“An adventure may be worn as a muddy spot or it may be worn as a proud insignia. It is the woman wearing it who makes it the one thing or the other.”
Edith Norma Shearer was born on this day in Montreal Canada in 1902. Today is the 110th anniversary of her birth.
Shearer showed early promise as a pianist. Indeed, her mother, who was a bit of a stage mother, wanted her to become a world class concert pianist. But when Norma was treated to a Vaudeville show for her 9th birthday all that changed. She wanted to become an actress. In 1918 when her father’s business failed and her parents separated her mother sold the piano and bought tickets to New York City. A Montreal theatre owner had given Norma a letter of introduction to Florenz Ziegfeld of Ziegfeld Follies fame. The Follies audition didn’t pan out, but Norma got work as an extra on several films.
She took up modeling (for the much needed money it offered)
“I could smile at a cake of laundry soap as if it were dinner at the Ritz. I posed with a strand of imitation pearls. I posed in dust-cap and house dress with a famous mop, for dental paste and for soft drink, holding my mouth in a whistling pose until it all but froze that way.” [ From Norma Shearer: A Life]
Springfield Tires hired her as their go to model and dubbed her “Miss Lotta Miles.
It took her a year of bit parts, walk ons and modeling gigs, but in 1921 she got a break and was cast in The Stealers. In 1923 she caught the eye of Hollywood talent scout Hal Roach and signed a six month contract with Louis B. Mayer for $250 a week. She met Irving Thalberg, the vice-president of the studio and did a screen test. After a rocky start on the West Coast, Shearer hit her stride and was cast in six movies in eight months. By 1924 she was a big enough star that she landed the role of Consuelo (the love interest) in He Who Gets Slapped MGM‘s first big budged attraction.
She renewed her contract with MGM (making considerably more money) and began dating Irving Thalberg who was then the chief of production. While she was filming The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg the couple became engaged. They were married on September 29, 1927. She refused to take off her wedding ring, even if a role demanded it (she covered it with flesh-colored tape instead.) The two stayed together until Thalberg, who had a serious heart condition, died in 1936. Having a husband who was chief of production didn’t hurt her career. She could pick and choose the juiciest roles (something other starlets, like Joan Crawford, openly resented. — Crawford rather snarkily referred to Shearer at “Miss Lotta Miles.”)
Her first talkie was The Trial of Mary Dungan. She won an Oscar a year later for The Divorcee. And she earned the moniker the First Lady of MGM. Other notable movies include: The Barretts of Wimpole Street, Romeo and Juliet, Marie Antoinette and The Women.
Soon after she retired in 1942 she married her second husband, Martin Arrouge, a ski instructor eleven years her junior. They withdrew from the glitz and glam of Hollywood and Shearer refused interviews and roles (like Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard — a gig that won Gloria Swanson an Oscar) Shearer once quipped: “Never let them see you in public after you’ve turned 35. You’re finished if you do!”
[Please Note that ritaLOVEStoWRITE is stepping away from the keyboard for a few days to get some fresh air. Be back soon.]