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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

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Scandals of Classic Hollywood: The Gloria Swanson Saga, Part One

Gloria Swanson wasn’t here to make friends. She wasn’t “just like us.” She didn’t take out the garbage or “wear cotton” or go to the bathroom. Lady had a gold-plated bathtub. She married a Marquis. She was 4’11,” wore a 2 ½ in shoes, and had a waist approximately the size of my neck. She looked most beautiful when frowning. And for a period in the 1920s, she was the biggest star in the world. Swanson wasn’t evil, and she probably wasn’t even a bitch, but she just knew how to run that game. She was of a different set of stars — a different breed than Garbo, Dietrich, and other classic idols — that truly lived like demi-gods. And when Hollywood began to change the way it made and distributed films in the late ‘20s, she was one of dozens destined to remain a relic of an earlier time.

Which is part of the reason she’s so unfathomably good in Sunset Boulevard, but we’ll get there soon enough. Swanson become synonymous with Norma Desmond, her character in that film, but she was much, much more — one of the first women to start her own production company, the first star to publicly become a “mother” in Hollywood, and a serious pioneer of the organic food movement. I am not even kidding. She bought and sold patents, ran her own household, and supported various husbands. She designed a dress line for middle-aged ladies in the 1950s using “glamour sizes” (read: size 12 and up) and made millions. Again: she knew how to run that game. 

I also know a ton about her because she, like so many of our grandmothers, was a notorious packrat. When grandmothers pass away, the stuff goes to Goodwill or an estate sale or your basement. When Gloria Swanson passes away, as she did in 1983 at the age of 84, then they go to an archive. All your notes, telegraphs, thank you cards, scripts, and contracts become the “Gloria Swanson Collection,” housed, conveniently for me during my Ph.D., at the Harry Ransom Center for Awesome Older Stuff. (Note: Not the official name of the center, but when an archive has Scarlett O’Hara’s dresses, that’s what you’re wont to call it.)

Swanson was born in 1899. As in the 19th century. She was an army brat, born in Chicago, but spent most of her life in Puerto Rico and the Florida Keys. Unlike many of the stars of the silent age, she wasn’t marked by any particular ethnicity, nor was she an “exotic” import from Europe. She was an American mutt. Around age 14, an aunt took her, on a whim, to Essaney Studios in Chicago — this was before all the studios were centered in Hollywood — and she caught someone’s eye. She became a regular extra, making decent money, and dropped out of school like everyone else whose aunt takes them to the shopping mall for a modeling contract.

At the age of 17, Swanson up and moved to California to appear in a bunch of Mack Sennett comedies. Mack Sennett was best known for his “Bathing Beauties” — a group of young starlets who looked cute in bathing suits and whom Sennett placed in comedies for pure titillation.

I realize that you’re probably thinking that these girls are wearing more clothes than most high schoolers currently wear to prom. But at the time, this was the equivalent of Michael Bay’s use of Megan Fox/That Victoria’s Secret model in Transformers — they were blatant, unapologetic eye candy.

Swanson appeared in a Mack Sennett comedy. In her bathing suit. But for the rest of her life, she would insist that she was NOT a Bathing Beauty — those were a different type of girl. Carole Lombard was a bathing beauty. Dozens of other eager girls with supple legs were bathing beauties. But Gloria Swanson was no Megan Fox — she was a SERIOUS ACTRESS.

Obviously.

During this period, Swanson endured what can only be described as a horrible marriage to fellow Sennett star Wallace Beery. They married on her 17th birthday, he forced himself on her the night of the wedding, and when she later became pregnant, he tricked her into drinking a mixture that would abort the baby. Beery was a drunkard and an abuser, and while this all sounds like a bad Lifetime movie, Swanson knew what was what — she left him almost immediately after the abortion machinations, even though the divorce took three years to finalize.

But Swanson was undeterred in her professional life. Remember: girl knew how to play the game. She parlayed her popularity from the Sennett films into a contract with Paramount, where she made approximately a billion films, as all the silent stars did. She consistently worked with Cecil B. DeMille (remember that fact for later) and made a slew of what can only be called silent rom-com-drams: two people, sometimes of varying social class, sometimes not, love each other, can’t love each other, want to love each other, plus hijinks and resolution and ridiculously gorgeous clothes. Don’t Change Your Husband, Male and Female, Why Change Your Wife?, Something to Think About, The Affairs of Anatol — you can see what I’m talking about.

