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Teaching the American Twenties: Exploring the Decade through Literature and Art


The Dream Factory

Glamour Personified: Gloria Swanson

Gloria Swanson's film career began at the age of fifteen when she appeared in silent films made in her hometown of Chicago. Two years later, when her father's work with the army required him to be stationed in the Philippines, Swanson moved to California and began working with Mack Sennett, the prolific Hollywood producer of such popular film series as Keystone Kops. By 1919, she was a favorite of Cecil B. DeMille and quickly rose to stardom within his studio, Paramount. By 1925, the peak of her career, she had made some fifty films, all silent.

The first talkie Swanson starred in was her own production of The Trespasser. Filming of this movie began as a silent picture, but after becoming convinced of the success of the new "talkies," Swanson hired Edmund Goulding, who wrote the script in three weeks, enabling the distribution of the "talkie" within the year.

At this point, she joined United Artists, a production company through which prominent actors were able to produce, direct, and star in their own films. Though she won Academy Award nominations for two of the films she produced and starred in, Sadie Thompson and The Trespasser, she virtually disappeared from the public eye after 1933.

Relocating to New York, Swanson was an active businesswoman involved in various ventures, including an invention and patents company. After World War II, Swanson appeared in theater and television productions but was not widely recognized until 1950, when she appeared in Sunset Boulevard. Her performance in this film won Swanson yet another Academy Award nomination for what came to be considered a historic comeback role.

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Publicity still from <em>Zaza</em>
Publicity still from Zaza
Paramount

Often elaborately costumed on-screen and off, Gloria Swanson was glamorous but had a "common appeal." Frequently playing a rich woman in love with a poor man or a poor woman marrying up, her roles reflected concerns about shifting attitudes toward class ...
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