Norma Shearer was born Edith Norma Shearer on August 11, 1902 in Montreal, Quebec. She was born into a fairly wealthy family, hence she enjoyed a good childhood for the most part. She was encouraged to go into the entertainment business by her mother, who separated from her husband in 1920 and took the children to New York.
Here, Norma tried to get into the Ziefeld follies but was told that her legs were too short. Instead, she took on modeling work, and then got a part as an extra in a silent movie ‘The Sign on the Door’ in 1920. This was the start of a successful and lucrative silent movie career for Norma, who went on to work with the producer D W Griffith.
She was then spotted by a Mayer executive, and was offered a six-month contract. The Mayer executive in question was Irving Thalberg, soon to become one of the most powerful movie men in Hollywood – and Norma’s husband. Norma’s career was lagging at first when she joined Mayer. However, when the company became MGM, and Irving – who was in love with Norma – rallied for more prominent roles for her, she began to enjoy great success.
Norma moved smoothly into sound movies when the silents were phased out, and even won an Academy Award for her role in ‘The Divorcee’. Her marriage to Thalberg spawned some jealousy amongst other actresses such as Joan Crawford, who thought that this union made it impossible to compete with Norma.In 1930 Norma gave birth to Irving Thalberg Jr. However, the idyllic family life they had was torn apart when her husband had a heart attack aged just 37. Norma did continue acting after this, and married again later on. She died at the Motion Picture Retirement Home in 1983 after suffering for some time with Alzheimer’s.
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