These are also the films that made Swanson a tremendous star — along the lines of Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, and Douglas Fairbanks. By 1922, she was all of 23 years old. She had become so popular, and brought so much money to Paramount, that they essentially gave her everything she wanted — the biggest clothing budgets, the most extravagant salary demands. Her star image, both on the screen and off, was that of the clothes horse: a woman whose outfits were just as important as the plot. Think Sarah Jessica Parker, only with more peacock feathers. Swanson set the trend in hairstyles, hat-styles, and skirt lengths, and encouraged millions worldwide to command the room like this:

If you recall the lessons of Fatty Arbuckle, then you know that the Arbuckle scandal precipitated a “reigning in” of the hedonistic Hollywood way. The movies would, ostensibly, be less scandalous, titillating, and religiously offensive, and the stars themselves would have to agree to morality clauses as part of their studio contracts. In other words: stars had to stop sleeping around, boozing it up, and crashing their cars. Or at least they needed to stop doing it in a way that the public could see.

Despite Swanson’s first divorce, she seemed to be playing by the rules — she married Herbert Somborn, movie company president, in 1919, and gave birth to a daughter, Gloria, the next year. But then Momma Gloria apparently got busy: when husband Herbert filed for divorce in 1922, he claimed that Swanson had engaged in “relations” with at least 13 other men, including co-stars Rudolph Valentino (hubba hubba, but that’s for another day) and director Cecil B. DeMille. Damn, girl.

But long before Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie figured out that adopting an adorable girl from Somalia would help detract from the fact that they were totally crushing the American Dream Girl Next Door, Swanson, amidst the divorce proceedings, adopts a baby boy, Joseph. Brilliant.

Swanson’s image was unironic in a way that we can’t quite understand. She didn’t appear glamorous and elegant, she embodied glamour and elegance. This embodiment was only compounded when, in 1925, she went to France to film Madame Sans-Gêne, where she just happened to run into the Marquis de la Falaise, grandson of the founder of Hennessey Cognac. Now, despite his Hennessey relations, this Marquis had to work for a living, and that’s where Swanson found him: translating on set. Imagine that: a European with a title! Nevermind that pesky lack-of-fortune business — it was time for some real Downton Abbey new-American-money European-title-hunting.

One French thing led to another, and she returned home to America as La Marquise de la Falaise, theretofore shortened to La Swanson. The stories of Swanson’s return are straight out of an embellished fairytale: “she was met at the depot by two bands, film dignitaries, ushers on horseback, and thousands of people. She was placed in a limousine with eight motorcycle police escorts preceding her up Sunset Boulevard. Thousands of school children lined the sidewalk and threw flowers at her.” (From a Hedda Hopper article called "Long-Time Star Says She Was the First to Take on Both Career and Family.")

Swanson’s salary only continued to rise. At one point, she was making — and spending — $20,000 a week, which is a cool quarter million in today-dollars. These were the days of the gold bathtub, black marble bathroom, four personal secretaries, and an “Atlantic City boardwalk chair in which a manservant wheeled her around the [studio] lot.” Girl spent $10,000 a year ($125,000-ish in today-dollars) on LINGERIE. For a 300-person dinner party, she gave favors of solid-gold compacts (for women) and solid-gold cigarette cases (for men). Fur coats, diamonds, hundreds of dresses and shoes and stockings in a serious Clueless/Alicia-Silverstone overdose of sartorial luxury.

Swanson doubtlessly loved clothes, but so much of these expenditures were performative — pure image-making. At the height of the silent era and the opulent “Roaring ‘20s,” stars modeled conspicuous consumption: buying not to buy, but buying to show others how much money they had. All the stars engaged in conspicuous consumption (and continue to do so today, what’s up, Kanye); Swanson was merely its apotheosis. Sure, this all sounds very Gatsby New Money, and it’s true — the stars were New Money to the highest degree. They didn’t even LIVE IN NEW YORK. Lots (most) of them were Dirty Immigrants (Valentino) or declasse (Clara Bow). But Swanson, with her European title and high fashion, seemed to prove that Hollywood stars could be elegant, glamorous, and proper, and that the middle class could let their kids admire and aspire to be like them ...

… even if they were cheating on their Marquises with Joe Kennedy. Now, few (outside of Hollywood’s inner circle) really knew this was happening. If the fan magazines knew, they didn’t tell anyone. Swanson redacted all records of the affair — save a few adorable thank you cards from little John F. Kennedy — from her archive.

She fell in with Kennedy somewhat innocently. In 1927, Paramount offered Swanson a staggering $1 million a year. But Swanson was sick of the repetitive genre films she had been cast in over the last decade and understandably wanted more control of her “product.” It just happened that her star cohort, as it were, had decided the same back in 1919, when Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and director D.W. Griffith (he of Birth of a Nation fame/infamy) formed United Artists. United Artists was no traditional studio — each of the four original founders held 20% of the company, and had ultimate control over their own work. The patients, it was said, were taking over the asylum.

