Today marks the 108th anniversary of the birth of Norma Shearer.
Shearer’s not as well known to the average person today as, say, Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, but she was a huge star in her day until, like Greta Garbo, she opted to slip out of the spotlight, after making two pictures in 1942, rather than allowing the public to see her grow old on the screen (Davis and Crawford clearly had no such qualms, and more power to them).
Some insist to this day that Shearer hit it big in large part because she was married to Irving Thalberg, the wunderkind of MGM, but we don’t buy that. She’d appeared in at least 34 movies by the time she and Thalberg tied the knot. Their union did her career no harm, to be sure, but she was gritty and determined and talented, and she’d have done just fine without him, we’re convinced.
We like that she didn’t let the fact that she was a bit cross-eyed prevent her from hitting it big. We like that, when she was told by her own husband that she wasn’t sexy enough for the title role in the Pre-Code classic The Divorcee (1930), she took the initiative to have some sexy photos taken by soon-to-be-prominent photographer George Hurrell to prove him wrong.
She got the part and negated her good-girl image for all time. Thereafter, she was allowed to play a wide range of roles, but had it been left to Thalberg, she’d have stayed locked into her previous prim-and-proper image.
So here’s to Ms. Shearer, another talented gal who knew what she wanted and set out to get it.