Grahame, Gloria

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Nationality: American. Born: Gloria Hallward in Pasadena, California, 28 November 1925. Education: Attended Hollywood High School. Family: Married 1) the actor Stanley Clements, 1945 (divorced 1948); 2) the director Nicholas Ray, 1948 (divorced 1952); 3) the director Cy Howard, 1954 (divorced 1957); 4) Anthony Ray, 1961. Career: 1935—first appeared on stage with Pasadena Community Playhouse; 1943—Broadway debut in A Highland Fling; 1944—film contract with MGM, and debut in Blonde Fever; 1960s—returned to stage, including tour with The Time of Your Life; 1976—in TV mini-series Rich Man, Poor Man; 1978—on London stage. Awards: Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for The Bad and the Beautiful, 1952. Died: 5 October 1981.

Films as Actress:


Blonde Fever (Whorf)


Without Love (Bucquet)


It's a Wonderful Life (Capra); It Happened in Brooklyn (Whorf); Merton of the Movies (Alton); Crossfire (Dmytryk); Song of the Thin Man (Buzzell)


A Woman's Secret (Ray); Roughshod (Robson)


In a Lonely Place (Ray)


The Greatest Show on Earth (DeMille); Macao (von Sternberg); Sudden Fear (Miller); The Bad and the Beautiful (Minnelli)


The Glass Wall (Shane); Man on a Tightrope (Kazan); The Big Heat (Lang); Prisoners of the Casbah (Bare)


The Good Die Young (Gilbert); Naked Alibi (Hopper); Human Desire (Lang)


The Cobweb (Minnelli); Not as a Stranger (Kramer); Oklahoma! (Zinnemann) (as Ado Annie); The Man Who Never Was (Neame)


Ride Out for Revenge (Girard)


Odds against Tomorrow (Wise)


Ride Beyond Vengeance (McEveety)


Blood and Lace (Gilbert); The Todd Killings (Shear)


Escape (Moxey—for TV); Black Noon (Kowalski—for TV); Chandler (Magwood) (as guest)


The Loners (Roley); Tarots (Angela) (Forqué)


Mama's Dirty Girls (Hayes); The Girl on the Late Late Show (Nelson—for TV)


Mansion of the Doomed (The Terror of Dr. Chaney) (Potaki)


Head over Heels (Chilly Scenes of Winter) (Silver) (as Clara)


Melvin and Howard (Demme); A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square (The Biggest Bank Robbery) (Thomas)


The Nesting (Weston) (as Florinda)


On GRAHAME: books—

Turner, Peter, Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool, London, 1986.

Curcio, Vincent, Suicide Blonde: The Life of Gloria Grahame, New York, 1989.

On GRAHAME: articles—

Braun, E., "In Camera: Welcome Back Corner," in Films and Filming (London), January 1980.

Obituary, in Films and Filming (London), December 1981.

Obituary, in Cinéma (Paris), April 1982.

Buckley, Michael, "Gloria Grahame," in Films in Review (New York), vol. 40, no. 12, 1989.

Buckley, Michael, "Gloria Grahame (Part 2)," in Films in Review (New York), January-February 1990.

Molina Foix, V., "Gloria Grahame," in Nosferatu (San Sebastian), January 1996.

Potes, A., "Gloria Grahame," in Nosferatu (San Sebastian), January 1996.

Chase, Donald, "In Praise of the Naughty Mind: Gloria Grahame," in Film Comment (New York), September-October 1997.

* * *

No American actress epitomizes the Hollywood stereotype of the bad girl better than Gloria Grahame. With her pouting lips, inviting eyes, and seductive physical presence, she played every variation on the fallen woman: the unfaithful wife, the bar tramp, the prostitute with mob connections, the femme fatale. It is the intelligence and depth of characterization that Grahame brings to each of these seemingly clichéd roles that enabled her to transcend a one-dimensional sexual stereotype.

Crossfire was the first of several postwar thrillers that established Grahame as the ideal film noir icon. As Ginny, the pathetic cafe hostess who lives in a night world of bars and casual pick-ups, Grahame embodies the disillusionment and cynicism inherent in this genre. More decadent and sexually aggressive versions of the Ginny character would surface later in dark melodramas such as Sudden Fear, Human Desire, and Odds against Tomorrow. In Sudden Fear Grahame goads Jack Palance into a murder scheme and at the same time demands that he crush her when they kiss. In Human Desire she taunts her cuckolded husband with sordid details of her sexual exploits until he explodes with murderous rage. In Odds against Tomorrow, as a prelude to sex with Robert Ryan, she begs him to describe how it feels to kill someone. In these films, her sexuality is used as a corrupting influence and accents the mood of fatalism.

Possibly her finest work in the film noir cycle is in Fritz Lang's The Big Heat and Nicholas Ray's In a Lonely Place. In the Lang film, Grahame gives an unforgettable performance as a streetwise prostitute who is disfigured by her hoodlum boyfriend for associating with a policeman. Her transformation from the vain call girl to the horribly scarred mob informer is made all the more moving by her realization that she will never be totally accepted into any social order. Her only salvation is death, thus completing the metamorphosis from whore to martyr and confirming once again the 1950s Hollywood dictum that the only road to respectability for a sexual outlaw is oblivion.

Similar to The Big Heat in its harsh, sleazy atmosphere, In a Lonely Place also represents a cold and hostile universe where the basic goodness in the main characters is often negated by their destructive impulses. Grahame gives a brilliant performance, alternating between passionate longing and paranoia, as a secretive woman without romantic illusions who finds herself reaching out to a man who may be a murderer (Humphrey Bogart). The unbearable sexual tension that grows between Grahame and Bogart as their romance crumbles into a nightmare of distrust and futility is used to great advantage by director Ray, then her husband. As in most of Ray's films, he was able to find tenderness and love in the midst of alienation and despair but without a victory for the former values.

Apart from Grahame's invaluable contributions to the film noir, she is probably most familiar to filmgoers as the unfaithful wife. Although she played this role to perfection in major films such as The Greatest Show on Earth and Man on a Tightrope, her best rendition of the married hussy was in Vincente Minnelli's The Bad and the Beautiful, for which she won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.

Unfortunately, Grahame's sultry looks proved to be a dubious asset for her Hollywood career. Blessed with the makings of a great actress, she was given few opportunities to broaden her range. It is evident that she had the potential to become a great comedienne, judging from her early work in Without Love, Merton of the Movies, and particularly Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life. In the Capra film Grahame shows delightful comic timing and spunk in her few scenes as a small town flirt. It was not until someone had the inspired idea to cast her as Ado Annie in Fred Zinnemann's Oklahoma! that Grahame was able to live up to the promise of those early performances and prove that she had a natural affinity for musical comedy.

After 1959 Grahame went through a disappointing 20-year period of accepting roles in low-budget horror films and thrillers; the nadir of her career may have been Mama's Dirty Girls in 1974. It was her appearance on television in Rich Man, Poor Man in 1976 that revived her screen career. After 1979, Grahame appeared in two critically acclaimed features, Melvin and Howard (in which she has an odd nonspeaking role) and Chilly Scenes of Winter. Her witty performance in the latter film veers from black comedy to gentle pathos, Grahame flaunting her blond seductress image and intimating that she was capable of more than she was ever allowed to be. As the neurotic, sexy mother of John Heard, Grahame sits fully clothed in a full bathtub, threatening to commit suicide and muttering, "I'm not dead yet!"

—Jeff Stafford