 1934.
In 1945 Swanson married William N. Davey and they divorced in 1946.
Swanson's final marriage was in 1976 and lasted until her death. Her sixth husband William F. Dufty (1916-2002) was author of Lady Sings the Blues and Sugar Blues, a best-selling health book. Swanson shared her husband's enthusiasm for macrobiotic diets.
Gloria Swanson died in New York City of a heart ailment at the age of 86; she was cremated and her ashes were buried at the Episcopal Church of Heavenly Rest in New York City.
She has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one for motion pictures at 6748 Hollywood Boulevard and another for television at 6301 Hollywood Boulevard.
Academy Award nominations
1951 — Best Actress in a Leading Role — Sunset Boulevard
1930 — Best Actress in a Leading Role — The Trespasser
1929 — Best Actress in a Leading Role — Sadie Thompson
Gloria Swanson was the favorite actor of the character Granny in The Beverly Hillbillies and appeared in at least one episode as herself.
She was a long-time vegetarian and early health food advocate who was known for bringing her own meals to public functions in a paper bag.
Swanson told TV actor Dirk Benedict about macrobiotic diets when he was battling prostate cancer at a young age. He had refused conventional therapies and credited this kind of diet and healthy eating with his recovery.
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