Gloria Swanson

  1. Charlotte Mineau, His New Job, 1914.    Starting his first Essanay film (with a screen credit), Charlie Chaplin announced:    “I’d like a cast of some sort. Will you kindly send me members of your company who are unoccupied?” He found some guys, including cross-eyed Ben Turpin, but no leading lady: The Film Star.   “One applicant seemed a possibility, a rather pretty young girl, just signed up. But oh, God! I could not get a reaction out of her. She was so unsatisfactory that I gave up and dismissed her.” As she claimed years later, Gloria had really dismissed him– with aspirations in drama, not slapstick she had been deliberately un-co-operative. Next time they met was on the British Pinewood Studios set of A Countess From Hong Kong… 51 years later.
  2. Jacqueline Logan, The King of Kings, 1925.    Naturally, Cecil B DeMille’s Male and Female star (and indeed, mistress) won Mary Magdalene opposite HB Warner’s Christ.  Except she finally turned it and CB down He checked   Vilma Banky, Gertrude Lawrence, Raquel Meller, Serena Owen.  Logan,  ex-reporter, ex-Ziegfeld Follies girl, followed CB’s orders: “Don’t play her as a bad woman but one who doesn’t know the difference between right and wrong.” Swanson was right  – the film, and Magdalane, were cut down, to make it shorter and to appease certain states about an implied sexual affair between Magdalene and HB Warner’s Jesus….  Some other famous initials, DW Griffith, visited the shoot and CB invited him to shoot part of the Crucifixion sequence. No idea if DeMaestro kept those takes in the film, Knowing his reputation, probably not.
  3. Marlene Dietrich,   Der Blau Engle/The Blue Angel, Germany, 1929.      For Lola Lola, German director Josef von Sternberg didn’t only consider Tuetonic starlets like Dietrich, Trude Hesterberg, Leni Riefenstahl and the author   Heinrich Man’s mistress who was a cabaret singer. Gloria   also   turned down Von Sternberg.
  4. Constance Bennett, Rockabye, 1931.      RKO had originally bought the Broadway play for Gloria in excellis. Director George Fitzmaurice’s finished film was so terrible that George Cukor was hired for a fortnight of urgent repair, mainly about Joel McCrea replacing Phillips Holmes as Bennett’s guy. That worked and the film did better business than Bennett’s previous What Price Hollywood?
  5. Carole Lombard, Twentieth Century, 1933.     Director Howard Hawks also considered Tallulah Bankhead, Constance Bennett, Ruth Chatterton, Ina Claire, Joan Crawford, Kay Francis, Ann Harding, Miriam Hopkins.   Easier to list those he didn’t list.
  6. Jeanette MacDonald, The Merry Widow, 1933.  Maurice Chevalier’s MGM contract gave him co-star approval. Therefore, Swanson, Joan Crawford, Evelyn Laye and Grace Moore were seen for Sonia, the widow,  when  the fussy Frenchman was no longer getting on with MacDonald.  Nor with playing “the charming prince and lieutenant roles.”  (What did he expect wiz zat acksent?  Cowboys and gangsters!).
  7. Dorothea Wieck, Miss Fane’s Baby Is Stolen, 1933.   Swanson, Carole Lombard, Sylvia Sidney fled the drama of a kidnapped baby – for coming far too soon after the 1932 Lindbergh baby case. In her second and last Hollywood movie, the Swiss-born, Sweden-raised German actress Wieck showed them what they missed in a stunning performance, tearing at our emotions and causing our tears, as the widowed actress mother of the stolen tot played by ever smiling two-year-old Baby LeRoy. Wieck returned to Berlin, opening her own drama academy and winning another 40 screen roles until retiring in 1975.
  8. Claudette Colbert, Four Frightened People, 1933.When Colbert collapsed with appendicitis, the mighty Cecil B DeMille considered Elissa Landi to replace her. Or Gloria Swanson from his 1919 Male and Female, another comedy about shipwrecked rich folk.  Then, CC cabled CB on the Hawaii locations – she’d be fit in a fortnight.  And she was. Until falling ill again wiith flu after her nude bath in a waterfall… and the rain.
  9. Helen Hayes, Vanessa:  Her Love Story, 1934.      The book was first bought for Swanson, then Shearer – and finally. Helen made the final part of Hugh Walpole’s Herries Chronicle quartet into a… Hays Chronicle. Unwillingly. She hated the script and only made the movie because MGM threatened to sue her for the pre-production costs. $90,000.
  10. Miriam Hopkins,  Barbary Coast, 1935.      Wild Bill Wellman was to have  begun shooting in the Spring of ’34 with Gary Cooper and Swanson. By May, it was Coop and Anna Sten. As ’35 arrived,  the couple became McCrea and the Paramount favourite… Well, Hopkins was the mistress of  Paramount boss BP Schulberg.

