leading lady who earned an Academy Award nomination for her first
significant role in nearly 60 years — as Old Rose, the centenarian
survivor of the Titanic in
Stuart, a founding member of the Screen Actors Guild
who later became an accomplished painter and fine printer, died Sunday
night at her
Stuart had been diagnosed with lung cancer five years ago.
“She also was a breast cancer survivor,” Thompson
said, “but she just paid no attention to illness. She was a very strong
woman and had other fish to fry.”
In July the actress was honored at an “Academy Centennial Celebration With Gloria Stuart” at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in
As a glamorous blond actress under contract to Universal Studios and
She also appeared with
But mostly she played what Stuart later dismissed as
“stupid parts with nothing to do” — “girl reporter, girl detective,
girl nurse” — and “it became increasingly evident to me I wasn’t going
to get to be a big star like
After making 42 feature films between 1932 and 1939, Stuart’s latest studio contract, with
By 1974, “the blond lovely of the talkies” had become an entry in one of
100-year-old Titanic survivor who shows up after modern-day treasure
hunters searching through the wreckage of the sunken ship find a
charcoal drawing of her wearing a priceless blue diamond necklace.
Stuart’s performance as Old Rose frames the 1997 romantic-drama that starred
Hoping,” her 1999 autobiography, Stuart said that after reading the
script, “I knew the role I had wanted and waited for all these many
years had arrived! I could taste the role of Old Rose!”
Cameron told the Los Angeles Times in a 1997
interview that he chose Stuart because he was “looking for a pro from
the ’30s or ’40s, someone probably retired, maybe off the
“I had to have someone who’d play the latter part of the life of someone we’d recognize,
We know so well what she looked like (when she was young),” Cameron
said. “Gloria had just enough distance, and she gave this fantastic
At 87, Stuart became the oldest actress ever nominated for an Academy Award.
In addition to Oscar and Golden Globe nominations,
she won a Screen Actors Guild award for outstanding performance by a
female actor in a supporting role (tying with eventual Oscar-winner
In the multiple-Oscar-winning blockbuster’s wake,
Stuart found herself swamped with fan mail and interview requests. She
also was faced with being recognized in the supermarket and finding her
old films resurfacing on television. People magazine even named her one
of the 50 most beautiful people in the world.
In 2000, several hundred fans gathered on
“I cannot begin to tell you how rewarding and
nourishing and warming it is,” she said at the ceremony. “I wake up
every day and say, ‘What a wonderful life. How lucky I am.'”
A third-generation Californian, she was born
1910. She later changed the spelling of her last name to Stuart,
reasoning that the six letters would balance perfectly on a theater
marquee with the six letters in “Gloria.”
While attending the
In 1932, after playing Masha in a little theater production of Chekhov’s “The Seagull” in
Casting directors from both
Stuart’s union activities began while making Whale’s 1932 horror comedy “The Old Dark House” with Boris Karloff and
“All of us were just exhausted by the long hours, and
interview. “He whispered the word ‘union’ in my ear. And I thought,
Despite stiff studio resistance, the Screen Actors Guild was founded in 1933.
Discovering that she “took to politics like a duck
to water,” Stuart helped form the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League in 1936,
the same year she and writer
organize the League to Support the Spanish War Orphans. She also became
a member of the Hollywood Democratic Committee and was on the executive
board of the California State Democratic Committee.
Stuart’s fledgling movie career took a toll on her
marriage to Newell and they divorced. In 1934, she married screenwriter
Arthur Sheekman, with whom she had her daughter Sylvia.
Stuart, whose career at Universal failed to take off, signed with
After Fox declined to renew her contract in 1939, she acted in summer theater on the
In 1954, inspired by an exhibition of Impressionist paintings in
In 1975, four years after her husband was stricken
with Alzheimer’s disease, Stuart decided to return to acting. From 1975
to 1988, she had about a dozen minor roles on TV and in movies,
including dancing with
As her husband became ill, Stuart began taking
classes in bonsai. She became an honored member of local bonsai clubs,
and her trees are in the bonsai collection at the Huntington Library,
Art Collections and
Five years after Sheekman’s death in 1978, Stuart renewed a friendship with an old friend from her college years:
who had become a world-renowned master printer. The friendship quickly
grew into an autumn romance. From Ritchie, Stuart developed an interest
in fine letter-press printing and bought her own hand press.
She devoted much of her time to designing and
printing artists’ books (handmade, letter-press printed books in
limited editions, with her own artwork and writing). Her work is in the
J. Paul Getty Museum in
Besides her daughter, Stuart is survived by four grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
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