Cover image for Gloria Stuart : I just kept hoping
Gloria Stuart : I just kept hoping
Stuart, Gloria.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
Boston : Little, Brown and Co., [1999]

Physical Description:
328 pages, 32 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations (some color) ; 25 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PN2287.S789 A3 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
PN2287.S789 A3 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Even by Hollywood standards, Gloria Stuart has led a remarkable life. She became internationally famous with her award-winning portrayal of Rose in 'Titanic' but her acting career began in the 1930s and as a famous beauty she featured in over forty films. She was also a political activist who was one of the founders of the Hollywood Anti-Nazi Committee and of the Screen Actors Guild. A friend of Humphrey Bogart, Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley et al, this story of her life in Hollywood and New York details her loves, losses and triumphs over nearly ninety years.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

In a world awash in niche marketing, it is hard to imagine more of a niche subject for a star bio than Stuart, the venerable actress of Titanic fame. Golden-agers, Hollywoodophiles, and Titanic or James Cameron cultists will be those most interested in the Screen Actors Guild founding member's memoirs, which cover a career of more than 60 years. Bright as a new penny, Stuart and Thompson's prose skips from anecdote to incident, occasionally spewing such details as those of a botched abortion, which led to a leg infection, which led to Stuart's mother's coming to stay with her and husband Gordon, which spurred him to finally finish the fireplace and close the hole in the wall. And then there is Stuart's reaction to sharing billing in her first movie with Kay Francis: "I felt so superior because I was a stage actress and she was--well, you know!" Entertaining film history that you know patrons will want. By the way, Gloria's husband Arthur Sheekman was, like American Nazi George Lincoln Rockwell's dad, a close friend of Groucho Marx. --Mike Tribby

Publisher's Weekly Review

For Stuart, playing Old Rose in Titanic was a vindication, "my last chance to finally prove I could be a first-rank actress." At 87, she was nominated for an Academy Award, the oldest person ever to be so honored, yet the undercurrent of this refreshingly honest, anything-goes autobiography is her lifelong frustration over not fulfilling her dream of becoming a great actress. After achieving star status by making a string of mostly forgettable Hollywood films (and admitting to a philosophy of "free love") in the 1930s, Stuart and her second husband, screenwriter Arthur Sheekman (whose credits include Some Came Running and Marx Brothers classics) moved to New York in 1939, where she pursuedÄfutilelyÄa career on stage. Undaunted by this setback, they moved back to California, where Stuart made more movies but also gradually found new creative outlets as a painter, printmaker, poet, crafts-shop owner, bonsai expert and small-press publisher. Writing in the first person with an assist from her daughter, Thompson (The Kitchen Garden), Stuart pulls few punches about celebrity friends, including Humphrey Bogart (depicted as a macho thug abusive to women), Groucho Marx (a "cheap, chintzy, unfeeling bastard") and M.F.K. Fisher (a bigoted snob). She is winningly frank in accounts of Sheekman's obsessive jealousy, which almost derailed their marriage; of creating and designing an erotic art book, Eve-Venus, at age 76; and of carrying on a torrid romance with publisher/poet Ward Ritchie from 1982 until his death 14 years later. Stuart unfortunately says very little here about her political activismÄshe was a founding member of the Screen Actors Guild in 1933 and of the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League in 1936. But her sassy, disarming self-portrait is a class act. Photos. Author tour. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Stuart was "just another" ice cream blonde who had appeared in mostly B-grade Hollywood movies in the 1930s and 1940sÄuntil she was cast in her Oscar-nominated role as Old Rose in the phenomenally successful Titanic. Now the world wants to know more about the obscure origins of this feisty, free-spirited octogenarian. Here, she recounts her bohemian youth in California, her disenchantment with Hollywood, and her high jinks with friends such as Groucho Marx and Humphrey Bogart. While reading, one longs for a romantic, seemingly simpler age when leisurely steamship cruises to the Orient, such as that taken by Stuart and her second husband, were not unusual among a certain set. More recent vignettes are lackluster by comparison. Stuart claims that her life has essentially been a quest to "make her mark," which culminated with Titanic. This bookÄa collection of musingsÄstems from the author's new-found fame, without which it probably would not have been written. Recommended for general collections.