Sunday, August 10, 2008

Norma Shearer: Centennial + 6

Had Norma Shearer, the First Lady of MGM, had Methusaleh style genes she would have turned 106 years old today. She did have good genes --she was 81 before pneumonia stole her from us --but she wasn't immortal. The same unfortunately goes for her legacy as a superstar.

I've been a devotee for a number of years. She's a pet largely because she's not as remembered as other 30s titans... and for the more standard reason one loves an actor: I get a kick watching her --especially in The Divorcée and Marie Antoinette. Six years ago when Norma's centennial rolled around there weren't a billion movie blogs celebrating everybody's centennials. Norma missed out. She deserves better.

True story: I was out for drinks with an editor from a publishing house a few months back and he was playing sounding board (I've been trying to get a book deal). I had become briefly obsessed with doing a book on Shearer and the editor, a great guy but a pragmatist, shot me down:
I'm sure it'd be great but you want to sell more than 3,000 copies right?
Ouch. See... Norma gets no respect. Not even from people who genuinely love movies.

Perhaps her ghost is just not fierce enough? What her legacy needs is a bit more of that Mrs. Stephen Haines character arc in The Women (1939). Norma's phantom-self needs to stop playing nice and start fighting for her man reputation. She needs to flash vapory nails and throw scenery (chewed) around like an angry poltergeist...

Instead of "boo" she could hiss "Jungle Red!"


10 comments:

Benji said...

I'm sure she is underappreciated. Many people, even in her time, thought she was only successful because of her marriage to Irving Thalberg (said Joan Crawford: "She really rode on his balls through this studio, didn't she?")

I have not yet been able to judge for myself, because I haven't managed to obtain a single film of hers (yes, not even "The Women" is available for rental here in Europe!). I guess that speaks volumes. I hope that my moving to London in September will give me more access, as I'm obsessed with the Golden Age of Hollywood.

Dame James Henry said...

I absolutely love Norma Shearer. One reason I think she isn't as remembered as she should be is because she really is an acquired taste. She's mannered, theatrical and entirely of a different era, acting wise. Marlon Brando she isn't. I didn't get her the first few films of hers I saw, but after The Barretts of Wimpole Street I felt like I completely understood her. She makes magic on that screen and often I have no idea how she does it.

Runs Like A Gay said...

I've been cataloguing my films recently and have notied there's a gaping Norma Shearer shaped hole there.

What's the best film I should look out for to help with that?

NATHANIEL R said...

like i said in the post i'm particularly fond of her in DIVORCEE and MARIE ANTOINETTE but THE WOMEN is a fun film overall--she has to share it though -- and the remake arrives in October so you should probably see it before then.

kent said...

Norma Shearer is deeply underappreciated. A lot of people tend to forget her star quality performances in the 30s. I agree with you, Nathaniel. She's shear fun in 'The Women,' memorable in 'The Divorcee,' and tragic in 'Romeo and Juliet.' My favorite performance of hers is 'Marie Antoinette.' She's regal, yet sly in the star role.

NicksFlickPicks said...

I knew you wouldn't let this day pass you by.

Billy D said...

I love her in Antoinette, and the Divorcee is both historically and actressexually important. Love.

Good luck with your publisher, I'd love to read whatever book you ultimately come up with.

Hayden said...

I agree. The Divorcee is one of the most important performances of all time for actressexuals, right up there with The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Sabrina, and The Fabulous Baker Boys.

teo said...

With all due respect to Norma, The Women completely belongs to Rosalind Russell and Joan Crawford, but she owns The Divorcee.

Seeing_I said...

I love me some Norma Shearer. It's a shame she's not so well remembered; I suppose her brand of long-suffering elegance is pretty out of fashion now. She wasn't a vamp or a tramp, but a classy, mature lady who suffered slings and arrows - but only so far! And then out came the jungle red. Well, she might never have the cachet of Dietrich or Stanwyck but she'll always have her fans!