Gloria Frances Stewart, known by the stage name Gloria Stuart, (July 4, 1910 - September 26, 2010) was an American actress, activist, painter, bonsai artist and fine art printer and printmaker. Stuart had a Hollywood career which spanned (with a long break in the middle) from 1932 until 2004 where she appeared on stage, television and in film, for which she was best-known. She appeared as Claude Rains' sweetheart in The Invisible Man, and as the elderly Rose Dawson Calvert in the Academy Award-winning film Titanic. She was the oldest person to be nominated for a competitive Oscar, for her role in Titanic, at the age of 87.
Early life and career:
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 Tongs in San Francisco. Gloria's brother, Frank, was born eleven 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, California, 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.
She 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 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 more than forty films, including Busby Berkeley's Gold Diggers of 1935 and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. She appeared alongside such stars as Lionel Atwill, Lionel Barrymore, Freddie Bartholomew, Warner Baxter, James Cagney, Eddie Cantor, Melvyn Douglas, Ruth Etting, Boris Karloff, Paul Lukas, Raymond Massey, Pat O'Brien, Al Pearce, Dick Powell, Claude Rains, the Ritz Brothers, Shirley Temple and Lee Tracy.
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 films. Later, Sheekman ghostwrote several of Marx's books; Marx called him "The Fastest Wit in the West". The Sheekmans' daughter, Sylvia Vaughn Sheekman, was born in 1935. Four years later, 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 1943, the Sheekmans moved into Villa 12 at the Garden of Allah Hotel in Hollywood, where Gloria quickly established herself as an unofficial hostess, often preparing extravagant dinner parties after collecting food ration stamps from invitees and shopping creatively at the Farmers Market on Fairfax Avenue. 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 seventeen screenplays during the next sixteen 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. After forty-three years of happy marriage, husband Arthur Sheekman succumbed to the effects of Alzheimers Disease, and died on January 12, 1978, just weeks before his 77th birthday. According to the widow's autobiography, "I Just Kept Hoping," Sheekman was cremated and his ashes were buried beneath a tree at their home in Brentwood, California.
Stuart was also active in political and social causes, Stuart helped form the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League in 1936, the same year she and writer Dorothy Parker helped organize the League to Support the Spanish War Orphans. She also became a member of the Hollywood Democratic Committee and was on the executive board of the California State Democratic Committee. For several decades she was a member of The Wesley United Methodist Church in Los Angeles, California.
Stuart was a friend of the author Christopher Isherwood and his longtime companion, the portraitist Don Bachardy, who made several portraits of Stuart. She discusses her relationship to the pair, and particularly her views on Bachardy's art, in video interviews included among the supplementary outtakes on the DVD release of the documentary film Chris and Don: A Love Story.
Return to acting - 1970s to 2000s:
In 1975, after twenty-nine 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, Stuart 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. In 1983, Stuart became romantically involved with California printer Ward Ritchie, whom she had known during her college years. Ritchie taught her how to run an antique book press. 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 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 maintained their close relationship 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's 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. Even after her retirement from film acting in 2004, she remained never far away from the public eye.
Her poem, 'You Are Gone Now', was set to music by Richard Tauber, who first sang it in her presence at a concert in Los Angeles on November 30, 1937.
When Stuart was 99 years old, she was interviewed by writer and actor Mark Gatiss about her role in theThe Old Dark House by James Whale, and about her co-star Boris Karloff, for his 2010 BBC documentary series A History of Horror.
Stuart was diagnosed with lung cancer around age 95; however, she lived to see her 100th birthday. Stuart died less than three months later in her sleep of respiratory failure on September 26, 2010, at age 100.
Awards and honours:
On June 19, 2010, Stuart was honoured 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, 2010, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences honoured 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."
Documentary of Stuart's life:
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 link to the documentary is: http://www.secretlifeofoldrose.com The documentary is produced and directed by Benjamin Stuart Thompson, Gloria Stuart's grandson.
Gloria Stuart's great granddaughter Deborah B. Thompson published a memoir in March 2012 entitled "Butterfly Summers: A Memoir of Gloria Stuart's Apprentice." Through the ebook, Deborah shares her personal experience of working closely with her great grandmother to complete a set of butterfly-shaped artist's books over the course of five years. The New York Times bestselling author Alice Hoffman writes, "Here is the heart-felt and moving story of the bond between a young woman and her great grandmother -- who happens to be a Hollywood movie star -- but the real connection is forged by a love of art and books and by their love for one another."
Street of Women
The Old Dark House
Laughter in Hell
The Kiss Before the Mirror
Mrs. Walter Bernsdorf
The Girl in 419
It's Great to Be Alive
Secret of the Blue Room
Irene von Helldorf
The Invisible Man
Lucy Tarrant Hausmann
I Like It That Way
I'll Tell the World
The Love Captive
Here Comes the Navy
Gift the Gab
Maybe It's Love
Gold Diggers of 1935
The Prisoner of Shark Island
Mrs. Peggy Mudd
The Crime of Dr. Forbes
Poor Little Rich Girl
36 Hours to Kill
The Girl on the Front Page
Wanted: Jane Turner
The Lady Escapes
Life Begins in College
Change of Heart
Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm
Island in the Sky
Time Out for Murder
The Lady Objects
Ann Adams Hayword
The Three Musketeers
Winner Take All
It Could Happen to You
Here Comes Elmer
Enemy of Women
She Wrote the Book
My Favorite Year
Titanic (1997 film)
The Love Letter
The Million Dollar Hotel
Land of Plenty
The Legend of Lizzie Borden (1975),
Adventures of the Queen (1975),
The Waltons (1975; guest appearance),
In the Glitter Palace (1977),
The Incredible Journey of Doctor Meg Laurel (1979),
The Best Place to Be (1979),
The Two Worlds of Jennie Logan (1979),
Merlene of the Movies (1981),
Murder, She Wrote (1987; guest appearance),
Murder, She Wrote: The Last Free Man (2001),
The Invisible Man (2001; guest appearance),
Touched by an Angel (2001; guest appearance),
General Hospital (cast member, 2002-03),
Miracles (2003; guest appearance),
A History of Horror with Mark Gatiss (2010; interview in part one)