Biography

The winner of a beauty contest at 14, she was born into a wealthy family that lost everything in the 1910s. Her mother brought her to New York in the hope that show business might provide the family with money. Shearer failed an audition with Florenze Ziegfeld but found some work as a model. She began appearing in bit roles in New York-shot films in 1920; in one of these, The Stealers (1920), she was spotted by talent scout Irving Thalberg, who couldn't track her down until 1923. Signed to a long-term screen contract in 1925, she began playing leads in numerous films. Meanwhile, Thalberg rose to a position of authority at MGM; she married him in 1927 and started getting the best roles the studio had to offer, leading her to stardom. Shearer got her pick of directors and scripts, and made sure to vary her work so she would avoid being typecast. She received five Oscar nominations, winning for The Divorcee (1930). Soon she was billed by MGM as "the First Lady of the Screen." Thalberg died at age 37 in 1936, after which Shearer showed bad judgment in her choice of films; she turned down the leads in Gone with the Wind and Mrs. Miniver and instead appeared in two consecutive flops, We Were Dancing and Her Cardboard Lover (both 1942). After that she retired from the screen, meanwhile marrying a ski instructor 20 years her junior. ~ Rovi