November 28, 1923 – Gloria Grahame:
“It wasn’t the way I looked at a man, it was the thought behind it.”
She starred opposite Humphrey Bogart, Robert Mitchum, and James Stewart. But poor Gloria Grahame refused to bow to Hollywood’s sexism and she was driven away. She was offered the lead in the film Born Yesterday (1950), but she refused to ride unaccompanied in a limo with the then-head of RKO, Howard Hughes. So, she wasn’t cast.
Grahame was bullied by the studios into having work done on her face. One of those procedures left her upper lip largely immobile because of nerve damage. Mitchum:
“Over the years, she carved herself up, trying to make herself into an image of beauty she felt should exist but didn’t. Others saw her as a beautiful person, but she never did, and crazy things spread from that.”
During her three divorces, highly paid industry lawyers spread horrible stories about her, and showbiz reporters made sure those stories stuck.
Grahame was nominated for an Academy Award for Crossfire (1947), and she dazzled in Sudden Fear (1952), The Big Heat (1953), Human Desire (1954), and amused in Oklahoma! (1955),
If you watch her work in The Bad And The Beautiful (1952), you will see an accomplished actor doing confident, compelling work. Yet, the only biography of her is titled Suicide Blonde (1987) as if she was one of her characters. She won an Oscar for The Bad And The Beautiful and she worked with the best directors, including Fritz Lang, Elia Kazan, Vincent Minnelli, plus bisexual Nicholas Ray, whom she married. Grahame’s specialty was the film noir femme fatale. Unfortunately, she also made some fatal career moves.
In June 1951, Ray caught her in bed at their Malibu home with his 13-year-old son, Anthony Ray from his first marriage. He had just returned from military school. It was the kind of thing Grahame would have done in one of her films. The press went crazy for the story, only to be outdone nine years later when Grahame married Anthony Ray in Tijuana. He was 23 years old; Grahame was 37. They kept their relationship a secret until the Hollywood tabloids found out about it in 1962 and roasted them for it. She had two children with him and the most peaceful years of any of her four marriages. Their union made Anthony the stepfather to his half-brother Timothy Ray, the child Ray had with Grahame. Got That?
After learning of her marriage to Anthony Ray, Grahame’s third husband, producer Cy Howard, tried to gain sole custody of the couple’s daughter. Howard claimed Grahame was an unfit mother, and the two fought over custody for years. The stress of the scandal, her waning career, and her custody battle with Howard took its toll on Grahame and she had a nervous breakdown. She later underwent electroshock therapy in 1964.
Grahame’s marriage to Anthony Ray ended in divorce a few days short of their 14th anniversary, in 1974.
During her long Hollywood career, Miss Grahame appeared in more than 30 films, usually in supporting roles. You can catch her during the holidays in It’s A Wonderful Life (1947) directed by Frank Capra. Seek out The Big Heat (1953), a gritty melodrama where Lee Marvin plays a cretin-faced gangster who tosses scalding coffee into her eyes and pouty face.
The Nicholas Ray film In A Lonely Place, (1950) starring Humphrey Bogart, is one of my noir obsessions. It interrogates the poisonous ways violent men warp lives, and a cutting critique of Hollywood. The heart of the film is undoubtedly Grahame in her most wounded and potent performance.
Grahame was born as Gloria Hallward. She was the daughter of a British actor, Jean Hallward, noted for her classical roles on the British stage. Grahame made her stage debut soon after her graduation from high school. She made it to Broadway as an understudy in gay writer Thornton Wilder‘s The Skin Of Our Teeth, and began getting better roles on Broadway and in touring productions where she was spotted by MGM. In 1944 she went to Hollywood. MGM was not able to develop her as a star and her contract was sold to RKO Studios in 1947, where she specialized in tarnished beauties with irresistible sexual heat.
During the late 1950’s her roles declined. In the 1970’s she made occasional appearances in films, on television and the stage. She has a small, funny turn in the excellent Melvin And Howard (1980).
Grahame died in 1981 at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Manhattan, also the final stop for the earliest victims of the plague. She was 55 years old. She had been in London rehearsing a play, and she died three hours after arriving aboard a commercial flight. In 1974, Grahame was diagnosed with breast cancer. She underwent radiation treatment, changed her diet, stopped smoking and boozing, and sought homeopathic treatment. In less than a year, the cancer went into remission. The cancer returned in 1980, but Grahame refused to acknowledge her diagnosis or seek treatment.
A graduate of the Neighborhood Playhouse and a member of the Actor’s Studio, Anthony Ray appeared when he was just 20 on Broadway in gay playwright William Inge’s The Dark At The Top of the Stairs (1957) directed by Elia Kazan. In Shadows (1958) directed by John Cassavetes, Ray a young man who sleeps with a virgin (Lelia Goldoni) and is surprised to discover that her family is black. He did lots of television, including three years in the daytime soap Search For Tomorrow. Ray was one the producers of The Rose (1979), An Unmarried Woman (1980), and Harry and Tonto (1974), and an assistant director on Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969) and Cactus Flower (1969), and television’s Bewitched. He died last year at 80.
Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool a book by Grahame’s last lover Peter Turner about his relationship with Grahame in the last years of her life, was adapted to film two years ago. Grahame is played by Annette Bening, whose performance brought her a BAFTA nomination.