Gloria Frances Stewart
July 4, 1910
Santa Monica, California
September 26, 2010 (aged 100)
Los Angeles, California
Sylvia Vaughn Sheekman (Daughter, born 1935)
Blair Gordon Newell
Actress and artist
Early life and careerEdit
Stuart was born Gloria Frances Stewart in Santa Monica, California, a third-generation Californian. Her mother, Alice Vaughan Deidrick Stewart, was born in Angels Camp, California. Her father, Frank Stewart, was an attorney representing many of the Chinese Tongs in San Francisco. Gloria's brother, Frank, came 11 months later. A second brother, Thomas, died in infancy. When Gloria was nine years old, her father, who had been appointed a judge and was about to take the bench, was hit by a car and died. Her mother got a job in the Ocean Park Post Office to support her children. Alice Stewart remarried, to Fred J. Finch, a native of Kentucky, who owned a local funeral parlor and held oil leases in Texas. A half-sister, Patsy — Patricia Marie Finch — was born in 1924. Gloria's younger brother Frank took the surname Finch, later becoming a sportswriter for the Los Angeles Times. Gloria later changed the spelling of her surname when she began her career, reportedly because "Stuart" would fit better on a marquee.She attended Santa Monica High School, graduating in 1927, then immediately ran off to Berkeley to attend the University of California, Berkeley. At Berkeley, she majored in drama and philosophy but dropped out in her junior year to marry Blair Gordon Newell, a San Francisco sculptor working under Ralph Stackpole on the facade of the San Francisco Stock Exchange building. The Newells lived a bohemian life in Carmel, California and were part of a circle of artists including Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, and Robinson Jeffers. She acted at the Carmel Playhouse and worked on the Carmel newspaper. Returning to Los Angeles, she appeared at the Pasadena Playhouse and was immediately signed to a contract by Universal Studios in 1932. She became a favorite of director James Whale, appearing in his The Old Dark House (1932), The Kiss Before the Mirror (1933) and The Invisible Man (1933).
Stuart was an activist and became a founding member of the Screen Actors Guild, but her career with Universal was disappointing. She moved to 20th Century Fox, and by the end of the decade had appeared in 42 films, including Busby Berkeley's Gold Diggers of 1935 and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. Among the stars with whom she appeared were Melvyn Douglas, Lionel Barrymore, Dick Powell, Raymond Massey, Boris Karloff, and Shirley Temple. In 1934, Stuart and Newell divorced amicably and she married screenwriter Arthur Sheekman, one of the writers on Roman Scandals. Sheekman was Groucho Marx's best friend and was collaborating (sometimes without credit) on Marx Brothers movies. Later Sheekman ghost wrote several of Marx's books; Marx called him "The Fastest Wit in The West". The Sheekmans' daughter, Sylvia, was born in 1935, and in 1939, both between commitments, Stuart convinced her husband they should travel around the world. When they reached France, they tried to volunteer for the French Resistance, but were turned down, so they caught the last ship sailing to New York.
They decided to stay in New York and work in the theater. In the next few years, Sheekman wrote several plays (two with George S. Kaufman) and Stuart got roles mostly in summer stock, including Emily to Thornton Wilder's Stage Manager in Our Town. When Sheekman's third play flopped, they returned to Hollywood, and he was hired by Paramount Pictures. Stuart took singing lessons and toured the country entertaining the troops in hospitals and selling war bonds. In 1946, she opened a small business, Décor, Ltd, where she sold lamps, tables, chests and other objets d'art of decoupage she created. Sheekman wrote 17 screenplays during the next 16 years. In 1954, with their daughter studying at UC Berkeley, Gloria and Arthur Sheekman joined friends who were living abroad, settling in Rapallo on the Italian Riviera. Inspired by the success of the primitive paintings of Grandma Moses, Stuart took up oil painting. Her first one-woman show at the Hammer Galleries in New York all but sold out.
Return to Acting (1970's-2000's)Edit
In 1975, after 29 years away from acting, with her husband, Arthur, in a nursing home suffering from Alzheimer's, Gloria got herself an agent and hoped for work. In 1978, Arthur died. Over the next few years she appeared in small parts in television. Then in 1982 came an offer for what was to be one of her favorite scenes in all her films: playing a silver-haired dowager taking a solitary turn around a dance floor with Peter O'Toole in My Favorite Year.
During this period, Gloria took up the Japanese art of bonsai, becoming the first Anglo member of the California Bonsai Society. And she began to travel again, going with friends or on her own to Europe, India, Africa, the Balkans. Five years after husband's death, Stuart became reacquainted with California printer Ward Ritchie (The Ward Ritchie Press), whom she had known during her college years. Both widowed, they fell in love. She was fascinated by his antique hand press and asked him to teach her how to run it. She bought her own hand press and established "Imprenta Glorias", and began creating artists' books (books hand-made, labor intensive, usually with a very limited run).
Stuart wrote the text, designed the book, set the type, printed the pages, and finished pages with water colors or silk screen or her old friend, decoupage. Books from Imprenta Glorias are in the Metropolitan Museum, Library of Congress, Huntington Library, J. Paul Getty Museum, Morgan Library, Victoria and Albert Museum, Bibliothèque nationale de France, and numerous private and university collections. No longer able to work with small type and a large heavy press, she gave her press and sets of rare type to Mills College. Stuart and Ritchie kept company (each in their own house) until his death from cancer in 1996.Not long after Ritchie's death, Stuart landed the character of 100-year-old Rose, at the heart of James Cameron's Titanic. Stuart was nominated for an Academy Award, Golden Globe Award and a Screen Actors Guild Award. She remains the oldest person ever to have been nominated for an Oscar. Suzy Amis credited Stuart for bringing her together on the set with her eventual husband, director James Cameron.
Stuart published her autobiography, I Just Kept Hoping, in 1999, and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2000. Her last appearance on film was a role in Wim Wenders Land of Plenty in 2004, and afterward she gave numerous filmed and audio interviews. Stuart continued to work at her artist's books, finishing a miniature about a time when she was in Berkeley, called I Dated J. Robert Oppenheimer.
At the age of 99, not long before her death, writer and actor Mark Gatiss interviewed Stuart about her roles in the Frankenstein films by James Whale, and about her co-star Boris Karloff, for his 2010 BBC documentary series A History of Horror.
Stuart died in her sleep of respiratory failure on September 26, 2010, at age 100. Her Titanic character, Rose DeWitt Bukater died very similarly in the film, as she had also (supposedly) died in her sleep, although it was from old age.
Awards and HonorsEdit
On June 19, 2010, Stuart was honored by the Screen Actors Guild for her years of service. She was presented the Ralph Morgan Award by Titanic co-star Frances Fisher and in response Stuart replied, "I'm very, very grateful. I've had a wonderful life of giving and sharing."
On July 4, 2010, Stuart celebrated her 100th birthday at the ACE Gallery in Beverly Hills with a party hosted by the director of Titanic, James Cameron and his wife, Suzy Amis. Frances Fisher, and Shirley MacLaine were among the guests. On July 22, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences honored her career with a program featuring film clips and a conversation between Stuart and film historian Leonard Maltin.
Stuart later said that she relates with her comeback character of the 100-year-old Rose saying: "I think that's the important thing, if you're full of love, admiration, appreciation of the beautiful things there are in this life, you have it made, really. And I have it made."
A new documentary is currently in production called "The Secret Life of Old Rose" which explores Stuart's long acting career as well as her career as an artist, fine art printer and printmaker, and bonsai master. The documentary is produced and directed by Benjamin Stuart Thompson, Gloria Stuart's grandson.
- Gloria Stuart on Wikipedia
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