Norma Shearer

(1902 - 1983)

A photo of Norma Shearer
Norma Shearer
1902 - 1983
Born
August 12, 1902
Montreal, Montreal County, QC Canada
Death
June 12, 1983
Woodland Hills in Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, California United States
Other Names
Edith Norma Shearer, Norma Thalberg, Norma Arrougé
Summary
Norma Shearer was born on August 12, 1902 in Montreal, QC Canada. She died on June 12, 1983 at Woodland Hills, Los Angeles, California at 80 years of age.
Updated: June 12, 2020
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Biography
Norma Shearer
Most commonly known name
Norma Shearer
Full name
Edith Norma Shearer, Norma Thalberg, Norma Arrougé
Nickname(s) or aliases
Female
Gender
Norma Shearer was born on in Montreal, Montreal County, QC Canada
Birth
Norma Shearer died on at Woodland Hills in Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, California United States
Death
Norma Shearer was born on in Montreal, Montreal County, QC Canada
Norma Shearer died on at Woodland Hills in Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, California United States
Birth
Death
bronchial pneumonia
Cause of death
Heritage

Ethnicity & Lineage

Scottish, English, and Irish

Nationality & Locations

Canada, United States
Childhood
Adulthood

Professions

Film actress 1919 through 1942

Personal Life

Married twice, two children with first husband
Obituary

Average Age

Life Expectancy

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NORMA SHEARER, FILM STAR TWO DECADES, IS DEAD
By ERIC PACE

The New York Times

Norma Shearer, one of the famed Hollywood stars of the 20's and 30's, died of bronchial pneumonia Sunday at the Motion Picture and Television Country Hospital in Woodland Hills, Calif., a hospital spokesman said. She was 80 years old and had lived at the hospital since 1980.
Miss Shearer is remembered largely for her portrayals of rich and worldly women in films that, though not very challenging, were enlivened by a moderate raciness - or what seemed like raciness in those days - reflected in such titles as ''The Divorcee,'' ''Strangers May Kiss,'' ''A Free Soul'' and ''Riptide.''
Her starring role in ''The Divorcee,'' which had its premiere in 1930, won her an Academy Award. She was nominated for four others. Miss Shearer's family in Montreal helped financed her first fling at show business, in New York, by selling the family dog and piano.
After that hard-scrabble start, it was not long before her beauty, her hard work, her down-to-earth charm and her marriage to Irving Thalberg, the film executive, made her a leading light of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios and a pillar of California film society.
In her early Hollywood days, Miss Shearer played innocent, girlish heroines on the silent screen. Her best known films then were the 1924 ''He Who Gets Slapped,'' which starred Lon Chaney, and ''The Student Prince,'' in which Ramon Novarro had the title role in 1927. But she made the transition to sound movies with uncommon ease, and her silken voice was then heard largely in sophisticated, somewhat daring parts.
Even after Miss Shearer had long been a star, Louis B. Mayer, the producer, liked to say that she did the most magnificent acting of her career in his office one day in 1923.
She was new in Hollywood, but she had had much experience at the fringes of show business: hunting for acting jobs during that first, family-financed sojourn in New York, later eking out a living as an artist's model and bit-part movie actress. Conflict With Director
Then Mr. Mayer's staff had sent word East that his movie company needed a cultured-looking young woman - any young woman. Miss Shearer answered that call, went to Hollywood and was lucky enough to be cast as the socialite heroine of ''Pleasure Mad.'' But when the cameras began rolling, she could not seem to get along with the director, Reginald Barker, who decided to get rid of her.
Mr. Mayer, hoping to keep the production on the rails, called Miss Shearer to his office and heard her side of the story. Then, deciding to use a little psychology, he shouted at her, ''You're yellow!''
''Here you are given the chance of your life, and what do you do?'' he cried. ''You throw it away because maybe you don't like the director or something! I'm through with you.''
Miss Shearer rose splendidly to the challenge, Bosley Crowther, the critic and film historian, later reported. ''I am not yellow!'' she exclaimed. ''I'll show you I can do it! Give me another chance.'' Turned on the Charm
She went back to work, turned on the charm, finished the film without further major problems, made several other movies in quick succession, achieved moderate success and began a romance with Mr. Thalberg, a film-industry boy wonder who was working with Mr. Mayer. They were married on Sept. 29, 1927, and in the years that followed he did much to make her a great star.
In her heyday, Miss Shearer was lavishly gowned for her movie roles, and her hair was stylishly bobbed, in the fashion that was then the height of sophistication. Gossips said that skilled camera work hid a flaw in her beauty -which was that her eyes were not perfectly aligned.
Her eyes became a delicate subject in M-G-M circles. A director who was so crass as to complain ''She is cross-eyed'' was punished by being sent to film a western on the Mojave Desert. Starred in 'Romeo and Juliet'
