"I always chose sophisticated parts because you can't really be interesting as a young girl, or outstanding as an ingenue." - Norma Shearer
Norma Shearer was born Edith Norma Shearer on August 10, 1902, in Montreal, Canada. After seeing the legendary Dolly Sisters perform on stage she decided she was going to become an actress. Her mother took Norma and her sister to New York in 1920. Norma auditioned for the Ziegfeld Follies but was told she wasn't beautiful enough to be in the show. She got work as an extra in several silent films including The Flapper. Norma began dating producer Irving Thalberg, who helped her get a contract with MGM. She appeared in silent films like He Who Gets Slapped and easily made the transition to talkies. Norma converted to Judaism and married Irving in September 1927. They had two children together - Irving Jr was born in 1930 and Katherine was born in 1935. She was not very maternal and had a distant relationship with her children. Norma won an Academy Award for her performance in the 1931 drama The Divorcee.
She starred in some of MGM's most prestigious films including Smilin' Through, Romeo And Juliet, and The Barretts Of Wimpole Street. Norma earned more than six thousand dollars a week. Other actresses at the studio were jealous of her success and claimed she only got the roles because she was married to Irving. She was nicknamed "Queen Norma". Her brother, Douglas Shearer, became an Oscar winning sound engineer. In 1936 Irving died from lobular pneumonia at the age of thirty-seven. She was devastated and took two years off from making movies. In 1938 she returned to the screen starring in the epic Marie Antoinette. Her performance earned her another Oscar nomination but she lost to Bette Davis. Norma started dating again and was romantically linked to actors Jimmy Stewart and Mickey Rooney. She also had a serious relationship with George Raft. She costarred with Joan Crawford in The Women and with Clark Gable in Idiot's Delight.
Norma was offered the role of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind but turned it down. In 1942 she married Martin Arrouge, a ski instructor who was twenty years younger than her. By this time she had lost interest in her career and decided to retire. Her final film was the 1942 comedy Her Cardboard Lover. Norma spent much of her time traveling and enjoyed living life away from the spotlight. During the 1960s she began suffering from insomnia and underwent electric shock treatments. In her later years she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and lived at the Motion Picture Retirement Home. She died on June 12, 1983, from pneumonia. Norma is buried next to Irving at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.
The Women (1939)