About Edith Norma Shearer
Edith Norma Shearer was a Canadian-American actress. Shearer was one of the most popular actresses in the world from the mid-1920s until her retirement in 1942. Her early films cast her as the girl-next-door but after her 1930 film The Divorcee, she played sexually liberated women in sophisticated contemporary comedies and dramas, as well as several historical and period films.
The winner of a beauty contest at 14, she was born into a wealthy family that lost everything in the 1910s. Her mother brought her to New York in the hope that show business might provide the family with money. Shearer failed an audition with Florenze Ziegfeld but found some work as a model. She began appearing in bit roles in New York-shot films in 1920; in one of these, The Stealers (1920), she was spotted by talent scout Irving Thalberg, who couldn't track her down until 1923. Signed to a long-term screen contract in 1925, she began playing leads in numerous films. Meanwhile, Thalberg rose to a position of authority at MGM; she married him in 1927 and started getting the best roles the studio had to offer, leading her to stardom. Shearer got her pick of directors and scripts, and made sure to vary her work so she would avoid being typecast. She received five Oscar nominations, winning for The Divorcee (1930). Soon she was billed by MGM as "the First Lady of the Screen." Thalberg died at age 37 in 1936, after which Shearer showed bad judgment in her choice of films; she turned down the leads in Gone with the Wind and Mrs. Miniver and instead appeared in two consecutive flops, We Were Dancing and Her Cardboard Lover (both 1942). After that she retired from the screen, meanwhile marrying a ski instructor 20 years her junior.
Unlike many of her MGM contemporaries, Shearer's celebrity declined steeply after retirement. By the time of her death in 1983, she was largely remembered at best for her "noble" roles in the regularly-revived The Women, Marie Antoinette, and Romeo and Juliet and, at worst, as a forgotten star.
Shearer's legacy began to be re-evaluated in the 1990s with the publication of two biographies and the TCM and VHS release of her films, many of them unseen since the implementation of the Production Code some sixty years before. Focus shifted to her pre-Code "divorcee" persona, and Shearer was rediscovered as "the exemplar of sophisticated [1930's] woman-hood... exploring love and sex with an honesty that would be considered frank by modern standards".
Simultaneously, Shearer's ten-year collaboration with portrait photographer George Hurrell and her lasting contribution to fashion through the designs of Adrian were also recognized.
Today, Norma Shearer is widely celebrated as one of cinema's feminist pioneers: "the first American film actress to make it chic and acceptable to be single and not a virgin on screen." In March 2008, two of her most famous pre-code films, The Divorcee and A Free Soul, were released on DVD.