Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Gloria Stuart Passes On

Gloria Stuart, an actress who appeared in such classics as The Old Dark House (1932) and The Invisible Man, passed Sunday, September 26. She was 100 years old.

Gloria Stewart was born in Santa Monica, California on July 4, 1910. She attended Santa Monica High School and the University of California, Berkeley, but dropped out in her junior year to marry. She acted in the Golden Bough Theatre and wrote for a weekly newspaper in Carmel, California, where she and her husband settled.  She was appearing at the Pasadena Playhouse in 1932 when she signed a seven year contract with Universal Pictures.

Miss Stuart made her film debut in Street of Women in 1932. She would appear in the films Back Street (1932)and The All-American (1932) before appearing in one of her best known roles. In The Old Dark House Gloria Stuart played Margaret Waverton, one half of a married couple who finds themselves who find themselves stranded in an old mansion with some rather bizarre occupants. She went onto appear in the films Air Mail (1932), Laughter in Hell (1933), Private Jones (1933), and The Kiss Before the Mirro (1933). In The Girl in 419 (1933) Miss Stuart played another role, that of Mary Dolan, a mysterious woman who is a witness to murder. In 1933 that she played another notable role, that of the daughter of the sinister Robert Von Helldorf (Lionel Atwill) in Secret of the Blue Room. It would be in 1934 that Gloria Stuart would play another one of her signature roles, that of Flora Cranley. the fiancée of the title character (Claude Rains)  in The Invisible Man. She then appeared in such films as Roman Scandals (1934), Beloved (1934), and The Gift of Gab (1935).

Disappointed in the roles in which she was cast at Universal, Gloria Stuart left the studio for 20th Century Fox. There she appeared in such films as Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935), The Prisoner of Shark Island (1936), Poor Little Rich Girl (1936),The Girl on the Front Page (1936), Girl Overboard (1937), Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1938), Time for Murder (1938), The Three Musketeers (1939), and It Could Happen to You (1939). Miss Stuart took a break from acting in 1939, returning in 1943 in the film Hre Comes Elmer (1943). She appeared in the films The Whistler (1944), Enemy of Women (1944), and She Wrote the Book (1945) before retiring from acting. In her own words, she had wearied of playing a "girl reporter, girl detective, girl overboard."

In 1975 Gloria Stuart retuned to acting with a bit part in the television movie The Legend of Lizzie Borden. She made a small guest appearance on the TV show The Waltons and had a cameo in the film In the Glitter Palace (1977). By 1980 Miss Stuart was receiving more substantial roles. She guest starred on such shows as Enos, Mannimal, and Murder She Wrote. She appeared in such television movies as The Violation of Sarah McDavid, There Were Times, and She Knows Too Much. She appeared in the movies My Favourite Year (1982), Mass Appeal (1984), and Wildcats (1986). In 1997 she appeared as Rose in Titanic, a role which garnered her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. She went onto appear in the films The Love Letter (1999), The Million Dollar Hotel (2000), and Land of Plenty (2004 her last appearance on screen). She guest starred on The Invisible Man, Touched by An Angel, and Miracles.

Most obituaries of Gloria Stuart have opened with words to the effect that she was largely forgotten until her appearance in Titanic. I must state this is, quite simply, wrong. While the general public may not have remembered Gloria Stuart, there were many film buffs who remembered her quite well. Indeed, it must be pointed out that Titanic was not her comeback, as Miss Stuart had already made a comeback with her cameo in the film In the Glitter Palace, released a full sixteen years before Titanic. And while Miss Stuart did an impressive turn in Titanic (she was far superior in the film than Kate Winslet, whom I usually like, playing what was allegedly the same character), it must be pointed out that Rose was hardly Miss Stuart's most notable role.

Indeed, Miss Stuart had displayed considerable talent throughout her career, often in roles that when played by another actress might be forgettable. She was impressive in The Old Dark House, as a young and understandably rattled young wife in circumstances no one would want to find himself or herself. Miss Stuart was also impressive in The Invisible Man, adding poignancy to the movie as the tragic lead character's beloved. And while Gloria Stuart made have not cared to be typecast as girl reporters, girl detectives, and girl murder suspects, she did the role well. Indeed, she made the film Girl Overboard, in which she plays a young woman suspected of murder aboard a passenger ship, enjoyable. For much of her career Gloria Stuart played thankless roles in sometimes forgettable movies, but she also did them well. While some of the films Miss Stuart may have starred in may have been forgettable, she was always memorable.

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