Sunday, March 7, 2010

MUSEWORTHY: Gloria Swanson, 1899 - 1983

"She was the greatest of them all. You wouldn't know, you're too young. In one week she received 17,000 fan letters. Men bribed her hairdresser to get a lock of her hair. There was a maharajah who came all the way from India to beg one of her silk stockings. Later he strangled himself with it!"

OH MY! Is Sunset Boulevard the greatest movie of all time? Not so long ago I went out every night; these days I watch old films with my husband while eating Ritter Sport marzipan bars. (Less glamorous I know, but don't knock it until you've tried it).

Anyway, Saturday night we rented Sunset Boulevard (I've just found Swanson's biography, Gloria on Gloria, in an op shop). Seriously, this is the most fun you can have outside of a night club. It's so much fun it ought to come with a warning.

Gloria was movies in the 1920s, lending the screen glamour, grace and the sort of high camp drama queen excess that comes with endless furs and diamonds and being the ultimate favorite of Cecil B. DeMille.

When Billy Wilder came to make Sunset Boulevard, an acidic take on the trappings of fame and the hell that is ageing on (and off - for the movie's star is a fading one) camera, he apparently thought of Bette Davis first, but thank heavens he happened on Gloria.

Gloria is completely fabulous, as she digs her vermilion claws into down-at-heel-writer cum gigolo Joe Gillis (William Holden), throws an enormous party for two, carries on, cuts her wrists and refuses to believe she is not the biggest star in the world.

When the film was made, 1950, Gloria's had been out of the spotlight for 20 years. Oh cruel fate! That life so closely parallels art lends the film a visceral energy, but it's the clothes and Gloria's straignely pained open mouthed pout that I love best.

"Mr B. DeMille, I'm ready for my closeup..."

Let's leave the last words to Laura Branigan (sing along now):

Gloria, you're always on the run now
Running after somebody, you gotta get him somehow
I think you've got to slow down before you start to blow it
I think you're headed for a breakdown, so be careful not to show it

You really don't remember, was it something that he said?
Are the voices in your head calling, Gloria?...

1 comment:

  1. Oh god I love this movie - Ms Desmond and that Mansion!!
    Funnily enough I came across a Nightgown that Ms Swanson wore in the film up for Auction earlier today!