Vandaag is het al veertig jaar geleden dat Hollywood-diva Gloria Swanson is overleden. Ze is vooral bekend van “Sunset Boulevard” (zie foto).
Nadat ze sedert 1914 bathing beauty was bij Mac Sennett, werd Gloria Swanson gelanceerd door Cecil B.De Mille in “Male and female” (1919). Het was de eerste van een hele reeks films van De Mille, waarin de kern van de problematiek eigenlijk terug te voeren was op seks en die voor die tijd erg gewaagd waren. De titels laten al enigszins vermoeden in welke richting ze gaan: “Don’t change your husband” of “Why change your wife?”
Overigens, het thema mocht dan al gewaagd zijn, het moraliserende aspect dat bij De Mille steeds meer zou toenemen is ook in deze titels al voelbaar. “The Golden Bed” uit 1925 werd dan ook afgekraakt en hij vloog aan de deur bij Paramount. Zijn rol als regisseur van seks-komedies werd overgenomen door Ernst Lubitsch.
Gelukkig voor hem had De Mille ondertussen reeds de religieuze blockbuster ontdekt (“The Ten Commandments”, 1923), waarin zonder morren mocht gemoraliseerd worden. Maar dat is dan weer een heel ander verhaal… (In 1932 zou hij met dergelijke film, “The sign of the cross”, trouwens opnieuw bij Paramount ingehaald worden.)
Joe Kennedy, the father of president John Kennedy, first met Gloria Swanson on November 11, 1927. He was 38 and Swanson was Hollywood’s reigning sex goddess. Between 1926 and 1930 Kennedy will be based in Hollywood, ultimately running three studios simultaneously before spearheading mergers and sell-offs that increased his wealth tenfold and provided the foundation of his fortune. Kennedy had been asked by a mutual friend, Robert Kane, to help Swanson solve her serious financial problems. Their meeting would alter the lives of both Kennedy and Swanson. To a man who defined himself mainly in terms of his increasing financial stability and his growing family, Gloria’s headstrong spirit, her careless disregard for money and her three marriages must have seemed strangely out of place for a woman.
At the time they met, Swanson was 28 years old, with more than a decade of successful films behind her. Kennedy wanted to know why she had turned down $1 million a year from studio mogul Jesse Lasky. Swanson: “I would have been the second or third person in movie history to sign a million-dollar contract, but I was the very first to turn one down.”
In the weeks that followed their first meeting, their acquaintance ripened fast. With his wife Rose safely ensconced in Boston awaiting the birth of their eighth child, Joe felt free to spend as much time with his new client as he wanted. Rose held a very circumscribed view of what constituted proper sexual behavior for a practicing Catholic: after her last child was born, she simply said, “No more sex.” From then on, she and Joe had separate bedrooms. In contrast, Gloria Swanson was a forerunner of the far more liberated woman who was emerging in the 1920s. An adventurer by nature, determined to live her life as fully as she could, Gloria had early on become an outspoken partisan of the revolution in manners and morals that was promising to bring about fundamental changes in the relationships between men and women.
Though years of practice did not seem to help Kennedy’s technique, for Gloria Swanson reported that he was an unimaginative, if enthusiastic, lover, as she recounted in her autobiography. Yet within minutes, his lovemaking was over with “a hasty climax.” Rose’s father John Fitzgerald told Joe that unless he stopped the affair with Gloria immediately, he would tell Rose. Undaunted, Joe threatened in turn that if Fitzgerald did tell Rose he would simply marry Gloria. That’s all there was to it.
Alhoewel Gloria Swanson ook moeilijk kon wennen aan de spreekfilm, is het karakter dat ze vertolkt in 1950 in “Sunset boulevard” niet op haar lijf geschreven, daarvoor was ze te intelligent (de rol was oorspronkelijk bedoeld voor Pola Negri). Cecil B.De Mille verleende trouwens ook zijn medewerking aan deze gedenkwaardige film van Billy Wilder.
Ronny De Schepper
Doris Kearns Goodwin, THE KENNEDY’S JOE SR. THE GLORIA SWANSON AFFAIR, The Washington Post, March 22, 1987