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Classic Hollywood: The academy salutes Gloria Stuart

Yes, Gloria Stuart has slowed down and uses a cane these days — she is 100 after all — but the legendary actress is still stunningly beautiful, witty and impishly charming.


FOR THE RECORD:
Gloria Stuart: The Classic Hollywood column about Gloria Stuart in the July 21 Calendar section said that in the film “Titanic” she played the character of Rose, an 85-year-old survivor of the shipwreck. Stuart’s character was 100 years old in the movie. —


During a recent visit to her Santa Monica home, her grandson Benjamin offers a guest a glass of orange juice and Stuart a glass of water. Stuart declines; she wants a glass of white wine.

“Would you like some wine instead?” she asks her visitor.

No, thanks. I don’t drink wine.

“You don’t drink?” she says, smiling. “I do.

On Thursday evening she will be honored with an “Academy Centennial Celebration With Gloria Stuart” at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills. Every year, the Academy of Arts and Sciences presents centennial tributes to actors, directors, composers and other noted individuals from the world of cinema. The evenings usually are comprised of clips, screenings and reminisces from family, co-workers and friends because the subject being feted has long since died.

Stuart, who turned 100 on July 4, is delighted to be around for her own tribute.

“Isn’t it wonderful,” Stuart says, her blue eyes sparkling. “I have waited a long time.”

Academy programmer Ellen Harrington notes that Stuart is the only living Screen Actors Guild board member of the 1930s. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg for the “Titanic” costar.

“It’s rare to see somebody who has had the whole experience of being discovered, getting the studio contract and working in the studio system and making so many films in the 1930s and ‘40s,” Harrington says. “Then she goes on and becomes a very accomplished book artist and printer and then comes back and gets an Oscar nomination at 87 for ‘Titanic.’ ”

Stuart is excited by the academy event which will include film clips from several of her films including, 1932’s " The Old Dark House,” which she made for James Whale, 1936’s “The Prisoner of Shark Island” for director John Ford, 1938’s “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm,” which starred Shirley Temple, 1982’s “My Favorite Year,” in which she dances with Peter O’Toole and of course, “Titanic,” in which she played Old Rose, the 85-year-old survivor of the 1912 ocean liner disaster.

Besides chatting onstage with her friend, film historian and critic Leonard Maltin, the celebration will feature several of her paintings on view in the theater’s lobby as well as the second floor and her artist’s books she has written, printed and pressed and bound. Several of her limited edition artist’s books are in the Metropolitan Museum, the Library of Congress, the Getty and the Huntington.

A few days after her birthday celebration on July 4 at the ACE Gallery in Beverly Hills, thrown by “Titanic” director James Cameron and his wife Suzy Amis (she played Rose’s granddaughter in the film), Stuart is holding court in the dining area of her home.

Grandson Benjamin and great-granddaughter Deborah are bringing in gifts from the event, as well as her artwork that was on display at ACE for her birthday. Deborah, a senior at Brandeis, sits in during the interview not only to listen to her stories but to make herself available to “Great Gloria,” as Deborah calls her, if she needs help remembering.

Born in Santa Monica, Stuart attended UC Berkeley, where she began acting on stage. She was discovered by Universal at the Pasadena Playhouse. After making her film debut 1932’s “Street of Women,” Stuart appeared in such films as Whale’s “Old Dark House” and 1933’s “The Invisible Man,” 1933’s “Roman Scandals” with Eddie Cantor, “Golddiggers of 1935,” opposite Dick Powell and even 1939’s “The Three Musketeers,” with the comedy team of the Ritz Brothers.

Married to second husband, Arthur Sheekman, who wrote for the Marx Brothers, in 1934, she began a second career in the fine arts in the 1940s. She slowly started working again in small parts in the 1970s. With “Titanic,” she became the oldest person nominated for an acting Oscar.

Growing up, she says, “I wanted acting the most. I was not thinking of being an artist; only an actress and the best actress in the world. Everything I did contributed to it — the exercise, the dieting, the reading, the practicing.”

Stuart says she thanks Cameron every night for giving her the role in “Titanic.”

“It was a ball,” she says of making the film. “The people, including Mr. Cameron, were extremely bright and extremely finished.”

Stuart has written a number of books, including her latest about famed scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer, whom she dated when she was young student at Berkeley in the late 1920s.

“I wanted to be a Communist,” Stuart says. “Berkeley was considered a little off the mainstream. I knew all the pinkos in Berkeley. Oppenheimer could not get a job at a lot of universities, but Berkeley hired him. He was given a big party by his fraternity brother. There were 100 people at the party. I was introduced to him. I came home from class one afternoon and my roommate said, ‘Gloria, Oppenheimer called and he wants to take you to the opera in San Francisco on Sunday.’ I had been very lively, showing off at the party.”

It seems, though, Stuart didn’t know a lot about opera.

“At the end of the opera, he leaned over and said, ‘Did you enjoy it?’ I said, ‘Oh yes, it’s wonderful when you hear the three B’s at all one time.’ He said, ‘The three B’s?’ I said, ‘Yes, Bach, Beethoven and Brahms.’ He said, ‘Tell me, Miss Stuart. Is there a music course at Berkeley during the summer?’ I said, ‘I think so.’ He said, ‘Take it.’ "

susan.king@latimes.com


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