“Gloria Swanson” by Steve Starr


Gloria Swanson

Part 4

Don’t Change Your Husband

Many of Gloria Swanson’s early movies, including the Cecil B. DeMille film Don’t Change Your Husband, are now available on DVD.

Swanson adapted easily to the coming of sound in movies, making her first talkie, The Trespasser, in 1929. She could sing very well and displayed her vocal talent in Tonight or Never (1931) and Music in the Air (1934). Yet her greatest film triumphs were behind her. That year, she moved to New York for a year where she worked at the Astoria Studios. Her reputation as a good actress and a clotheshorse continued to grow. A famous couturier, Captain Edward Molyneux, noted, “She is not only one of the best gowned women in the movies, but in the world.” Swanson made only five films in the 1930s, and it was six years before her “comeback” in the disastrous 1941 comedy Father Takes a Wife. In 1946, she married her fifth husband, hard-drinking William N. Davey, a union that lasted just 44 days.

Gloria Swanson’s Beverly Hills Home.

Gloria Swanson’s Beverly Hills Home. Postcard image courtesy CRCC collection.

“The Gloria Swanson Hour” premiered on televison June 15, 1948, filmed before a live audience in New York, in which she interviewed eight to twelve people. She divided her weekly hour into four sessions: “Glamour on a Budget”—usually a session with her secretary who would find wonderful accessories at a great price, “Chef’s Holiday”—where Gloria would interview New York chefs who would describe or cook a dish, “Design for Living”—with experts who would present new objects for the home, and “Trends”—all about the social gatherings and fashionable events around town. In early 1949, she left her show to begin work on her fifth “comeback” in film.

Sunset Boulevard was Gloria Swanson’s great comeback role.

Sunset Boulevard (1950) was Gloria Swanson’s great comeback role.

In 1950, nine years after her last movie was released, she made a triumphant return to the screen as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, the story of a faded silent movie queen who murders her much younger lover, played by William Holden. Gloria was perfectly cast, still beautiful, and sensational playing the unstable star. In one scene she did a brilliant personification of her friend Charlie Chaplin, an impersonation which she had performed years earlier in Manhandled (1925). Cecil B. DeMille played himself, alongside his favorite female star. It was in this film that Gloria uttered her most famous line, “All right Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.” Erich Von Stroheim, who directed her in Queen Kelly in 1928, was given the role of her loyal butler and first husband. Gloria basked in her reprised and revered stardom. One critic raved, “Gloria Swanson’s portrait of an aging movie queen is one of the screen’s great masterpieces. Unquestionably! Here is a performance of such depth and magnitude that it defies description.”

However, it forevermore annoyed Gloria that people believed she was the same personality as Norma Desmond. The only similarity to Norma was that Gloria was equally glamorous and grand. Gloria lived in the present, never in the past as Norma did. She told the press, “I never look back. I always look ahead. I never regret. I have excitement every waking minute.” Swanson’s next role in Three For Bedroom C (1952) was a dismal failure. That same year she appeared on Broadway in a revival of Twentieth Century.


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