  11. Jean Harlow, Riffraff,  1935.      Swanson and Clark Gable – the MGM plan for some years – became Harlow and Spencer Tracy, newly signed up from Fox.  They were much better in Libeled Lady.
  12. Luise Rainer, The Emperor’s Candlesticks, 1936.     Swanson had been set for the Russian secret agent  falling for William Powell’s Polish secret agent. But MGM fancied a third (and last) Powell-Rainer coupling. He went on to make so many films with Myrna Loy – 14 – that when travelling together, they were invariably given double hotel rooms, until they explained about reality.
  13. Katharine Hepburn, Holiday (UK: Unconventional Linda), 1937.    Columbia was so slow in finalising the re-make of the 1930 version of Broadway’s 1928 hit, Swanson was long gone, into new business affairs and stage tours.

  14. Bette Davis, Dark Victory, 1938.  
    When still at MGM, David O Selznick bought the Bankhead play in 1935 – not for her (“too Broadway”) but for Garbo and Fredric March. However, Gone With The Wind got in the way…  Gloria Swanson swnted to be the  socialite going blind with a brain tumour. “Can’t be any good if Selznick wants to sell it,” said the Columbia czar Harry Cohn.  Swanson quit Tinseltown for New York.  Next?  Barbara Stanwyck and Merle Oberon were keen, sniffing Oscar on the horizon. Warner Bros paid $50,000 for it – for Miriam Hopkins. Or Kay Francis. They were still pondering when Bette Davis pounced, winning her third Oscar nomination in five years.  Although  head bro Jack Warner had said ” who wants to see someone going blind?” Hah! Warner He built three new sound stages with the profits
  15. Katina Paxinou, For Whom The Bell Tolls, 1942.  The Greek star won in The clinches with such old-timers as Ethel Barrymore, Alla Nazimova, Pola Negri, Flora Robson, Marjorie Rambeau, Norma Talmadge.  And  Gloria Swanson… who’s one-time lover. Cecil B DeMille. had planned his own version of the Ernest Hemingway book.But Glorai the diva was interested only in  the lead.  At age 46, she wondered why she lost that role to Ingrid Bergman… at 28!
  16. Bette Davis, Mr Skeffington, 1943.      David O Selznick wanted the book in 1940 for James Stephenson and Bette Davis but head bro Jack Warner won it and aimed,  Tallulah Bankhead, Bette Davis, Irene Dunne, Merle Oberon,  Norma Shearer and Gloria Swanson at Mrs S., wed to John Loder, Paul Lukas or Richard Waring – after  James Stephenson died before the filming began.  (Waring instead became Mrs S’ brother, Trippy Trellis). Davis rejected her Mrs role first time around. She “couldn’t play 50 at 32“– plus lines like “You’ve never loved anyone but yourself” were way too close to home. She then insisted on Claude Rains: her favourite “actor and colleague.”  as Mr. Plus Vincent Sherman as her director., and, inevitably, had an affair with him. Which usually guaranteed more and better close-ups… The 30-day shooting schedule took 110 days. Because, said the scenarist twins Julius J and Philip G Epstein, “Bette Davis is a slow director.”
  17. Joan Fontaine, Darling, How Could You! 1950.    That was   exactly Gloria’s   response when asked… to test!   She argued, correctly, that Sunset Blvd, 1950, had proved her mettle was still shining. When Hollywood gossip bitch Heda Hopper recommended another script to her, grandmother Swanson, 54, exploded: “I couldn’t possibly play the mother of an 18-year-old daughter.”
  18. Bette Davis, All About Eve, 1950
  19. Judith Anderson, The Ten Commandments, 1955.    
  20. Joan Marshall, The Great Sex War, 1968.    She agreed to a role in her Godson Dirk Wayne Summers’  film.   He did not take kindly to her rewriting his script. Bye-bye   Godmother! Not quite. She accompanied him on his Mexican   location scouting trip.
  21. John Sylvester White, Welcome Home Kotter, TV, 1975-1979. Still ready for her close-up at age 76, Swanson auditioned for John Travolta’s school principal. Then, Mrs was churned into Mr Woodsman and given to the 20 years younger White.  So, the Gloria swansong – here 83rd  role wa – , suitably enough, as herself in Airport 1975 – the one where darling Karen Black had to fly the 747.
  22. Glenda Jackson, The Incredible Sarah, 1976.   As her career dissipated in the mid-30s, Hollywood attempted to turn Swanson away from producing flops. (One reason she made Sunset Blvd, 1950, was to – finally – pay off her Queen Kelly debts dating back to 1928). However, she was not even tempted by the offer to play life of Sarah Bernhardt.
  23. Silvana Mangano, Dune, 1984.


 Birth year: 1897Death year: 1983Other name: Casting Calls:  23