‘Ti­tanic’ ac­tress Glo­ria Stu­art dies

Los Angeles Times - - Latextra - Den­nis McLel­lan den­nis.mclel­lan@latimes.com

The Os­car nom­i­nee, shown in her West Los An­ge­les home, was 100 years old. Her ap­pear­ance in the 1997 film was her first ma­jor role in nearly 60 years.

Glo­ria Stu­art, a 1930s Hollywood lead­ing lady who earned an Academy Award nom­i­na­tion for her first sig­nif­i­cant role in nearly 60 years — as Old Rose, the cen­te­nar­ian sur­vivor of the Ti­tanic in James Cameron’s 1997 Os­car-win­ning film, — has died. She was 100.

Stu­art, a found­ing mem­ber of the Screen Ac­tors Guild who later be­came an ac­com­plished painter and fine printer, died Sun­day night at her West Los An­ge­les home, said her daugh­ter, writer Sylvia Thomp­son.

Stu­art had been di­ag­nosed with lung can­cer five years ago.

“She also was a breast can­cer sur­vivor,” Thomp­son said, “but she just paid no at­ten­tion to ill­ness. She was a very strong woman and had other fish to fry.”

In July the ac­tress was hon­ored at an “Academy Cen­ten­nial Cel­e­bra­tion With Glo­ria Stu­art”, at the Sa­muel Gold­wyn Theater in Bev­erly Hills.

As a glam­orous blond ac­tress un­der con­tract to Uni­ver­sal Stu­dios and 20th Cen­tury Fox in the 1930s, Stu­art ap­peared op­po­site Claude Rains in James Whale’s “The In­vis­i­ble Man” and with Warner Bax­ter in John Ford’s “The Pris­oner of Shark Is­land.”

She also ap­peared with Ed­die Can­tor in “Ro­man Scan­dals,” with Dick Pow­ell in Busby Berkeley’s “Gold Dig­gers of 1935” and with James Cag­ney in “Here Comes the Navy.” And she played ro­man­tic leads in two Shirley Tem­ple movies, “Poor Lit­tle Rich Girl” and “Re­becca of Sun­ny­brook Farm.”

But mostly she played what Stu­art later dis­missed as “stupid parts with noth­ing to do” — “girl re­porter, girl de­tec­tive, girl nurse” — and “it be­came in­creas­ingly ev­i­dent to me I wasn’t go­ing to get to be a big star like Katharine Hep­burn and Loretta Young.”

Af­ter mak­ing 42 fea­ture films be­tween 1932 and 1939, Stu­art’s lat­est stu­dio con­tract, with 20th Cen­tury Fox, was not re­newed. She ap­peared in only four films in the 1940s and re­tired from the screen in 1946.

By 1974, “the blond lovely of the talkies” had be­come an en­try in one of Richard Lam­parski’s “What­ever Hap­pened to” books.

Writer-di­rec­tor Cameron’s $200-mil­lion “Ti­tanic” changed that.

Stu­art played Rose Calvert, the 100-year-old Ti­tanic sur­vivor who shows up af­ter mod­ern-day trea­sure hunters search­ing through the wreck­age of the sunken ship find a char­coal draw­ing of her wear­ing a price­less blue di­a­mond neck­lace.

Stu­art’s per­for­mance as Old Rose frames the 1997 ro­man­tic-drama that starred Leonardo DiCaprio as lower-class artist Jack Daw­son and Kate Winslet as the up­per-class young Rose.

In “Glo­ria Stu­art: I Just Kept Hop­ing,” her 1999 au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, Stu­art said that af­ter read­ing the script, “I knew the role I had wanted and waited for all these many years had ar­rived! I could taste the role of Old Rose!”

Cameron told The Times in a 1997 in­ter­view that he chose Stu­art be­cause he was “look­ing for a pro from the ’30s or ’40s, some­one prob­a­bly re­tired, maybe off the Hollywood radar for awhile.”

“I had to have some­one who’d play the lat­ter part of the life of some­one we’d rec­og­nize, Kate Winslet, so it couldn’t be some­one like Katharine Hep­burn. We know so well what she looked like [when she was young],” Cameron said. “Glo­ria had just enough dis­tance, and she gave this fan­tas­tic read­ing.”

At 87, Stu­art be­came the old­est ac­tress ever nom­i­nated for an Academy Award.

In ad­di­tion to Os­car and Golden Globe nom­i­na­tions, she won a Screen Ac­tors Guild award for out­stand­ing per­for­mance by a fe­male ac­tor in a sup­port­ing role (ty­ing with even­tual Os­car­win­ner Kim Basinger for “L.A. Con­fi­den­tial”).

In the mul­ti­ple-Os­car­win­ning block­buster’s wake, Stu­art found her­self swamped with fan mail and in­ter­view re­quests. She also was faced with be­ing rec­og­nized in the su­per­mar­ket and find­ing her old films resur­fac­ing on tele­vi­sion. Peo­ple mag­a­zine even named her one of the 50 most beau­ti­ful peo­ple in the world.