Over the years, Miss Shearer made some forays into high comedy, such as Noel Coward's ''Private Lives'' in 1931. And she plunged herself with all the necessary brio into costumed period films, such as the sentimental ''Smilin' Through,'' ''The Barretts of Wimpole Street,'' which was an enormous critical and commercial hit, and the lavish ''Marie Antoinette,'' her first film after Mr. Thalberg's death.
Miss Shearer tried to broaden her dramatic range by playing Shakespeare. As the heroine of M-G-M's 1936 version of ''Romeo and Juliet,'' she showed skill in reeling off the dialogue; she delivered her lines ''with sincerity and effect,'' as Frank S. Nugent, a New York Times critic, put it, although he found her ''not at her best in the balcony scene.''
Miss Shearer's fame was so great, and her fans were so admiring, that she helped to focus national attention on one young actor just by having an on-screen affair with him, despite the fact that he played a gangster. The year was 1931 - the year she gave up her Canadian citizenship and became a United States citizen - the movie was ''A Free Soul,'' the actor was Clark Gable and his vicious slapping of Miss Shearer jolted movie audiences.
The ladylike quality that Miss Shearer projected came partly from her shabby-genteel girlhood in Canada, where she was born in a suburb of Montreal, the daughter of Andrew Shearer and Edith Fisher Shearer.
According to M-G-M records, the date of her birth was Aug. 15, 1902, which would make her 80 years old. But Ben Crisler, the Times film critic, reported in 1936 that she was born in 1900, and by some subsequent accounts she was born as late as 1904.
Miss Shearer went to public schools in Montreal, took piano lessons and persuaded her mother to go with her to New York. She applied to be a ''Follies'' dancer, but Florenz Ziegfeld told her: ''I can do nothing for you. You are not tall enough for a show girl, and you cannot dance.''
Struggling to make a living, Miss Shearer developed a practical outlook. Once, when she was posing for a magazine-cover illustration, the artist asked how she managed to keep smiling so long.
''I can't help smiling,'' she said, ''when I think I'm getting paid for it,''
Miss Shearer kept some of her down-to-earth style in later years, even after Mr. Thalberg's death of pneumonia in 1937 had made her rich; he left her and their two children $4.5 million.
Miss Shearer's popularity proved strong during her 20-year career, with many of the studio's plum roles hers for the taking, and approved by her husband. One example was the Lynn Fontanne role in the 1939 ''Idiot's Delight,'' opposite Clark Gable in the Alfred Lunt part. The movie was adapted from Robert E. Sherwood's antiwar play.
She drew good reviews for another Broadway transition, ''The Women,'' and for ''Escape,'' a strong anti-Nazi drama co-starring Robert Taylor. Miss Shearer retired from the screen after making ''Her Cardboard Lover,'' which received poor notices in 1942.
In that year, she was married to Martin Arrouge, a 28-year-old ski instructor. Her brother, Douglas, was also well-known in the movies as M-G-M's sound chief; he died in 1971.
Miss Shearer is survived by her husband, who lives in the Los Angeles area; a son, Irving Thalberg Jr., and a daughter, Katherine Thalberg, both of Aspen, Colo.

Refresh this page to see various historical events that occurred during Norma's lifetime.

In 1902, in the year that Norma Shearer was born, the Bureau of the Census was established. This was the government department that was a boon to family historians - it, even now, is responsible for taking the census and provides demographic information and analyses about the population of the United States.

In 1924, she was 22 years old when J. Edgar Hoover, at the age of 29, was appointed the sixth director of the Bureau of Investigation by Calvin Coolidge (which later became the Federal Bureau of Investigation). The Bureau had approximately 650 employees, including 441 Special Agents. A former employee of the Justice Department, Hoover accepted his new position on the proviso that the bureau was to be completely divorced from politics and that the director report only to the attorney general.

In 1954, she was 52 years old when on May 17th, the Supreme Court released a decision on Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. The ruling stated that state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students was unconstitutional thus paving the way for integration in schools.

In 1967, when she was 65 years old, on November 7th, President Johnson signed legislation passed by Congress that created the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), which would later become PBS and NPR. The legislation required CPB to operate with a "strict adherence to objectivity and balance in all programs or series of programs of a controversial nature".

In 1983, in the year of Norma Shearer's passing, "crack" cocaine was developed in the Bahamas and spread to the United States. Previously, cocaine had been cut with other substances, diluting it. Crack was 80% pure and therefore was more addictive. It was also cheaper, making it more easily available to low income neighborhoods.

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