Norma Shearer, Silver Screen Queen

Norma Shearer, Silver Screen Queen

Norma Shearer wasn’t the conventional glamour girl, that you see when you think of Hollywood’s Golden Age. She was no cookie-cutter, beauty. Norma had crossed-eyes and stubby legs. Shearer’s first stab at the stage was quickly shot down. She was rejected by Flo Ziegfeld for the Follies, on Broadway..( he reportedly called her ugly as a dog!! the nerve…). She made plenty of auditions and got employment as an extra, with Universal Studios. Norma was determined and had a chance to chat with director, D.W. Griffith. She was telling him about her dreams of stardom when he looked her up & down & said, (referring to her eyes) “You’ll never make it”.. I think I would’ve ran away in tears, never returning to the biz! But being a determined girl, the money Norma made, all went to eye doctor services. She learned ocular exercises, practiced them, religiously and it made a big difference. A year after the Follies failure, Shearer made her first appearance in a B-movie, “The Stealers”, in 1921. More silent films followed, usually being fourth-billed. This led to Hal Roach taking a chance on Norma. He signed her with infamous, Louis B. Mayer…Off to Hollywood, she went in, 1923. After her (not-so glamorous) arrival, Shearer met with Irving Thalberg, Louis B. Mayer’s right-hand, man, Norma was taken by him, but for Thalberg, it was strictly business. The director for her first Hollywood film, told Mayer he couldn’t get anything out of Norma. Mayer confronted her, shouting about throwing her career away because she can’t get along with a director. Norma bit back saying, “I’ll show YOU!”..”YOU’LL SEE!”… Louis smirked and said, “thats what I needed o hear”. MGM formed in 1924 and Norma Shearer had the female lead in their first production, “He Who Gets Slapped”. Her original $250/week salary rose to $1,000/week, the to $5,000, over 5 years. She was a bonafide star, MGM’s biggest, box-office, attraction! The challenge for a star is remaining one. With Garbo and Crawford on the scene, Norma would frequently go to Thalberg’s office to demand racier roles to rival the newbies. Thalberg wasn’t listening. This was tough, because slowly Norma was falling for, Irving. One day, Irving invited Norma to watch Chaplin’s new film, “The Gold Rush”, it was their first real date. But, for the next two years the couple saw other people, disappointingly waiting Thalberg’s proposal. By 1927, while waiting on Thalberg, Norma made 13 successful silents, for MGM. Finally in August, Irving called Norma into his office. His desk covered with different diamond rings asshe heard those 4 words, “will you marry me?”. September, 1927 saw the biggest Hollywood wedding, to date! A week after her marriage, talkies were dead and Shearer was being prepped in every way, for that inevitable, microphone. Her first talkie, was a major success, but she feared the public would tire of her “good girl” image. Norma hired a photographer to tak (now famous) racy photos of her, to prove to Thalberg she could be sexy on-screen, as she was to him. Apparently, they worked. She was cast in 1930’s, racy, pre-code classic, “The Divorcee” and won the Oscar for Best Actress. A series of the best precode Shearer movies, were made. This made her neck and neck with Garbo and Crawford, as top actress of the decade. Shearer’s marriage to Thalberg gave her a degree of power in Hollywood that was resented by rivals such as Crawford, who complained that Shearer would always be offered the best roles and best conditions: “How can I compete with Norma when she’s sleeping with the boss?” Norma had a classy comeback to Joan’s crassly remarks: “It is impossible to get anything major accomplished without stepping on some toes. Enemies are inevitable when one is a ‘doer’.” The Hayes Code enforcement forced Norma to drop her “free soul” act and take on very dramatic roles like, “The Barretts of Wimpole Street”, and in Shearer fashion, she shined. In 1936, Shearer and Thalberg took a much needed vacation. Both were exhausted, but Irving a little more. When they returned he had pneumonia. His condition worsened and he died at age 37. Norma had his crypt engraved with, “My Sweetheart Forever”. Norma threw herself into her work making classic movies such as, “The Women”, in 1940. She began to turn down roles. Norma was offered the lead in “Gone With The Wind” & “Now, Voyager and turned them down. She was physically getting, run-down. In 1942, Norma declared her retirement from acting. She had played the most beloved characters like: Juliet & Marie Antoinette, she played wanton ladies, she played aristocrats, everything under the sun..what was left? Without Norma Shearer, I don’t believe early Hollywood would have been the same. She was piously pitted against rough n ready, Joan Crawford. A perfect balance, for the times. Norma lived a long life and did marry again. I want to believe she found her happiness. From cross-eyed, “dog” to “Screen Queen”, Norma accomplished what some actors only dream, of. Once in a blue moon, you don’t have to rely on beauty to become big in, Hollywood. Norma Shearer was a “once in a blue moon”, woman.


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