ÄJayne Plymale, Univ. of Georgia, Athens (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One According to legend, my seaside hometown was named Santa Monica because its streams were so sparkling and full it reminded the Spanish fathers of Saint Monica's tears for her son's salvation. Santa Monica was put on the map by the explorer-soldier Portol?. Santa Monica Bay is a crescent, with Point Dume to the west and Palos Verdes to the south. It was called the Bay of a Thousand Candles by Cabrillo and other Spanish explorers, because the Indians built their campfires on top of the Palisades. These bluffs run between 50 and 250 feet high, then slope gently down to the beach. Palm trees along the top of the Palisades were not very high when I was not very high. Looking at them now, they're very, very tall. The Palisades palms fill me with nostalgia and a sense of growing old. In the sea, when I was a child, there were seals and dolphins very close to shore, and the whales were very evident going south. There were acres and acres of rosy seaweed above the water, and we were always warned never to swim into a bed of it, that we would be caught and entangled and probably drown. That sea-weed disappeared during the First World War, because it was harvested for medicines. Mama said iodine. And it has never reappeared. There are very few seals anymore, or sea lions, or dolphins. I don't remember sharks ever being spoken of. But certainly over a period of years we have had sharks in the Santa Monica Bay. And every once in a while way offshore you can see a few whales going south. But today, Heal the Bay is the new ploy. Against pollution, you know, chum. There were pelicans and gulls over the ocean--still are, but cranes in the wetlands around Venice are rare. Tiny blue butter-flies, once in the thousands, are now nearly extinct. When we stood on the Palisades, we looked across to China. Behind us were the San Gabriel Mountains, snow-covered in winter. There were no houses on the beach. The Santa Monica Pier was there, and way in the distance, to the south, a Pier off Ocean Park, now gone. Then way, way in the distance we saw the Venice Pier--until it burned. My brother came home after dark one night from his newspaper bike route with the news the Pier was burning. Daddy bundled us up into the car--an early open Studebaker--and drove down to the Venice beach. It was a Fire! The beach was crowded with people, and, as the great dome over the ballroom at the end of the Pier collapsed into the sea, we all ooh ohh ohhed sadly, secretly thrilled at witnessing something so spectacular. The aquarium went, too. I remember Mama saying she hoped "the poor things" made it into the ocean. We agreed. Skies were clear blue always--no smog. In the spring, from Sixth Street, where we lived, as far as we could see, fields of poppies, Indian paintbrush, johnny-jump-ups, wild iris, monkey faces, clover, and great patches of lupine and mustard gently rolled up toward the hills to the east. Today they're called the Hollywood Hills, but in those days, they were just The Mountains. And off to our right, to the north, the Santa Monica Mountains, far enough away to silhouette darkly against the horizon. There are still deer in those mountains, coyote, rabbits, squirrels, possums. There were mountain lions, rattlesnakes, king snakes, garter snakes. On the road along the Pacific Ocean, up to Topanga Canyon, I remember hundreds and hundreds of what we called Our Lord's Candles. Yucca, very tall with white blossoms. Picture ten-to-fifteen-feet-high bare stalks covered with dozens of lily-shaped waxy flowers. They dotted the hillsides singly up and down the slopes. Today, one or two to a hillside. Maybe. We used to dig one up after a weekend in my family's cabin in Topanga, and plant it on the front lawn at home. Eventually it was against the law to remove yucca from the mountains--which it should have been in the beginning. Once, our father was driving us up the narrow road toward Topanga Canyon to watch one of our almost yearly brushfires, when we were stopped and he was commandeered to help fight that fire. Taken right out of the car that minute by two forest rangers! We didn't see him for several days, and I remember Mama driving us back up to find out about him, and the forest ranger saying he didn't know where Daddy was, but no one had been killed. My father didn't do that again. He decided the fires looked even more spectacular from what is now known as Pacific Palisades. An orphan at fifteen, Mama went to work in the Ocean Park post office three years later. She became a clerk for the postmaster, Mr. Stilson. He and his wife befriended her. Around that time, my aunt Nellie Deidrick was listed in the Ocean Park telephone directory as a "seamstress." Uncle Jesse Deidrick was a "grocery clerk." Then Frank Stewart, a law student moonlighting as a postal inspector, walked into Mama's life. He was a stern and handsome Scot born in The Dalles, Oregon--The Dalles is perched on the great Columbia River, and was the end of the Oregon Trail. Frank Stewart's family were farmers (related, Mama said, to Mary, Queen of Scots), but he went to San Francisco to study law, then came down to Los Angeles. In time, he proposed marriage to Alice Deidrick. Mama proudly told how her friends Colonel and Mrs. Scofield gave her a