Gloria Grahame: The Classic Hollywood Screen Siren Whose Story Was More Tragic Than Any Of Her Movies
Classical films like "It’s A Wonderful Life" are part of her filmography, and yet, she’s barely remembered today.
In the light of the recent sexual harassment cases in Hollywood, people are starting to revisit the industry’s past to point out that the problem isn’t new. If anything, common sense tells us that it used to be even worse. Now, women are less afraid to speak up, and social media is helping us find a supportive community. In addition to that, we now have more inspiring examples of women who have gathered the courage to tell the truth about their personal experiences. Without that, how did women deal with those problems in the past? If you consider these issues, you will soon realize that, in many cases, women’s failure has a lot more to do with a negative professional environment than with their actual talent, work ethics, or skills. Just think about all the talent that is wasted because many women feel the need to step back or abandon their ambitions to care for their personal safety. One of the examples we can revisit to learn about how sexism can destroy someone’s career is Gloria Grahame’s story.
In 1952, Gloria Grahame won the Oscar for her performance on The Bad and The Beautiful. She also worked with big Hollywood stars like Humphrey Bogart and James Stewart, and became an important figure of the film noir genre by portraying the iconic femme fatale. Classical films like It’s A Wonderful Life (1946) and In A Lonely Place (1950) are part of her filmography, and yet, she’s barely remembered today. To justify that, one could say that trends simply
come and go. That Hollywood evolved and abandoned the era of the popular noir films that made her initially famous. However, Grahame’s story is a little more complicated.
Gloria Grahame was driven out of Hollywood after she stopped tolerating its blatant sexism. As her last partner, Peter Turner, explained, Grahame was supposed to star in the 1950 film Born Yesterday
, but she lost the opportunity after she refused to get inside a limo with Howard Hughes, the head of RKO Pictures. She didn’t simply refuse because she wasn’t his biggest fan. She did it because she suspected (or knew) that going on a limo ride alone with a powerful man wasn’t the safest thing to do.
Also, one of Hollywood’s charming traditions is to create strict beauty standards to later criticize the women who strive to achieve them. In Grahame’s case, she grew insecure about her appearance, tried to deal with those insecurities by getting cosmetic surgeries, and was mocked because of that. Ultimately, the bad press she was getting and her decreasing success started to affect her mental health and she decided to leave the big screen to continue her career in television and theater. That’s where she met Peter Turner, the young actor who would later write Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool
, a memoir about their relationship and the days leading to her death.
Gloria was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1974, but she kept working after it went into remission with the treatment. In 1980, it returned, and the second time she wasn’t willing to go through treatment again. Still passionate about theater, she took a plane to England and participated on one last play before her health declined completely. She later returned to New York, where she died in 1981.
Was her life a complete failure because Hollywood rejected her? It wasn’t. She didn’t make it in the film industry, but she continued to do what she loved. At the end of a chaotic yet beautiful life, she spent her last days in Liverpool with a partner who loved her and who’s still working to keep her memory alive.
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