“Gloria Swanson” by Steve Starr

Gloria Swanson

Part 3

Sadie Thompson.

Publicity still from Sadie Thompson, 1928. Gloria Swanson plays a prostitute who travels to Pago Pago and becomes entangled with a preacher determined to reform her. Based on Somerset Maugham’s controversial play “Rain,” it was a struggle to get past the censors.

In 1924, Gloria travelled to France to film Madame Sans Gene (1925), a successful endeavor in which she is often seen drenched in Art Deco jewelry. This was the first time a Hollywood star travelled abroad to film a story in its actual locale, at the Fontainbleu Palace. There, she fell madly in love with her handsome interpreter, the Marquis Henri Le Bailly de la Falaise de la Coudray, by whom she became pregnant. To elude ruinous publicity she decided to end the pregnancy. It was the only regret of her life. She married the Marquis in Paris and became “Madame La Marquise.” The most famous star on earth was now an actual member of royalty, and their union made headlines around the world. The publicity was tremendous as they travelled to New York for the premiere, where they received a standing ovation.

Gloria Swanson and Henri.

Gloria Swanson returns to the United States with her new husband, Marquis Henri de la Falaise, 1925. Image courtesy the Library of Congress.

Then, following a huge Hollywood parade to welcome them home, they settled into Swanson’s 22-room Beverly Hills mansion at 904 Crescent Drive, which was known for its enormous black marble bath and golden tub. Gloria became the Queen of the Screen as the number one box office attraction who sped around town in her regal, real leopard-upholstered Lancia. Everyone in Hollywood wanted to meet her Marquis, who was very well liked. However, Henri was impoverished, and Gloria put him on her payroll. It was famously reported that Gloria Swanson was the second woman to have earned a million dollars, and the first to have spent that much.

“Arriving with the Marquis tomorrow morning. Stop. Please arrange ovation.”—Gloria Swanson, in a telegram sent to Hollywood on her way home from France

Two years later, Gloria embarked on an affair with the married Joseph P.Kennedy, father of the future president, who told a friend, “I’ve won the most celebrated actress in America.” Joseph also became her financial partner, allowing her to produce her own films for United Artists. He sent her husband to France to work on a project. Gloria then starred in The Loves of Sunja (1927), which was a flop, and the successful Sadie Thompson (1928). Next came the lavish, lurid, sexually obsessed, ill-fated, never finished, severely over-budget Queen Kelly (1929), which was still in production when talking pictures arrived, helping to further doom the film directed by Erich Von Stroheim. Pressure from Kennedy’s family and his longing to further involve himself in politics put more strain on their relationship, and Boston’s Cardinal O’Connell personally visited Gloria to urge her to end her adulterous liaison. The pair severed their ties by 1930. Kennedy lost a fortune in their business endeavor, and later told his aide, Harvey Klemmer, “A certain dame in Hollywood, whom you know about, wrecked my business, wrecked my health, and damn near wrecked my life.” Meanwhile, Henri began an affair with movie star Constance Bennett, and he and Gloria divorced in 1931. That same year, Swanson married for the fourth time to sportsman Michael Farmer. They had a daughter, Michelle, and adopted a son, Joseph. They were divorced in 1934.

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