first-class wedding, complete with a silver flat- ware service, a huge brass samovar, cut-glass crystal bowls, china, even monogrammed linens--all for a nobody postal clerk! My dear father booked a drawing room on the Southern Pacific Railroad train for San Francisco for their wedding night. It's not my idea of "thoughtfulness." All those whistles and tunnels. In nine months, me. (When I was in my twenties, Mama confided that on her wed-ding night and for almost a week after, she was so terrified at the prospect of intercourse she cried most of the time and couldn't co-operate!) I was born around eleven o'clock at night on the Fourth of July, 1910. My mother said, "Honey, it was getting so close to midnight, the midwife kept saying, ?Push harder, harder'--I had to have you on the Fourth of July!" I was delivered on the dining room table (it seems a curious place, now that I think of it). Years later, I had my tonsils removed on that same table. Eleven months after me came Boy. Boy's real name was Frank. Two years later came another baby boy, Thomas, named after both Mama's and Daddy's fathers. When I was three, suddenly Boy and I couldn't leave the house to play with our neighborhood friends. Our tiny brother was very sick and we were quarantined--it was spinal meningitis. Tommy died, but all it meant to me was that we could go out and play again. In those days, women wore lockets holding a lock of hair. Years later, I realized that the blond curl in Mama's locket was from Tommy. The attention my looks received probably affected the filial relationship between my brother and me. I vividly remember sitting next to him on a bench in Palisades Park complete with an enormous stand-up, six-inch-wide pink-striped silk hair ribbon clamped to my blond Dutch cut--we were six and five--with passersby admiring me, and Boy loudly piping up, "Look at me! Look at me!" And he was a handsome little boy. But nobody noticed. Despite this, I confess I was jealous of my brother when I was little. That's because Mama spent most of her time with him, driving him around to confer with doctors and charlatans, faith healers, and orthopedic specialists. She was searching for a way to heal Boy's leg. He had suffered an attack of infantile paralysis at the age of eleven months. It was misdiagnosed as a broken leg and put in a plaster cast, where it withered. My father had been determined that Boy not use his paralysis negatively. But the methods Daddy used seem to me today very unwise--certainly unhappy. He devised games for the two of us after dinner. In one, we stood together, Daddy threw a beanbag across the room, and we scrambled for it. I always won. I was taller and almost a year older than Boy and not handicapped. Some-times, Daddy threw pennies. I got those first, too. Daddy also took Boy to the Ocean Park Plunge, a bathhouse where Boy learned to dive from a very high springboard--one small withered leg clinging in midair against his good one. The ocean waves were too strong for him, though he could wade out in calm water and dive over a wave, then swim in deeper water. But I was the original seal, riding the waves, diving under the big ones fearlessly. If I believed in such things, it's not surprising that I was born under a water sign. Once, as a child, I asked my mother why I wasn't a princess. Her answer, "Because you have to be born a princess." And I asked, "How do I do that?" It has occurred to me that everything that I have wanted to do, to excel in, has had to do with theatrics. Starting with wanting to be an actress to display myself. For applause. For me, giving parties, for example, is almost the same as going on stage. The door opens, the audience arrives, the curtain goes up, you walk out of the kitchen, and you have lines. In both cases, if you're good, there is applause, a feeling of great satisfaction, involvement, happiness, and recognition. One of my favorite entertainments was a dinner party I gave in the 1930s for a Major Grey--but not the Major Grey of chutney fame--when he visited from England. He was a friend of a friend of ours, and I thought it would be very amusing to have a curry dinner, and to serve the other Major Grey's famous chutney. Back in those prewar days, when we entertained, my friends and I outdid each other with finger bowls. Beautiful French or English or Irish crystal finger bowls set on flowery plates. Flowers floated in the bowls--sometimes, in green- or blue-colored water. Plus exquisitely fine linen doilies, probably four inches across, with beautiful lace edges and embroidery. For Major Grey's dinner, it occurred to me it might be fun to have a duck with the finger bowls--a live duck, because ducks eat, then sip water in between nibbles. So the finger bowls were finally served, naturally with little flowers. And then the lovely fat mallard duckling was let loose on the table. I put some duck food in my finger bowl, and "it"--I don't know whether it was a she or a he--ducked in and out, other guests followed, sprinkling duck food into their finger bowls. Major Grey loved the party. "This is really Hollywood!" he said. Once, an interviewer asked me the inspiration of my frequent party-giving, especially my holiday celebrations. I