In 2000, sev­eral hun­dred fans gath­ered on Hollywood Boule­vard next to the Egyp­tian Theater for the un­veil­ing of Stu­art’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

“I can­not be­gin to tell you how re­ward­ing and nour­ish­ing and warm­ing it is,” she said at the cer­e­mony. “I wake up ev­ery day and say, ‘What a won­der­ful life. How lucky I am.’ ”

A third-gen­er­a­tion Cal­i­for­nian, she was born Glo­ria Ste­wart in Santa Mon­ica on the Fourth of July, 1910. She later changed the spell­ing of her last name to Stu­art, rea­son­ing that the six letters would bal­ance per­fectly on a theater mar­quee with the six letters in “Glo­ria.”

While at­tend­ing UC Berkeley, where she acted in a cam­pus the­atri­cal group, Stu­art met a hand­some young sculp­tor, Gor­don Newell. They were mar­ried in 1930 and moved to Carmel, where she ap­peared in lit­tle theater pro­duc­tions.

In 1932, af­ter play­ing Masha in a lit­tle theater pro­duc­tion of Chekhov’s “The Seag­ull” in Carmel, the vis­it­ing di­rec­tor asked her to play the role again in a small theater in the Los An­ge­les area.

Cast­ing di­rec­tors from both Para­mount and Uni­ver­sal saw her per­for­mance and of­fered her screen tests. She wound up sign­ing a seven-year con­tract with Uni­ver­sal.

Stu­art’s union ac­tiv­i­ties be­gan while mak­ing Whale’s 1932 horror com­edy “The Old Dark House” with Boris Karloff and Melvyn Dou­glas.

“All of us were just ex­hausted by the long hours, and Melvyn Dou­glas leaned over to me in this the­atri­cal way,” she re­called in a 1998 Times in­ter­view. “He whis­pered the word ‘union’ in my ear. And I thought, ‘Yes!’ ”

De­spite stiff stu­dio re­sis­tance, the Screen Ac­tors Guild was founded in 1933.

Dis­cov­er­ing that she “took to pol­i­tics like a duck to wa­ter,” Stu­art helped form the Hollywood An­tiNazi League in 1936, the same year she and writer Dorothy Parker helped or­ga­nize the League to Sup­port the Span­ish War Or­phans. She also be­came a mem­ber of the Hollywood Demo­cratic Com­mit­tee and was on the ex­ec­u­tive board of the Cal­i­for­nia State Demo­cratic Com­mit­tee.

Stu­art’s fledg­ling movie ca­reer took a toll on her mar­riage to Newell and they di­vorced. In 1934, she mar­ried screen­writer Arthur Sheek­man, with whom she had her daugh­ter Sylvia.

Stu­art, whose ca­reer at Uni­ver­sal failed to take off, signed with 20th Cen­tury Fox in 1935.

Af­ter Fox de­clined to re­new her con­tract in 1939, she acted in sum­mer theater on the East Coast and made a failed at­tempt at Broad­way be­fore re­turn­ing to Hollywood and turn­ing her cre­ative en­er­gies into the art of de­coupage.

In 1954, in­spired by an ex­hi­bi­tion of Im­pres­sion­ist paint­ings in Paris, she be­gan paint­ing. Her first one-woman show, at the Ham­mer Gal­leries in New York in 1961, was a crit­i­cal hit. She went on to have ex­hibits in ma­jor gal­leries.

In 1975, four years af­ter her hus­band was stricken with Alzheimer’s dis­ease, Stu­art de­cided to re­turn to act­ing. From 1975 to 1988, she had about a dozen mi­nor roles on TV and in movies, in­clud­ing danc­ing with Peter O’Toole in a night­club scene in the 1982 film “My Fa­vorite Year.”

As her hus­band be­came ill, Stu­art be­gan tak­ing classes in bon­sai. She be­came an hon­ored mem­ber of lo­cal bon­sai clubs, and her trees are in the bon­sai col­lec­tion at the Hunt­ing­ton Li­brary, Art Col­lec­tions and Botan­i­cal Gar­dens in San Marino.

Five years af­ter Sheek­man’s death in 1978, Stu­art re­newed a friend­ship with an old friend from her col­lege years: Ward Ritchie, who had be­come a world-renowned mas­ter printer. The friend­ship quickly grew into an au­tumn ro­mance. From Ritchie, Stu­art de­vel­oped an in­ter­est in fine let­ter­press print­ing and bought her own hand press.

She de­voted much of her time to de­sign­ing and print­ing artists’ books (hand­made, let­ter-press printed books in limited edi­tions, with her own art­work and writ­ing). Her work is in the J. Paul Getty Mu­seum in Los An­ge­les, the Metropoli­tan Mu­seum of Art in New York City, the Vic­to­ria and Al­bert Mu­seum in London and other mu­se­ums.

Be­sides her daugh­ter, Stu­art is sur­vived by four grand­chil­dren and 12 great­grand­chil­dren.

A pri­vate fu­neral ser­vice will be held.

Wally Skalij

TRI­UMPHANT COME­BACK

Glo­ria Stu­art played Old Rose in “Ti­tanic.” She was nom­i­nated for an Academy

Award as best sup­port­ing ac­tress, the old­est ac­tress ever nom­i­nated.

Stu­art in 1933’s “Ro­man Scan­dals.” She left act­ing af­ter re­al­iz­ing she would not be a big star

like Katharine Hep­burn and Loretta Young.

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