But as anyone who works with artists understands, a modicum of oversight often encourages the best work. When Griffith left United Artists, everything could very well have gone to shit. But the studio took on a veteran producer, Joseph Schneck, who just happened to be married to Norma Talmadge (major silent star), who just happened to be the sister of Natalie Talmadge (even more major silent star), who just happened to be married to Buster Keaton (most major silent star), who he could rope into United Artists productions. United Artists was never a blockbuster operation, but it offered the sort of freedom that Swanson craved.

Her first independent production, The Love of Sunya, was a bit of a clusterfuck. Swanson starred and produced, but had no real idea of how to produce, which led to various problems with management, script, and someone who could do a convincing double exposure (a camera trick of the silent era to “layer” film on itself; it makes stuff like body doubles and ghosts possible). That’s what people never think about when you say the word “producer” — executive producers just provide the money; actual producers have to supervise every part of the production. It’s heady work, and Swanson was unprepared. The film was way over budget and performed way below expectations. On the advice of Schneck, Swanson returned to Hollywood, tail between her well-dressed legs, to work on something more mainstream and tenable.

But Swanson wanted her “own Goldrush” — Chaplin’s masterpiece independent production from 1925. She recruited Raoul Walsh, who would eventually become one of the most important directors of classic Hollywood, to direct her next picture. Walsh was into risque stuff, and immediately told Swanson that he wanted to adapt the play 1922 Rain, which told the story of a “smoking, drinking, jazz-loving” lady of the night who travels to Samoa, where she interacts with a bunch of Jesus-loving missionaries intent on converting the natives and side-eying ladies of the night.

In order to avoid the wrath of Will Hays (head of the censorship body put together by the studio), Walsh and Swanson decided to cut all the swearing, and turn the reverend missionary who starts getting funny feelings for Miss Thompson into a regular old normal-sexual-urge-having “moralist.” Walsh and Swanson meet with Hays, who apparently tells them they’re good to go, and they proceed with production. But when the rest of the studios hear about it, they get super pissed — everyone knew about the scandalous undertones of the play, and the studios and Hays send Walsh a furious TWO-PAGE telegraph. La la la DON’T MIX WHORES AND MORALISTS la la la YOU’RE BRINGING DOWN THE ENTIRE INDUSTRY la la la.

Swanson’s reply: you’re just jealous you don’t get to pull a Samoan seduction yourself. PLUS all of you studio bosses have made films that are just as flagrantly sexual, if not more so. In other words: go fuck yourselves.

Swanson cast Lionel Barrymore as the male moralist, but Drew’s Great Uncle pulled a total sophomore-in-college move and refused to change his clothes for a week. Swanson was not amused. Walsh himself would play the supporting role of Sergeant O’Hara, a total hottie of a non-moralist who wants to take her away to Australia.

I mean seriously, why was this guy hiding behind the camera? He is clearly smokin'. [SIDENOTE: This was Walsh’s last appearance on camera, because he soon lost an eye in an accident. He wore a literal patch for the rest of his directing career. Naturally this makes me love him even more.]

Despite Walsh’s help, the production ran into all matter of roadblocks. Swanson got sick, and their prize cameraman was yanked away, running up the budget. But the film was a huge success — in part, of course, due to all the hoopla over the telegram, the whoreiness, the fact that the moralizer is driven to suicide due to his conflicted feelings for Sultry Sadie, etc. etc. What’s more, if you look really closely, you can see that the characters are totally using a swear word or two — you just can’t hear them, since, duh, it’s a silent film. (New nerd game: learn to read lips in all silent films, especially those starring dirty-mouthed Joan Crawford.)

Swanson was nominated for an Academy Award, the film grossed a million dollars, and Swanson had proven her point: a woman could control the production, the film could still make money, and the furious telegram-sending-studios were, indeed, just totally jealous.

But the success of Sadie Thompson marked the beginning of the disastrous end to (the first act) of Swanson’s career. At this point, Swanson had been sneaking around with Joseph P. Kennedy for some time.

(I love that this hokey, tinted, mashed together photo is all that you can find of Swanson and Kennedy together in the same frame. K-Stew would’ve had it so much easier if she chose to hook up with her director in the late ‘20s.)

Kennedy had arrived in Hollywood in the late ‘20s, a wealthy “American” banker eager to buy himself into a business dominated by Jewish immigrants. He was cocky and rich: as he told friends, "Look at that bunch of pants pressers in Hollywood making themselves millionaires. I could take the whole business away from them."

