1899–1983, American movie actress, b. Chicago. Swanson began her film career in 1913, displaying an elegant comedic style in a series of films for director Cecil B. DeMille. Financed by Joseph Kennedy, she produced her own films from 1920 until 1929, including Sadie Thompson (1928) and Queen Kelly (1928). Although she made an easy transition to sound movies, she retired in 1934. She made a celebrated return in Sunset Boulevard (1950), portraying an aging, half-mad, silent movie queen. She made only three more films, but enjoyed continued success on television. Swanson appeared on Broadway in a revival of Twentieth Century (1952) and in Butterflies Are Free (1971).
Swanson, Gloria (b. Gloria Josephine Mae Swenson or Svensson)
(1897–1983) movie actress; born in Chicago. Of Swedish-Italian descent, she was hired as an extra in a Chicago movie studio (1915); there she met movie actor Wallace Beery, whom she married in 1916 and accompanied to Hollywood. She made numerous short romantic films for Mack Sennett and then a series of sentimental dramas for Triangle Productions before being hired by Cecil B. De Mille. By the mid-1920s, she had become the most popular and glamorous of Hollywood actresses (and was on her third husband). Backed by Joseph Kennedy, father of the later president, she began producing her own movies but lost heavily on von Stroheim's Queen Kelly (1938). She made a few talkies, retired in 1934, made a single film in 1941, Father Takes a Wife, and then made a sensational comeback in Sunset Boulevard (1950), where she played an evocation of her actual self. She made a few more movies, promoted cosmetics, fashions, and health foods, starred on Broadway in Butterflies are Free (1971), and took a sixth husband (1976), but was never able to recapture what Sunset Boulevard had so vividly portrayed.
In writing about Gloria Swanson for example novelist and poet Edward Field notes: "There is something about these larger-than-life movie stars that represents our yearnings for vindication in which we see ourselves transcending the difficulties a gay man faces in this world." Even though Swanson spirals into delusion in Sunset Boulevard she goes down in glory acting out the struggles and ambition mirrored in the life of a gay man Field believes.
THE ACTRESSES Marlene Dietrich, Gloria Swanson, Joan Crawford, and Bette Davis, comedian Gracie Allen, Julia Childs, Queen Elizabeth I, and even two fictional characters, Endora (Agnus Moorehead) of Bewitched and Wonder Woman (Lynda Carter) are among the women who make it into My Diva, an anthology of short essays, each a few pages long, by writers and poets on the famous women who affected their lives.