Shearer, Norma

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Nationality: American. Born: Edith Norma Shearer in Westmont, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, 10 August 1900; became U.S. citizen, 1932. Education: Attended Westmont High School; Canadian Royal Academy of Music. Family: Married 1) the producer Irving Thalberg, 1927 (died 1936), son: Irving, daughter: Katherine; 2) Martin Arrouge, 1942. Career: Model, movie hall pianist, and stage actress, New York; 1920—film debut as extra in The Flapper; 1923—MGM contract; then a series of minor parts in films; 1927—marriage with Thalberg, an MGM producer, then series of leading roles and international popularity; 1942—last film, Her Cardboard Lover. Awards: Best Actress Academy Award for The Divorcee (also nominated for Their Own Desire), 1929/30; Best Actress, Venice Festival, for Marie Antoinette, 1938. Died: In Woodland Hills, California, 12 June 1983.

Films as Actress:


The Flapper (Crosland) (as extra); The Restless Sex (Leonard) (as extra); Way Down East (Griffith) (as extra); The Stealers (Cabanne) (as Julia Martin)


Torchy's Millions


The Leather Pushers (Pollard—serial); The Man Who Paid (Apfel) (as Jeanne); The Bootleggers (Sheldon) (as Helen Barnes); Channing of the Northwest (Ince) (as Jess Driscoll)


A Clouded Name (Huhn) (as Marjorie Dare); Man and Wife (McCutheon) (as Dora Perkins); The Devil's Partner (Fleming) (as Jeanne); Pleasure Mad (Barker) (as Elinor Benton); The Wanters (Stahl) (as Marjorie); Lucretia Lombard (Conway) (as Mimi)


The Trail of the Law (Apfel) (as Jerry Varden); The Wolf Man (Mortimer) (as Elizabeth Gordon); Blue Water (Hartford) (as Lilian Denton); Broadway after Dark (Bell) (as Rose Dulane); Broken Barriers (Barker) (as Grace Durland); Married Flirts (Vignola) (as herself); Empty Hands (Fleming) (as Claire Endicott); The Snob (Bell) (as Nancy Claxton); He Who Gets Slapped (Seastrom) (as Consuelo)


Lady of the Night (Bell) (as Molly/Florence Banning); Waking Up the Town (Keyes) (as Mary Ellen Hope); A Slave of Fashion (Henley) (as Katherine Emerson); Pretty Ladies (Bell) (as Frances White); The Tower of Lies (Seastrom) (as Glory); His Secretary (Henley) (as Ruth Lawrence)


The Devil's Circus (Christenson) (as Mary); The Waning Sex (Leonard) (as Nina Duane); Upstage (Bell) (as Dolly Haven)


The Demi-Bride (Leonard) (as Criquette); After Midnight (Bell) (as Mary); The Student Prince (Lubitsch) (as Kathie)


Voices across the Sea (short); The Latest from Paris (Wood) (as Ann Dolan); The Actress (Franklin) (as Rose Trelawney); A Lady of Chance (Henley) (as Dolly)


The Trial of Mary Dugan (Veiller) (title role); The Last of Mrs. Cheyney (Franklin) (title role); The Hollywood Revue (Reisner) (as herself); Their Own Desire (Hopper) (as Lally)


The Divorcee (Leonard) (as Jerry); Let Us Be Gay (Leonard) (as Kitty Brown)


The Stolen Jools (McCann—short); Jackie Cooper's Christmas Party (short) (as herself); Strangers May Kiss (Fitzmaurice) (as Lisbeth); A Free Soul (Brown) (as Jan Ashe); Private Lives (Franklin) (as Amanda Prynne)


Smilin' Through (Franklin) (as Moonyean Clare/Kathleen)


Riptide (Goulding) (as Lady Mary Rexford); The Barretts of Wimpole Street (Franklin) (as Elizabeth Barrett)


Mister Will Shakespeare (Tourneur-short); Romeo and Juliet (Cukor) (as Juliet)


Marie Antoinette (Van Dyke) (title role)


Idiot's Delight (Brown) (as Irene Fellara); The Women (Cukor) (as Mrs. Stephen Haines)


Escape (LeRoy) (as Countess Von Treck)


We Were Dancing (Leonard) (as Vicki Wilomirski)


Her Cardboard Lover (Cukor) (as Consuelo Croydon)


By SHEARER: article—

"I'm Tame as a Lion," in American Magazine, July 1935.

On SHEARER: books—

Thomas, Bob, Thalberg: Life and Legend, New York, 1969.

Memo from: David O. Selznick, edited by Rudy Behlmer, New York, 1972.

Rosen, Marjorie, Popcorn Venus, New York, 1973.

Jacobs, Jack, and Myron Braun, The Films of Norma Shearer, South Brunswick, New Jersey, 1976.

Quirk, Lawrence J., Norma: The Story of Norma Shearer, New York, 1988.

Lambert, Gavin, Norma Shearer: A Life, London, 1990.

On SHEARER: articles—

Howe, Herbert, "What Is Norma Shearer's Charm for Men?" in Photoplay (New York), November 1925.

St. Johns, Adela Rogers, "I'm Not Going to Marry Says Norma Shearer," in Photoplay (New York), May 1927.

Fletcher, Adele, "Beauty, Brains, or Luck?" in Photoplay (New York), August 1930.

Lee, Basil, "The First Real Lady of Films," in Photoplay (New York), July 1934.

Tully, Jim, "Early Struggles of Norma Shearer," in Pictures and Picturegoer, 17 August 1935.

Manners, Dorothy, "How Norma Shearer Faces the Future," in Photoplay (New York), December 1936.

Baskette, Kirtley, "A Queen Comes Back," in Photoplay (New York), July 1938.

Willson, Dixie, "Norma Shearer's Handful of Memories," in Photoplay (New York), October 1938.

Jacobs, J., "Norma Shearer," in Films in Review (New York), August-September 1960.

McCarthy, Todd, obituary, in Variety (New York), 15 June 1983.

Obituary in Films and Filming (London), July 1983.

Schickel, Richard, "Norma Shearer and Irving G. Thalberg: the Santa Monica Beach House of a Hollywood Genius and His Leading Lady," in Architectural Digest (Los Angeles), April 1990.

Films in Review (New York), January/February 1992.

Santon, Fredrick, "How MGM Kept Norma Shearer After Irving Thalberg's Death," in Classic Images (Muscatine), November 1994.

Le Fanu, M., "Sur quelques films de Monta Bell," in Positif (Paris), October 1996.

* * *

During the Great Depression, Norma Shearer represented all the glamour and chic associated with MGM. Although her acclaimed talent as an actress rested on little more than fan magazine publicity, she was, undeniably, a major star. She consistently ranked among Hollywood's most popular performers during the 1930s, winning six Academy Award nominations for best actress between 1929 and 1938. Her marriage to Irving Thalberg was of great importance; his position made her a first lady of Hollywood while his power secured for Shearer some of her best roles. This is not to imply that Shearer's career depended upon her husband's connections. She had learned from working in silent films for such marginal outfits as Allied Producers, New Brunswick, and FBO Studios, how best to utilize her limited talents to create the ultimate image of a glamorous woman. After Thalberg's death, she completed her studio contract and then retired to a life of wealth and leisure, only rarely appearing in public. Of her films, only The Student Prince, Romeo and Juliet, and The Women seem to hold any interest for audiences today.

—Douglas Gomery