And so he did. He bought a place at the head of three studios. He told everyone in Hollywood that they were doing movie-making wrong — specifically, they were always on the verge of bankruptcy, and needed a new model of production and distribution — and then implemented it. He was the type of dude who invited all of the studio heads to his alma mater, Harvard, had them give lectures, collected those lectures in a book called The Story of Films, and then EMBOSSED THE COVER WITH HIS NAME IN GOLD. And gave it to all his friends. Joe Kennedy Sr., ladies and gentlemen.

Kennedy, riding a wave of Hollywood success, met Swanson in NYC, gave her a copy of the book, talked shop, and persuaded her to come to his place in California. This time, and this time only, the Marquis was invited as well. And here’s where it gets SO SO SO GOOD: Kennedy has an underling take the Marquis out deep-sea fishing. All-day deep-sea fishing. Kennedy appears at Swanson’s bedroom door and cries “No longer, no longer. Now.” According to Swanson, “he was like a roped horse, rough, arduous, racing to be free.” The encounter ended with a “hasty climax.”

OMG GLORIA! By the time she left, “Joseph Kennedy had taken over my entire life,” she said. She was in debt (too much underwear-buying) and her dedication to independent production was simply not paying the way her studio contracts had. She needed financial reorganization, and Kennedy promised to provide it. Most importantly, he arranged for United Artists to own both The Love of Sunya and Sadie Thompson — a good short-term fix that would ultimately lose Swanson money after the latter became a big hit.

Kennedy took the Marquis out of the picture, sending him to France to supervise production at Pathé, where Kennedy was a “special consultant,” a.k.a. running the entire show. But this was no three-week assignment: the Marquis was out of the picture for TEN MONTHS. (For what it’s worth, Kennedy’s own wife was back in Massachusetts, recovering from the birth of their eighth child.)

Swanson didn’t allow Kennedy to come to her house, didn’t allow pictures, and spoke only in code over the telephone and telegram. She was circumspect. Except for that time when Kennedy, discovering that Swanson’s adopted son hadn’t been baptized (or named — they referred to him as ‘Brother’), arranged for a christening. Swanson names him Joseph (for her own father) Patrick (at Kennedy’s own Irish insistence). But wait one second: GUESS WHO ELSE IS NAMED JOSEPH PATRICK?

Way to be discreet, guys.

Kennedy decides he’s going to prove to his “ultimate trophy mistress” (as Swanson's final husband later described it) that he’s the most awesome producer in the universe. He takes the reins on her next picture and hires the infamous Erich von Stroheim to direct.

Now, hiring Von Stroheim as director in the early ‘30s was akin to hiring Terrence Malick today: if you do it, you’re asking for it. You’re asking for huge production delays, obsessive editing (and re-editing), secrecy, grand vision, and, if you’re patient enough, brilliance.

I imagine that Kennedy thought he could rein Von Stroheim in. He was wrong. Von Stroheim convinces Kennedy and Swanson that the picture should follow a Prince, engaged to a “mad queen,” who falls for a poor convent girl (Swanson, naturally). He then KIDNAPS the convent girl and takes advantage of her, which obviously pisses off the evil Queen, who whips the convent girl and banishes her. She somehow ends up in East Africa, where she marries a big-time loser and and becomes the “queen” of a brothel. Hence: Queen Kelly. I’m not kidding; this is the plot.

The makings of an instant classic.

Three months into production, and Von Stroheim has a six hour cut that covers only half of the script. Even better, Swanson only appears in half of the footage, as Von Stroheim was much more interested in the evil queen and the put-upon rapist-kidnapper prince.

Kennedy tried to get other directors to take over the disaster, but none would touch it. One just opts to cast Swanson in a quick-release talkie-picture, The Trespasser, which wins Swanson a nomination for Best Actress. (Swanson, like the rest of the silent stars, had “appeared” on national radio when “talking” pictures first gained traction to show that she could, indeed, weather the transition to sound. Her task, like the other silent stars: show that her voice wasn’t annoying.)

Meanwhile, Queen Kelly begins to fester. Kennedy tries to turn it into a opera. I can seriously not think of a worse idea. The budget is soaring towards $700,000, and it’s still only halfway finished. They agree to axe the Africa ending and have Swanson herself direct an “alternate” conclusion that they could then release internationally. But Swanson and Kennedy get in a tiff, Kennedy absconds to New York City, and the press announces that he’s left filmmaking forever. Swanson looks at her funds and realizes that Kennedy, ever the clever accountant, has billed her production company for everything associated with Kelly — including furs that Kennedy had ostensibly gifted the star. Queen Kelly has a pitiful run, and the film goes down as one the greatest quagmires of Hollywood history.

Swanson tries to restart her identity: she divorces the long-suffering Marquis in 1930, and attempts to reinvigorate her career with a bevy of talkies, none of them successful. She marries Michael Farmer in 1931, gives birth to a second daughter, Michelle, in 1932. Her career dwindles to nothing: yet another silent star who withered on the branch, a glittering, if somewhat faded, artifact of cinema history. She was all of 33 years old.