suddenly knew it was because, when I was a child, Mama celebrated everything. On May Day, we painted berry baskets and filled them with flowers from our garden, then left them early in the morning on neighbors' porches. For Decoration Day, we made wreaths of greens and took them down to the Santa Monica Pier to toss into the ocean in memory of "the brave men who gave their lives for our country," as Mama put it. April Fools' Day meant salt in our father's sugar bowl, a full purse on the sidewalk attached to an invisible thread attached to a lamppost--Mama! Lincoln's Birthday we reread the Gettysburg Address at dinner. Washington's Birthday fresh cherry pie and the retelling of the story about the tree-- "I cannot tell a lie." And, of course, for my Fourth of July birthday, Mama always made me a three-story red, white, and blue cake topped with candles and sparklers. My lawyer father had many Chinese clients and friends who sent me wonderful fireworks, which we set up in the backyard. One year, one set, lighted on the end, spelled out letter by letter, "Happy Birthday Gloria!" Mama was a wonderful cook. When I was growing up, Sunday dinner would be a roast of chicken, lamb, pork, or beef. Mashed potatoes with creamy gravy made with chicken or beef fat, fresh green peas, hot biscuits with butter and jam or honey. In spring, there would be wild mustard greens gathered from the vacant lot next door. (Boy and I hated vegetables--I still do.) For dessert would come Mama's fresh devil's food cake, or a fresh lemon cream pie, or, if we were really lucky, her superb fresh coconut cake. It took six hours to make that cake, because she started by grating fresh coconuts. To help her prepare these dinners, Mama usually had Indian help, girls from the reservation near Riverside who also helped keep our house clean. For some reason, they always seemed to be named Penny. Even though Mama gave our family a lovely calendar of celebratory days--and there was always room for spontaneous excitement--strange to say, I have no memory of my mother's laughter. But I do recall the first time she was in tears. We were eating dinner around our dining table, Mama said something, and my father said, "Alice, shut up!" We three burst into tears. That, then, was the equivalent of today's "Alice, fuck off!" There were more tears after my father had been diagnosed with tuberculosis, and Mama had to take Daddy to a sanitarium. For over a year we drove up to see him every Sunday, an hour's ride or so. Daddy was considered contagious, so Boy and I had to stay out-side the screened porch while Mama went in and sat with him. We played jacks and marbles and read our children's books, and munched Cracker Jack or Animal Crackers. When Daddy finally came home, he spent most of the day in a darkened living room, sitting in a fat brown leather upholstered chair. Even before his illness, my father was close to being a dour Scot, and he'd spent most of the time he was home in his study, reading his big law books. But he had never sat in a chair for so many hours before and I wondered about it. I know now that he must have been depressed. When I was nine, my father was nominated to be a judge. I don't remember which court it was, but Boy and I understood that this was something exciting for our family. For Mama, it meant a secure future for the first time in her life, a position in Santa Monica social circles, a rainbow arching the blue sky. As it was and still is in small, closely knit communities, an important part of Mama's social life was going to church. Her family had, for generations, belonged to the Christian Church. Boy and I went to Sunday school at Santa Monica's First Christian Church for a while with Mama. Then, when I kicked my third-grade teacher at Roosevelt School in her behind and was expelled, Mama put me into Catholic school for the fourth grade. But I didn't have to go to church, just morning prayer. Daddy had been a Presbyterian, but left that essentially Scottish church to become a Christian Scientist. Eventually, my father took Boy and me to Christian Science Sunday school. Mama was taking from the Episcopalians by then, but she didn't object to our going off in another direction. So my religious education was a patchwork. Daddy believed Christian Science had helped cure him of tuberculosis. One evening not long after his appointment to the bench, as he was coming home from a Christian Science church meeting, a car backed into him and severely injured his leg. There were no antibiotics then, and nothing stopped the spread of infection. My father died two weeks later, leaving Mama with two children, no savings, and no means of support. I was nine, and Boy eight. Mama was thirty-five. Mama rented out our house. We never saw the inside again, or our yard that had been teeming with animals--rabbits in a hutch, chickens in their coop, a goat, pigeons, our dogs and cats, peanut-eating blue jay "Charlie," and frisky gray squirrels. We also had a swing and a teeter-totter, and I had a little electric stove in a play-house my father had built for me--I baked all sorts of cookies and made wonderful little doughnuts (interesting that Mama let me cook with hot oil, but she did). There