Norma Shearer

Actor, Model, Piano player in movie theater
A child model and bit player in New York-based films whose appearance in "The Stealers" (1920) caught the attention of producer Irving Thalberg. Thalberg signed Shearer to a long-term contract with MGM in 1923 and she ... Read more »
Born: 08/09/1902 in Montreal, Quebec, CA

Filmography

Actor (28)

The Women 1938 (Movie)

Mary Haines (Actor)

Marie Antoinette 1937 (Movie)

(Actor)

Romeo and Juliet 1935 (Movie)

Juliet (Actor)

Hollywood Revue of 1929 1929 (Movie)

(Actor)

A Free Soul (Movie)

Jan Ashe (Actor)

A Lady of Chance (Movie)

Dolly (Actor)

Broadway After Dark (Movie)

Rose Dulane (Actor)

Channing of the Northwest (Movie)

Jess Driscoll (Actor)

Empty Hands (Movie)

Claire Endicott (Actor)

Escape (Movie)

Countess Von Treck (Actor)

He Who Gets Slapped (Movie)

Consuelo (Actor)

Idiot's Delight (Movie)

Irene Fellara (Actor)

Let Us Be Gay (Movie)

Kitty Brown (Actor)

Man and Wife (Movie)

Dora Perkins (Actor)

Private Lives (Movie)

Amanda Chase Paynne (Actor)

Rip Tide (Movie)

Mary Rexford (Actor)

Smilin' Through (Movie)

Kathleen (Actor)

Strangers May Kiss (Movie)

Lisbeth Corbin (Actor)

The Barretts of Wimpole Street (Movie)

Elizabeth Barrett (Actor)

The Cardboard Lover (Movie)

Consuelo Croyden (Actor)

The Last of Mrs. Cheyney (Movie)

Mrs. Cheyney (Actor)

The Tower of Lies (Movie)

Glory or Goldie (Actor)

The Trial of Mary Dugan (Movie)

Mary Dugan (Actor)

The Waning Sex (Movie)

Nina Duane (Actor)

Their Own Desire (Movie)

Lally Marlett (Actor)

Upstage (Movie)

Dolly Haven (Actor)

We Were Dancing (Movie)

Vicki Wilomirsky (Actor)

Biography

A child model and bit player in New York-based films whose appearance in "The Stealers" (1920) caught the attention of producer Irving Thalberg. Thalberg signed Shearer to a long-term contract with MGM in 1923 and she quickly became a popular star in such films as "He Who Gets Slapped" (1924), "His Secretary" (1925) and "The Student Prince" (1927), typically as a gentle but vivacious ingenue. Thalberg married his star in 1927, after which she had her pick of films, parts and directors. A striking and often lovely brunette actress with a great profile, Shearer compensated for a slight lack of conventional beauty with great poise, elegance and charm. She played a wide range of roles in a glittering array of films; among her most notable efforts were "The Divorcee" (1930), for which she won an Oscar, "A Free Soul" (1931), "Private Lives" (1931; an especially fine and rare comic performance at this stage in her career), "Smilin' Through" (1932; one of her loveliest performances, and most romantic films) and "Romeo and Juliet" (1936).

Relationships

Martin Arrouge

Husband
born on March 23, 1914 in San Francisco Married from August 23, 1942 until Shearer's death 1983 remarried in 1985 died in L.A. on August 8, 1999 at age 85

Howard Hawks Director

Sibling-in-Law

Howard Hughes Director

Companion
had relationship after Thalberg's death

George Raft Actor

Companion
popular star in action films and melodramas of the 1930s and 40s became romantically involved with Shearer in 1940 attempted to get a divorce from his estranged wife, but she refused relationship ended later that year

Mickey Rooney Actor

Companion
Romantically involved when Rooney was still in his teens

Andrew Shearer

Father
born c. 1864 died in 1944 took over father's business, which later failed divorced from Shearer's mother remarried c. 1931, second wife's name Elizabeth

Douglas Shearer Actor

Sibling
Born on November 17, 1899 died in 1971 Worked at his sister's studio, MGM, for years

Edith Shearer

Mother
born in 1873 in Islington, Ontario left her husband with the children after he was unable to provide for them

Athole Shearer

Sister
born in 1900 married to film director Howard Hawks c. 1928-40 died in 1984