But Swanson does not disappear forever. She would go on to a second act of her career that was nothing short of stunning — a true testament to how well she understood her image and its place in Hollywood. So put on some drapey silks, acquire a closet to fit a thousand shoes, and find yourself a solid gold bathtub: La Swanson Part Two is coming for you.

 

Previously: The Exquisite Garbo.

Anne Helen Petersen is a Doctor of Celebrity Gossip. No, really. You can find evidence (and other writings) here.

238 Comments / Post A Comment

The Lady of Shalott

What??? WHAT???? I MUST KNOW MORE!!!!!!!

SarahP

@The Lady of Shalott Right?! I wasn't prepared to stop hearing about her!

Poubelle

@The Lady of Shalott Sunset Boulevard in all its Hollywood Gothic glory awaits! Erich von Stroheim's in it, too, and you also get a breif clip of Queen Kelly.

(Fun fact: Billy Wilder considered Mary Pickford as Norma Desmond. Thankfully, after meeting with her, he quickly realized how very, very wrong she was for the role.)

rosaline

Oh my goodness. That first picture--the hat!

I feel like hats increase one's mysteriousness by a factor of 20.

martinipie

Oh my god look at that EXQUISITE SHADE being thrown in the first picture! Okay now I'm gonna read it!

frigwiggin

@martinipie I know, that is some phenomenal DGAF/bitchface. GURL, how do you even.

raised amongst catalogs

Paging Jena Malone: You are needed, pronto, to play the part of a young Gloria Swanson in an as-of-yet nonexistent biopic.

martinipie

@this brave bird (formerly vanillawaif) Totally spot-on, kind of eerie! Can we take her out of Catching Fire for this instead? Pleeeease?? (I just really wished either she or Finnick would not be cast with white actors...)

Titania

@this brave bird (formerly vanillawaif) YES! That was my absolutely first thought ("Where have I seen that nose before?") and it does lend some small amount of credence to the idea that there is some classical standard of beauty, no?

Myrtle

@Titania I would nominate Leelee Sobieski. http://www.celebuzz.com/photos/leelee-sobieski-stuns-in-red-coat-dress-at-paris-fashion-week/pfw-dior-celeb-sightings-280912/

aubrey!

@this brave bird (formerly vanillawaif) I was thinking some of the pictures looked like Chloe Sevigny.

collier

@this brave bird (formerly vanillawaif) : Noooooo...Lizzy Caplan!

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

What I took away from this is Joe Kennedy was an absolute asshole.

par_parenthese

@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose A used paperback book once told me that he sold his soul to the devil (hence his piles of money and apparently Magical Wang and the untimely deaths of many of his offspring). And if you can't believe a used paperback...

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@par_parenthese He hit the low point for me in this story at leaving his wife and EIGHT children at home to philander and be a douche. UGH.

Lyssachelle

@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose Both are completely valid and true observations.

Megasus

@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose You know, after 8 children his wife was probably like, "ENOUGH ALREADY JOE."

charlesbois

@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose I had rage of the incandescent type when I read he billed everything to her company. What a piece of excrement.

Lu2
Lu2

@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose --Joe Kennedy, Sr., was an a-hole in this and so many ways. What's stated here is just a bagatelle in the giant honking cluster of JK's a-holery.

Cookie

@I'm Right on Top of that, Rose read this!
http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2002/04/joekennedy200204

PistolPackinMama

@all... word. He's appalling, isn't he?

Kellerboy

Right on Top of that, Rose read this! Sambut Brazil 2014

werewolfbarmitzvah

That photo with the dog driving the boat has NEW LINKEDIN PROFILE PICTURE written all over it.

noReally

William Holden makes me pant like a dog.

TheBelleWitch

She didn't name her adopted son?!? Lucille Bluth, you have met your match.

Mira

@TheBelleWitch Annyong!

wee_ramekin

@TheBelleWitch

Gloria: "I never cared for __[silence]__".

Heh, yep. That is colder than Lucille.

PistolPackinMama

@TheBelleWitch Right... she wasn't probably much of a wretch of a person? What?

Disco Sheets

Ran down here to say: THAT PEACOCK FEATHER PICTURE-- swooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooon. (Also I want that bracelet she's wearing in it.) Ok, now back to the story.

SarahP

@Disco Sheets I KNOW! No one has ever rocked fishnet sleeves that hard.

Disco Sheets

@SarahP New Halloween costume: Gloria Swanson, in that exact picture. I honestly love everything about it--there's a turban! peacock feather! That bracelet! Fishnet sleeves! EYEBROWS FOR DAYS.

