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Turner Classic Movies
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Stuart, Gloria
Written by Diana Saenger   

gloria_stuart_portrait.jpgGloria Stuart, the actress who at 88 played the aging character of Rose (played by Kate Winslet as a young girl) in Titanic, is now playing out her life as a 100-year old grand dame. And don't think that's kept her down on the farm (or at home in L.A.). For the last several weeks she's enjoyed several highly attended soirees to celebrate her centennial birthday. In addition to the one Director of Titanic James Cameron and his wife Suzy Amis hosted for her friends and family at the ACE gallery in Beverly Hills; the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences held a 100th   birthday celebration for Stuart. The sold-out crowd enjoyed clips of some of her early movies and introspection by Leonard Maltin who also interviewed the still witty and personable Stuart on stage.

Gloria Frances Stewart was born in Santa Monica, CA. July 4, 1910 to Frank Stewart, an attorney and Alice Vaughn Stewart. Her father was killed in an auto accident in 1919. Her mother later married banker Fred J. Finch. After graduating from Santa Monica High School in 1927, Stuart went to Berkeley intending on majoring in drama and philosophy. However, true love captured her heart in the form of San Francisco sculptor Blair Gordon Newell. They married in June 1930 and spent their few years together discovering art and artist. They divorced four years later.

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Ernest Thesiger & Gloria Stuart
 in The Old Dark House

During this time Stuart put her college acting skills to good use and began appearing in small theater productions. Universal Studios signed her to a contract and lined her up with English director James Whale who gave Stuart roles in The Old Dark House (1932), The Kiss Before The Mirror (1933) and The Invisible Man (1933). About this time Stuart decided her real name - Stewart - was too long to appear on a marquee so she changed it to Stuart, the exact number of letters in Gloria.

 

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Claude Rains and Gloria Stuart in The Invisible Man

During this time Stuart met and married screenwriter Arthur Sheekman. They met on the set of Roman Scandals, which he wrote. The couple had one daughter, Sylvia. In 1935 Stuart got to kick up her heels and warble a song line with Dick Powell in Busby Berkeley's Gold Diggers of 1935. After a long voyage and both she and Arthur being denied joining the French Resistance, the couple settled in New York and Stuart went to work back on the theatrical stage. When things didn't lend to more successful careers, the Sheekmans returned to Hollywood. Arthur was hired by Paramount and Stuart landed small bit parts in films. Gloria filled in her days with singing lessons, entertaining the troops in hospitals and political endeavors as well as working in an actors' lab.

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Warner Baxter & Stuart in
The Prisoner of Shark Island

From the late 1930s to the 1940s Stuart appeared in The Prisoner of Shark Island (1936), 36 Hours to Kill (1936), Poor Little Rich Girl (1936), Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1938), Island in the Sky (1938), The Three Musketeers (1939) and The Whistler (1944). She also became quite talented in creating art in many different medias. She opened a shop to showcase her decoupage.

When Sheekman became ill in 1975, Stuart returned to acting appearing in a mix of films and TV shows until 2004. Sheekman died in 1978. Just like the happily-ever-after endings in movies, Stuart's life was about to take another turn. She became reacquainted with an old school chum. California printer Ward Ritchie, who introduced Stuart to fine art books. She soon wrote the text, did the designing, set type, and added finishing touches to her work.  Today Stuart is a well-respected artist with her work in decoupage, bonsai, oil paintings and fine-press art books housed throughout the world including the Getty Research Museum, J. Paul Getty Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Stuart probably wasn't ready for what happened shortly after Ritchie passed away.  She was offered the role of the aging Rose in Titanic. She wowed director James Cameron and other Hollywood stars and also spent time writing books which incudes her memoir with her daughter Sylvia Thompson in 1999; Gloria! I Just Kept Hoping.

Gloria Stuart bid this world farewell on Sept. 26, 2010. Her fans will dearly miss her.  

 



                       

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