Gloria Stuart, who at age 88 became the oldest person ever nominated for an acting Academy Award, passed away this past weekend after a long battle with lung cancer. She was 100.
Born on July 4, 1910 in Santa Monica, California, Ms. Stuart attended the University of California at Berkeley, where she appeared in both student and local theater productions. In 1932 she was discovered and signed by a talent scout for Universal Studios, where she appeared in no less then five features that year. Her acting skills got her noticed and later that year she was named one of twelve “Baby Stars” by the Western Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Among her fellow nominees: future screen star Ginger Rogers. In 1933 she co-starred for director James Whale in “The Invisible Man.” She later appeared in “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm” with Shirley Temple and co-starred with Don Ameche in “The Three Musketeers.” She also had a role in Busby Berkeley’s “Gold Diggers of 1935” opposite Dick Powell. In 1936, she and other actors, including Melvyn Douglas, James Cagney, Paul Muni and Frederick March, unhappy with the way things were going in Europe, founded the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League. Finding her lack of film roles not to her liking, and possibly worried about the political temperature of the country at the end of World War II (some organizations accused the Anti-Nazi League of being a communist front) she left Hollywood in 1946 to return to the theater.
In 1975 she returned to Hollywood via an appearance on television’s “The Waltons.” She worked steadily in both television and film, appearing in several made for television movies as well as on the big screen in “Mass Appeal,” “Wildcats” and one of my all time favorites, “My Favorite Year.” Fans of the film will remember Ms. Stuart as the woman celebrating her anniversary that Peter O’Toole dances with. She “retired” in 1989 but in 1995 found herself back on television because of the actions of another. Ms. Stuart happened to live directly across the street from the house where Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman were murdered. One year later Ms. Stuart was coaxed back to the big screen by director James Cameron, who cast her as the older Rose in his blockbuster “Titanic.” For her performance in the film, Ms. Stuart was nominated for several awards, including both the Academy Award and the Golden Globe as Best Supporting Actor. The Kansas City Film Critics Circle, of which I am a member, named her the Best Supporting Actor of 1997 for her work in “Titanic.” Ms. Stuart was the only member of the films’ cast and crew who was actually alive when the ship sank and ironically played a character that lived to be 100. The film gave her a second career and she continued to work until 2004.