PS As always AHP, FANTASTIC job.

par_parenthese

@Disco Sheets I sent it to a beautiful and dramatic friend with the subject line "OMG DRESS LIKE THIS FOR HALLOWEEEEEEEEEEEEEN."

Megasus

@Disco Sheets yes that picture/outfit is basically perfection

squeee

kristen stewart.....?

frigwiggin

That picture with the lace, oh my stars and cows.

Anne Helen Petersen

@frigwiggin That one's always been my favorite, too.

sudden but inevitable betrayal

@frigwiggin Yes. Oh yes! I want it framed and on my wall and also I want every photo taken of me from here on out to be just like that.

apatosaurus

Oh, I love this series so, so much. So much! (Also, PSA to everyone: Sunset Boulevard is currently streaming on Netflix.)

squishycat

It's "Essanay" (S and A, for the founders). Chaplin created the Tramp character in shorts he filmed there (before saying "fuck it" to them and Chicago after just a year - a year in which he shot 15 short films). They also did a lot of shooting in California (there's a silent film museum where the Niles studio used to be, which is near Fremont, which has an excellent Afghani restaurant). Eventually they moved all production to LA anyway.
(I will silent film nerd-out on you if you want me to, and I'm not even that hardcore, though I am a regular volunteer at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, to the point where they are giving me a radio next festival because I cannot keep running around getting answers that people have decided I look responsible/familiar enough to have (but don't because neither does anyone else who is not festival or house staff) when I am supposed to be keeping people out of the house for a sound check.)

Scandyhoovian

SOMEONE DO A GLORIA SWANSON EYE MAKEUP TUTORIAL

Titania

@Scandyhoovian Line eyes with black kohl eyeliner and smudge. Fill eyes with raw intelligence, sex, and steely resolve. Apply mascara.

bitzy

And a side-eye tutorial.

bitzyboozer

@bitzy I have a feeling that side-eye like that can't be taught. You're either born with it or you're not. (Also I now inadvertently feel like the alcoholic version of you.)

pilcrow

@Scandyhoovian Swanson is totally the one I'd pick for the Jane Marie celebrity makeover. I have that same nose!

Lyssachelle

I get so damn excited when a new Scandals of Classic Hollywood pops up, it's embarrassing...

pandaonaplane

@Lyssachelle I audibly gasp.

Blushingflwr

@Lyssachelle @Pandaonaplane: I frequently throw my arms in the air in victory.

Ames

@pandaonaplane I clap my hands like a seal.

tatiana.larina

looking forward to the second installment. Being the spelling nerd, I can't refrain from pointing out the typo in 'the Arbuckle scandal precipitated a “reigning in” '.

highfivesforall

How do I make sure that I am looking at a picture of Gloria Swanson every second for the rest of eternity?

Megasus

@highfivesforall rotating images of her as your desktop background?

highfivesforall

@Megano! Yes. Also maybe I could set up a second monitor so that my windows don't obscure her wonderful, wonderful face.

Lucienne

Her autobiography, Swanson on Swanson is incredibly entertaining and filled to the brim with descriptions of clothes and shoes and gossip about crazy dead people. HIGHLY recommended.

Anne Helen Petersen

@Lucienne I am CRAZY about Swanson on Swanson. Truly the best of the Hollywood memoirs. Also the name just slays me.

Kakapo

@Lucienne It is such a thing of beauty... and obviously half of it is... embellished.

Brittanie@twitter

Yessss. Sunset Blvd is one of my all-time favorite movies ever.

stinapag

I would commit all sorts of atrocities to be able to lounge as elegantly as she does in that fifth photo.

dracula's ghost

SUNSET BOULEVARD! I CAN'T WAIT TO READ ABOUT IT!!!!!! SHE'S READY FOR HER CLOSEUP MR. DEMILLE! God, Buster Keaton is in that fucking movie. Why am I not watching it right now instead of performing the duties of my professional career

what an epic babe

catalina

@dracula's ghost And did you know Erich von Stroheim plays her butler/manservant? eek!

Poubelle

@dracula's ghost Why am I not watching it right now instead of performing the duties of my professional career

I ask myself this question often.

@catalina And her former director! Who screens the movie he real-life directed her in!

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

I now have a line drawn in my mind between La Swanson and Ron Swanson drunk dancing in that tiny hat on the Parks and Rec episode with the Snakejuice. It's a glorious association. (See here: http://drunkronswanson.com/)

nanlamb

Minor correction: Buster Keaton was married to Natalie Talmadge, not Constance. Also, Gloria Swanson rocks. I hope you get into the Kenneth Anger stuff in Part II!

annagram

@nanlamb I came down here to say that! (Apparently it was thought at the time that Constance would have made a better match for Keaton though since she was a bit more upbeat than Natalie.)