James Shearer

Grandfather
grew up in northern highlands of Scotland moved to Canada in 1843

James Stewart Actor

Companion
involved after Thalberg's death

Katherine Stirling

Daughter
born on June 13, 1935 at one time married to actor Richard Anderson (perhaps best remembered from TV's "The Six Million Dollar Man") as of September 1991 owner of the Explorers Bookshop in Aspen, Colorado married to Bill Stirling

Irving Thalberg Actor

Husband
Married from September 29, 1927 until his death on September 14, 1936 of lobar pneumonia

Irving Thalberg

Son
born August 25, 1930 died of cancer in 1987 at age 57

EDUCATION

Montreal High School for Girls

Montreal , Quebec 1912 - 1914

Westmount High School

Milestones

1957

Selected Robert Evans to play the role of Irving Thalberg in a film about the life of film star Lon Chaney, "Man of a Thousand Faces"

1947

Discovered Janet Leigh (nee Jeanette Morrison) while on skiing vacation; helped set up screen test for her at MGM

1946

Made preliminary agreement to star in films for producer David Lewis' Enterprise Productions; company had financial problems; no films made

1942

Turned down co-starring but secondary role opposite Bette Davis in "Old Acquaintance"

1941

Last film, "Her Cardboard Lover"

1939

Starred in what is perhaps her best-remembered film, the all-star, all-female "The Women"

1937

Resisted a flat settlement with MGM regarding Thalberg's estate; held MGM executives to an agreement Thalberg had forged: successfully fought for her stock and for a percentage of the profits made on all films produced from the inception of MGM in 1924 th

1937

Successfully returned to films to make "Marie Antoinette", which Thalberg had prepared for production; signed six-picture deal with MGM at $150,000 per film

1935

Took another year off from filmmaking to give birth to daughter Katherine; began preliminary work toward the end of the year on "Romeo and Juliet" (1936)

1934

Returned to films; made two popular films, "The Barretts of Wimpole Street" and "Riptide"

1933

Took lengthy vacation in Europe with Thalberg as he recovered from heart attack

1932

Appeared on exhibitors' poll of ten most popular boxoffice stars for three years in a row, in sixth, ninth and tenth place, respectively

1929

Made successful talkie debut, "The Trial of Mary Dugan"

1925

Appeared in single loan-out during two-decade tenure at MGM, in "Waking Up the Town"

1924

Began appearing in leading roles; had major successes in "He Who Gets Slapped" and "The Snob"

1923

Signed with MGM; moved to California

1920

Moved with mother, brother, and sister to New York; began appearing in films in bit parts (e.g., "The Flapper" and D.W. Griffith's "Way Down East")

Death of Thalberg; retreat into seclusion; contracted pneumonia

Turned down offer by producer David Merrick to star in Broadway revival of "Lady in the Dark" in the early 1950s

Turned down starring roles in "Gone With the Wind" and "Mrs. Miniver" (dates approximate)

Worked as model; appeared as "Miss Lotta Miles" in tire advertisements

Bonus Trivia

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Some sources list August 11 as the date of Ms. Shearer's birth, but public records indicate that the August 10 date is correct.

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Besides Oscar win for "The Divorcee" (1930), Shearer was also nominated for "Their Own Desire" (1930, multiple nominations for the same year then possible under Academy rules of the time), "A Free Soul" (1931), "The Barretts of Wimpole Street" (1934), "Romeo and Juliet" (1936), and "Marie Antoinette" (1938).

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Shearer had a slight cast in her left eye as a child which became less noticeable as she grew into adulthood. The observant can still notice it in some shots in her films, but cinematographers filmed her carefully and Shearer did therapeutic exercises to minimize its presence.

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Among Shearer's admirers were F. Scott Fitzgerald, who wanted her to play Nicole in a film version of his novel, "Tender Is the Night" and used her as the model for a character in his short story, "Crazy Sunday".

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Actor Robert Morley, appearing with Shearer in "Marie Antoinette" (1938), reportedly once asked her, "How did you become a movie star?" She replied, "I wanted to!" --reported by Lambert's "Norma Shearer" 1990.

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"In her final years, Norma Shearer, looking and behaving more like Miss Haversham than one of the 1930s big movie stars, would clutch the wrists of friends visiting her at the Motion Picture Country House hospital in the San Fernando Valley and ask, 'Are you Irving? Were we married?'" --Leah Rozen in her review of Gavin Lambert's "Norma Shearer" in People, June 25, 1990.

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In his later years, Alfred Hitchcock would reportedly lament the absence of movie queens in contemporary cinema by asking, "Where are the Norma Shearers?" --reported by Gavin Lambert in his 1990 biography "Norma Shearer".

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