Hard Luck Woman: Gloria Grahame at 100
“Of all the American film stars, Gloria Grahame is the only one who is also a person.”—François Truffaut, 1952
Born in 1923 as Gloria Hallward in Pasadena to an American architect and a Scottish actress, she studied at Hollywood High before finishing her senior year on the road as part of a touring production of Good Night, Ladies. Scouted by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer on Broadway, she was rechristened Grahame by Louis B. Mayer and spent two years at the studio before moving to Howard Hughes’s RKO, where Grahame was able to play the kind of desperately droll characters that became her calling card.
Beginning with Crossfire (1947), which garnered Grahame her first Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress, Grahame starred in an iconic cycle of ever-bleaker late film noirs. She famously quipped: “I dote on death scenes.” Curiously, it’s likely most audiences know her best from smaller parts in lighter fare, the town sexpot in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) and an unforgettable supporting role in the widescreen, Technicolor musical Oklahoma! (1955). In fact, Grahame’s Oscar win would come thanks to nine minutes of screen time in MGM’s The Bad and The Beautiful (1952).
Grahame met and married her second husband, Nicholas Ray, when he directed her sophomore RKO feature—the deranged Pygmalion riff A Woman’s Secret (1949)—though their greatest collaboration came years later when Ray directed Grahame opposite Humphrey Bogart in the immortal Tinseltown noir In a Lonely Place (1950). Plagued by tabloid scandals and a turbulent personal life—she married four times—Grahame acted on screen and stage until passing away suddenly from peritonitis after an accident during surgery. She was 57 years old.