Lu2
Lu2

@nanlamb Wait, there's a third Talmadge? I was going to say that I never knew Keaton was married to Constance, let alone any Talmadge, but now it appears I was more in the dark than I thought.

Also, what's the deal with Gloria's shoe size? (First paragraph.) I'm intrigued by the possibilities hinted at by the wording.

bitzyboozer

@nanlamb Yes, and I'm assuming the "more major Hollywood actress" bit is a holdover from before it got corrected, no? Wikipedia lists Natalie as "an occasional silent film actress."

Stephanie Burgis@twitter

Ahhhh! I cannot WAIT to read Part II!

all the bacon and eggs

Please title the final part of the saga: "Gloria Swanson, a Swan Song." That is all.

karion

I love this series so damn much.

I just wish there was an accompanying Jane Marie tutorial on how to get those smoking eyes.

wee_ramekin

"She looked most beautiful when frowning."

Gloria and I are the saaaaaaame! Is anyone else like this? Okay, I may not be at my most beautiful when I frown, but I am *certainly* not at my most attractive when I smile (my face turns into...a chipmunk face?). Any other 'Pinners out there like this? And, more importantly, have you come up with any tricks so that you look good in photos?

wee_ramekin

@PatatasBravas Sometimes I try that, Brave Potatoes! Those pictures usually end up with me looking slightly crazed/startled though....

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@wee_ramekin --Yeah, I look awful when I smile. Other people don't think so, but I think it ruins my face. I'm thinking of trying to practice the smize, too.

wee_ramekin

@Lu2 Agh, darlin', I'm sorry that we are members of this Awful Club!

I feel self-conscious talking about it, because I imagine that folks think I'm fishing for compliments, but seriously, that's not it. I think I am an attractive human being and I don't have a problem with my face per se, but I objectively do not look attractive in pictures when I am sober and smiling (I get my best/only good smiling pictures when I'm photographed drunk). I wish there was a school I could go to or an instructor I could pay to teach me how to shape my muscles so that I looked better when I smiled. I hate being a killjoy in pictures and not smiling, but I also hate looking incredibly unattractive in photos.

Lu2
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@wee_ramekin --Yeah, I have more of a grimace, and I do something with my chin that I can't explain why I do it or what I think I'm supposed to be looking like. LOL. But take comfort in the fact that people love it when other people smile, and I think that's all they see. They aren't evaluating the overall quality of your face, they're thinking, "Wee_R is smiling! Happy!"

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@wee_ramekin --See how cute you look there? :)

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@wee_ramekin My face turns into a gormless double chin when I smile.

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@wee_ramekin TRUE STORY: I refused to fully smile in my senior pictures (both because I look weird when I smile big and because retouching to remove braces cost extra). My mom started yelling at me to "REALLY smile" and "we'll pay for the extra retouching, jeesh." And then the photographer was like "I think she's got a really great Mona Lisa look going on there. It's full of personality."

Cue on the only tagged Facebook* photos of me freshman year being ones with that increasingly ridiculous half-smile. Everyone else in photo: CHEESE! Poubelle: SELF-CONSCIOUS QUASI-GRIN! (I figured if the photographer was willing to forgo the extra retouch money, it must look REALLY cool. It didn't look that cool, though my senior pictures came out all right.)

*back when it was college-only

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@wee_ramekin I hate looking unattractive in photos too (which is pretty much always), which sucks because my boyfriend is a photographer. He's been trying to take pictures of me for over a year now and I never let him. I'm sure this makes him sadder than he lets on. :(

I don't like the way my face looks when I smile, but my non-smiling face looks worse the older I get. And my eyes always look tired or drunk.

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I make it a point to hiss "..it's the pictures that got SMALL!" on an almost weekly basis.

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In one of his notorious memos, David O. Selznick pointed to Gloria Swanson as a (bad) example of what happens when a star gets too much power. He was warning (I think) Joan Fontaine, who was under contract to him, and was starting to demand script approval and other perks that producers don't like to give to actresses.

Swanson, Selznick pointed out, was at the top of her profession so long as she did what she did well, i.e., act and look glamorous, while leaving choice of material to the experts. Then, in the mid to late 1920s, she started essentially producing her own films, which meant she was developing her own scripts, and the choices she made were almost uniformly disastrous.

Fortunately, as we will eventually discover, Swanson had a very good head for business and so did quite well with investments as well as a later quite varied career as a performer and personality on radio, television and the stage.

