(*homocinematically inclined)

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Women We Love: Norma Shearer

Object of our affection: Norma Shearer, actress.

- She is credited as "the first American film actress to make it chic and acceptable to be single and not a virgin on screen".

- She won the third ever Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in The Divorcée and was nominated another five times (Their Own Desire, A Free Soul, The Barretts of Wimpole Street, Romeo and Juliet and Marie Antoinette).

- Married for nine years to "boy wonder" film producer Irving Thalberg, twenty-five years her junior; he was head of production at Metro Goldwyn Meyer, thus she was known as "The First Lady of MGM". After Thalberg's death in 1936, her interest in her career wavered; she would pass on the lead roles in such future classics as Gone With the Wind, Mrs. Miniver and Now, Voyager.

- Life imitates art: infamously feuded with co-star Joan Crawford during the filming of George Cukor's The Women, her last great role.

- Two of Norma Shearer's early pre-code classics, The Divorcée and A Free Soul, will be released on DVD for the first time on March 25 as part of the TCM Archives - Forbidden Hollywood Collection, Volume 2,now available for pre-order from

1 comment:

  1. Many of Norma's roles that Joan coveted would not have suited Joan anyway, especially the costume films. "The Gorgeous Hussy," in 1936, had proven that Crawford fans preferred her in contemporary settings.

    As for the pre-Code material, Crawford had a share herself with "Paid," "Possessed," "Dancing Lady" and "Sadie McKee" and they pushed the envelope at the time at least as much as Shearer's "Divorcee" and "Free Soul."

    Neither actress did in the other as much as both were done in by Joseph Breen's ascension to the head of Hollywood's censorship office in mid-1934. Author Mick LaSalle put it, "Accordingly, every actress got her virginity back. If she lost it again, she was in big trouble." Bad movies didn't necessarily follow, but the kind of roles that showed each woman as the master of her own sexual independence were sadly -and suddenly- at an end.

    The truth is, when Shearer retired 1942, and Crawford moved on to Warners in 1943, both actresses could look back at a body of work at MGM to be proud of for a lifetime.