Celebrating Glorious Gloria

Gloria Stuart joined by fellow actresses Carla Laemmle and Pauline Wagner, all of whom are centenarians, at the “Academy’s Centennial Celebration with Gloria Stuart.” (photo courtesy of AMPAS)

When Gloria Stuart was cast as “Old Rose” in Titanic, makeup artist Greg Cannom had to age the 88-year-old actress to make her look older! On July 4, Gloria turned 100 in real life, and she still looks terrific. What’s more, she is as engaged—and engaging—as ever. It was my privilege to host the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ centennial celebration of her life and career on Thursday night.

The evening’s producer, Ellen Harrington, assembled a fine selection of film clips, beginning with excerpts from James Whale’s The Old Dark House (1932) and continuing with The Invisible Man (1933), Roman Scandals (1933), which introduced Gloria to her screenwriter-husband Arthur Sheekman, Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935), in which she—

—sings exactly one line of the song “I’m Going Shopping With You” with Dick Powell, John Ford’s The Prisoner of Shark Island (1936), two Shirley Temple films (Poor Little Rich Girl from 1938 and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm in 1938), the Fox B movie Island in the Sky (1938), My Favorite Year (1982), in which a silver-wigged Stuart dances with Peter O’Toole, and of course, the opening sequence of Titanic (1997), for which Gloria earned an Academy Award nomination.

The Academy also enabled the sell-out crowd to enjoy an array of Gloria’s celebrated oil paintings and fine-press art books, and I discussed her “other” careers with artist and friend Don Bachardy and David S. Zeidberg, the Avery Director of the Huntington Library, which not only has many of Gloria’s limited-edition books but even some of her beautifully-tended bonsai trees in its prestigious collection.

But the unquestioned highlight of the evening was the lady herself, who remains charming and feisty even at the century mark. She spoke admiringly of James Whale, talked with great fervor about her union activism in Hollywood, and claimed that she took up painting because she couldn’t get any acting jobs at the time. (She also said that she, her husband, and Harpo and Susan Marx used to take lessons every Thursday night at UCLA.) She was thrilled by the audience’s response and made a boxing champion’s winning gesture as she took her final bow.

photo courtesy of AMPAS

Then we screened a five-minute sequence from a film virtually no one has seen that makes a wonderful bookend with Titanic: a 1937 Universal B movie called Girl Overboard in which Gloria becomes one of the panicked passengers of a ship in distress. It captivated the audience, and afterwards more than one person expressed interest in seeing the whole picture. I told them that they’d already seen the best of it (which is true)—but it made a perfect postscript for a memorable evening.

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July 2024