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@La Cieca@facebook

Funny, because David O. Selznick was a great example of what happens when a producer has too much power. As you imply, Swanson was a hell of a lot better off overall, riches or none, than Jennifer Jones after Jones married Selznick. "Duel In The Sun," anyone?

Then again, we probably wouldn't have "Gone With The Wind" or "Rebecca" in anything like their final form without Selznick. Megalomaniacs FTW!

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Maybe someone noted this already, but Buster Keaton was married to Natalie, not Constance, Talmadge. The rest of the details were right though. Love the shout out to archival sources in this one.

The Attic Wife

BOW DOWN BEFORE SWANSON!

I think one of the reasons that I love her so much is that she's easily one of the least tragic silent stars (and she wasn't even a crazy Christian like Lillian Gish!). Girl knew what she was doing, when her picture making days were over did she retreat into her crumbling mansion in the Hollywood Hills, never to be seen? Nope, she just sought out new ventures and was FABULOUS while doing it.

Can't wait for part II!

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I love hearing about early Hollywood, even earlier than this. I think of all those long-gone Spanish-style mansions, dripping with moss and rugs and Elinor Glyn books ;-) and whatnot, and Mary and Doug in their lagoon at Pickfair, and the parties, and I just go meow! that (1) I can't get into a time machine and see it all for myself and (2) it's all disappeared, including the houses.

P.S. you can still see the old Essanay studio building in Chicago. It's in Uptown. There's also a cool building on Diversey near Sheridan---maybe Cambridge St.?---where some silent film star (Charlie, I think) lived. It has a neat central atrium that goes up all the way, lined with wrought-iron barriers, and old-fashioned elevators, and the apartments surround it along the interior hallways.

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I was JUST watching Sunset Boulevard a couple days ago on the netflix.

I first saw this movie in So Cal at the Balboa Theater, double feature with All About Eve. I think I was the only gal in a theater full of gay guys. TOO fuckin fun/ny!

She really "gave good face" as ol what's her chops would say. She looks stunning in pretty much every pic, but the silent film make up makes her look a little different in each one. Lounging in the chair she looks most like Norma D.

The Attic Wife

@irieagogo Gah, the image of her framed in the light of the projector with the smoke all around her is just beautiful. She was so good looking in that movie (by then she was around 50) that they said they would age her up with make-up so she'd look significantly older than William Holden. Gloria would have NONE of it.

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I loved "Swanson on Swanson", such a great autobio. The photo of her with the boat and the dog -- isn't that Marie Prevost, though?

Bittersweet

This was amazing. I just have to mount a small defense of Carole Lombard, who may have been a bathing beauty in her early career, but was an incredible actress in the 30s. I defy anyone to watch "My Man Godfrey" and not think that she is the bomb.

rekabeka

I hope Part II focuses mostly on Airport 1975...

smidge

I really wished I lived in L.A., so I could show up on Jane Marie's doorstep, hand her that first photo, and scowl hopefully.

Dixie Laite@facebook

Yes that is Marie Provost, and Buster's wife was Natalie, and she was not a bigger star than Norma or Constance. Love the series, but hey, I can out film nerd all y'all. :)

sarrible

I think the timeline might be a touch off with when Gloria met Joe, because his eighth child (Teddy) was born in 1932, and Queen Kelly was in production from 1928 through 1930.

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She became a regular extra, making decent money, and dropped out of school like everyone else whose aunt takes them to the shopping mall for a modeling contract.vera wang

danialkhatri

Hollywood, and a serious pioneer of the organic food movement. I am not even kidding. She bought and sold patents, ran her own household, and supported various husbands. She designed a dress line for middle-aged ladies in the 1950s using “glamour sizes” (read: size 12 and up) and made millions. Again: she knew how to run that game. Admiral fridge freezer repairs (london)

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my mom likes to say I was an effective public speaker, but I was also the only non-white person in my class." Oh, moms. הסעות מלוטון

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As in the 19th century. She was an army brat, born in Chicago, but spent most of her life in Puerto Rico and the vitamin c serum

danialkhatri

Dietrich, and other classic idols — that truly lived like demi-gods. And when Hollywood began to change the way it made and distributed films in the late ‘20s, she was one of dozens destined to remain a relic of an earlier time. soundcloud downloader

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the first star to publicly become a “mother” in Hollywood, and a serious pioneer of the organic food movement. topical vitamin c

danialkhatri

Essaney Studios in Chicago — this was before all the studios were centered in Hollywood — and she caught someone’s eye. She became a regular extra, making decent money, and dropped out of school like everyone else whose aunt takes them to the shopping mall for a modeling contract. best smallmouth bass lures

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regular extra, making decent money, and dropped out of school like everyone else whose aunt takes them to the shopping mall for a debt settlement

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