Gloria Swanson | Biography, Movies, & Facts

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Gloria Swanson, original name Gloria May Josephine Svensson, (born March 17, 1899, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.—died April 4, 1983, New York, New York), American motion-picture, stage, and television actress who was known primarily as a glamorous Hollywood star during the 1920s and as the fading movie queen Norma Desmond in the 1950 film Sunset Boulevard.

Robert Altman (1925-2006) Lobby card of actors Donald Sutherland, left, and Elliott Gould in the comedy film M*A*S*H (1970) directed by Robert Altman. MASH movie Korean War

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Swanson was the only child of a civilian official of the U.S. Army transport service, whose work during Swanson’s childhood took the family to Florida, Texas, and Puerto Rico. While touring the Essanay film studio during a visit to an aunt in Chicago when she was 14 years old, she asked if she could appear in a crowd scene. She enjoyed the work, stayed on as an extra, and was soon playing bit roles in two-reel comedies. Her parents separated in 1916, and she and her mother moved to Hollywood, where Swanson got a job at the Mack Sennett studio.

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Gloria Swanson.

George Grantham Bain Collection/Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (Digital File Number: LC-DIG-ggbain-32394)

After establishing herself as both a bathing beauty and a comedienne, Swanson was hired by Cecil B. DeMille and achieved stardom in a series of feature films that included Don’t Change Your Husband (1919), Male and Female (1919), Zaza (1923), Bluebeard’s 8th Wife (1923), and Madame Sans-Gêne (1925). She then formed her own production company, making such pictures as Sadie Thompson (1928), Queen Kelly (1929, unfinished), and her first talkie, The Trespasser (1929). She was nominated for the first-ever Academy Award for best actress for Sadie Thompson and received another nomination for The Trespasser. After several lighter vehicles, she tired of the poor scripts available, stopped making films, and started several business ventures outside the motion-picture industry.

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Gloria Swanson and Antonio Moreno in My American Wife (1922), directed by Sam Wood.

From a private collection

In 1950 Swanson made a historic comeback in the highly acclaimed Sunset Boulevard, for which she received her third Oscar nomination. Although she appeared in a few later films, she devoted most of the remainder of her career to television and the theatre. Her autobiography, Swanson on Swanson, was published in 1980.

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This article was most recently revised and updated by Patricia Bauer, Assistant Editor.

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