was a peach tree I grew from a kernel--by then, it was five or six feet high. And the Rain Barrel. It furnished Mama and me soft water to wash our hair with occasionally (shampoo was unknown). We moved across the alley into a cottage on a friend's back lot. It had a small kitchen and bedroom, and a very small bathroom. I slept with Mama and Boy slept on a cot. That Christmas an Elks club basket was delivered to us in the little cottage. Mama cried all day. My father had been an Exalted Ruler at the Elks club, and she must have felt complete humiliation. Mama went back to work in the post office--in Sawtelle this time, part of West Los Angeles. In a year or so, one of her customers began to court her. Fred J. Finch was a large, gruff man, lacking my father's refinement. But he wasn't as dour, either. He was a successful businessman, owning a large funeral parlor in Sawtelle, and had interests in a Santa Monica bank. He loved taking Mama on trips in his showy Pierce-Arrow. Mama accepted Mr. Finch's proposal and they were married. I was "in summer exile" at my aunt Nellie's home in Dinuba and met my stepfather weeks later. He was initially kind to Boy and me, and, after several years, Mama and he had a baby girl, Patricia Marie. I was so introspective that period, so self-preoccupied, I don't remember the pregnancy, the birth, Patsy's existence. I always hated being "ordinary," which was reflected in the fact that I had the highest demerit record of any student in the history of Santa Monica High School up until that time! One reason was because I kept breaking the dress code. I just simply couldn't stand navy blue middies and skirts. I wanted to wear my own things. So I did. And I would be given a demerit or sent home to change. I was in revolt. So what else is new? In those days--the days of flappers!--my high school friends and I were trying very hard to be very sophisticated like Clara Bow, the "It" girl (from the 1927 film of that name). We formed a sorority in school, which was not allowed, but we had one anyway. We were the (to us) top thirteen girls at school, and we called our-selves the "Damma Goto Helltas." To date a boy with a red Stutz Bear Cat was the number one priority. Four of my friends had roadsters. After school, we'd drive up the Pacific Coast Highway to a hot dog stand. Around four-thirty we'd have hot dogs, then we'd drive back to an ice cream parlor and have a triple triple chocolate soda. Then we'd go home and have dinner, and then every so often, after dinner, we'd have a secret meeting with snacks. And, if possible, go outdoors and smoke cigarettes--Milo Violets, purple-paper-wrapped cigarettes with gold foil tips! I soaked blotters with Coty's Emeraude and layered non--Milo Violets in between. Emeraude cigarettes! We were in-tent on being wild! On weekends, we and our dates snuck into speakeasies, lying about our age. We read George Jean Nathan and H. L. Mencken, and pretended we believed in nothing; prattled as often as anyone would listen to us about nihilism. There's no point in anything. Live for the moment, enjoy! enjoy! Hedonistic notions. Quite childish, quite immature, but very compelling for us. We wanted to be terribly intellectual, to be connoisseurs-- critics of the novelist, critics of the artist, critics of the composer, critics of the whole scene. I wanted to be a writer, so the summer of my high school junior year, 1926, I signed up for classes in short story and poetry writing. And asked to be a "girl reporter" at the Santa Monica Outlook. Hired, but no salary. Did high school and church news. I also enrolled in an acting class where I met my first lover, Carl Meyer. What a summer! I was on my way. I wanted desperately to go to college. Translation: Leave Home. Mama was agreeable, actually eager for me to go to college. But there wasn't money for it. My stepfather, who had been a thorn in my side from Day One, had a suggestion, which he made often enough--"You want to do something big and great, I'll get you a job in a circus washing elephants." Yes, I did want to do "something big and great." I'd wanted to as long as I could remember. In spite of Fred J. Finch, I made it to college. Mama secretly borrowed two hundred dollars from an old friend of my father's, Dr. Howard Levengood in Santa Monica, and made me promise not to tell my stepfather. It was enough to cover two semesters of the University of California at Berkeley (tuition: $25, room and board: $75). Books would be extra, of course, but not fatally so. My brother became Frank Finch, finished college, and became a top sports writer for the Los Angeles Times. As for doing "something big and great," well maybe all the things I've done haven't wound up being great, but I've tried my damnedest. And I've never stopped hoping--as an actress, an artist, a printer, even as a writer--for great roles, great adventures, great things. I became a movie star--capital M, capital S--by the time I was in my twenties! Then, sixty years later, I landed a role in the most successful film in history and was nominated by several groups of film aficionados as Best Supporting Actress. And still nary an elephant in sight! Copyright © 1999 Gloria Stuart. All rights reserved.