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I'll say this about Norma Shearer


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Managed to stay awake for We Were Dancing, one I'd seen before, but especially enjoyed last night.  She was charming in it.  What a great couple she and Melvyn Douglas made, just delightful!  Too bad this movie isn't remembered as her final one--wasn't it the same year as Her Cardboard Lover?  I really recommend it for anyone who is on the fence about her.  

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I found something to like about each and every one of Norma's films that were shown. I'm not quite sure why TCM, in the profile they worked up, called the last week "Fade Out". Norma did not fade out. She, along with Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford, were pretty much bundled up and expelled from MGM by Louis B. because he had all of this young talent he wanted to put in their place. The only film they showed that I did not like was "Her Cardboard Lover", and that has nothing to do with Norma and everything to do with the fact that it was a remake of "The Passionate Plumber" which was a precode and a Buster Keaton film, and just did not translate well into the 1940's without the precode angles or Buster.

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Norma Shearer would NEVER have co-starred with Bette Davis in Old Acquaintance because Shearer would never have worked for Warners. Up to her retirement in 1942, Shearer had spent nearly her entire starring career at MGM. While Crawford moved on to Warners with spectacular results, they didn't make the kind of films Shearer wanted to make. By 1942 other Warners queens like Miriam Hopkins and Kay Francis were winding down their starring careers. But Marion Davies had gone from MGM to Warners with so-so results. Jeanette MacDonald was about to end her MGM run in 1942 (although she returned after the war for a few films). A real changing of the guard. MGM was building up Greer Garson and Hedy Lamarr. Shearer, MacDonald, Crawford were all very expensive, plus Shearer had reportedly wanted to quit after Thalberg's death anway. LB Mayer was nothing if not consistent. As they approached 40 and their box office dipped, Mayer had no use for them.

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Norma Shearer would NEVER have co-starred with Bette Davis in Old Acquaintance because Shearer would never have worked for Warners. Up to her retirement in 1942, Shearer had spent nearly her entire starring career at MGM. While Crawford moved on to Warners with spectacular results, they didn't make the kind of films Shearer wanted to make. By 1942 other Warners queens like Miriam Hopkins and Kay Francis were winding down their starring careers. But Marion Davies had gone from MGM to Warners with so-so results. Jeanette MacDonald was about to end her MGM run in 1942 (although she returned after the war for a few films). A real changing of the guard. MGM was building up Greer Garson and Hedy Lamarr. Shearer, MacDonald, Crawford were all very expensive, plus Shearer had reportedly wanted to quit after Thalberg's death anway. LB Mayer was nothing if not consistent. As they approached 40 and their box office dipped, Mayer had no use for them.

 

While it makes sense that Shearer wouldn't have signed a multiple picture or year contract with a studio like WB (a studio so much different than MGM),   I fail to see why we should just all assume she wouldn't have signed a one picture contract with the studio.    There were many reasons Shearer decided to say retired and not star in any more films.   Shearer didn't sign any one picture contracts with MGM either.   That tells me any distaste towards WB wasn't much of a factor.

 

As for the various comments that Shearer wouldn't have taken roles that were out of character to all of her MGM roles;   If an actor,  especially one that is 'middle aged',  really loves their profession they take on these out of character roles.    Crawford,  Laurence Olivier, Gregory Peck and countless others are examples of this.   My guess is that we are over thinking this;  Shearer had just moved on and leading a very well rounded and happy life and that was the primary reason she decided to stay retired.

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Norma Shearer would NEVER have co-starred with Bette Davis in Old Acquaintance because Shearer would never have worked for Warners. Up to her retirement in 1942, Shearer had spent nearly her entire starring career at MGM. While Crawford moved on to Warners with spectacular results, they didn't make the kind of films Shearer wanted to make. By 1942 other Warners queens like Miriam Hopkins and Kay Francis were winding down their starring careers. But Marion Davies had gone from MGM to Warners with so-so results. Jeanette MacDonald was about to end her MGM run in 1942 (although she returned after the war for a few films). A real changing of the guard. MGM was building up Greer Garson and Hedy Lamarr. Shearer, MacDonald, Crawford were all very expensive, plus Shearer had reportedly wanted to quit after Thalberg's death anway. LB Mayer was nothing if not consistent. As they approached 40 and their box office dipped, Mayer had no use for them.

Mayer seemed to enjoy breaking pretty people. One thing I've noticed. The two stars I can think of whose careers Louis B.  pretty much left unmolested were Lewis Stone and Lionel Barrymore. They both worked for MGM from the 20's until their deaths.  Stone always gave good performances, first as a precode cad and then, after the production code, as father figures and Judge Hardy in particular, but giving good performances didn't stop LB from wrecking other peoples' careers. Lionel Barrymore, also, was a good performer, but he did screw up during the short time he tried his hand at directing and LB did nothing to him. I just wonder since they were both older white gentlemen about his age  if he identified with them and therefore did not try to bust up their careers? Having never read a biography of any of the three of them I'm only guessing here.

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In fact, I remember either hearing or reading that Bette Davis didn't only want Norma Shearer to come out of retirement to star with her in "Old acquaintance", but that Davis was also willing to exchange roles with Shearer - so that Shearer could play the first lead role of Kit the humble and kind author of serious literature while Davis could play the second lead role of Millie the haughty and spiteful author of pulp fiction.

 

That being said, I was trying to conceive the thought of Shearer grabbing Davis, shaking her, and shoving her down to the sofa.   I've never seen Shearer's characters get violent or even physical with any other female characters in her movies?   Did Shearer ever get physical on-screen with any of her female co-stars? 

 

Come to think of it, I was remembering the film "The women" (1939), and also the remake "The opposite sex" - which I actually like and really enjoy as well. 

There is a contrast that comes to mind.

In "The Women," the wife Mary (Norma Shearer) confronts the mistress Crystal (Joan Crawford) in the department store dressing room, and it ends with Mary telling Crystal that if she wants to dress to please Stephen (the husband) then Crystal should not wear the dress she is wearing as Stephen doesn't like obvious effects, and Crystal says, "Thanks for the tip, but if what I wear doesn't please Stephen, I'll take it off."   Mary just looks a bit disgusted and leaves.

 

In "The opposite sex", the wife Kay (June Allyson) confronts the ex-mistress Crystal (Joan Collins) in the backstage dressing room, and it ends with Kay telling Crystal that if she wants to dress to please Steven (the husband), then Crystal should not wear the dress she is wearing as Steven doesn't care for the very obvious, and Crystal says, "Thank you, but if Steven doesn't like what I'm wearing, I take it off."  Kay walks up closer to Crystal and slaps her across the face. Crystal then smirks at Kay, and Kay runs out.

 

Just the same, in any case, I like other things about June Allyson's characterization and performance in the remake, particularly in a number of other scenes, but that is another matter.

 

Still, I've never seen Norma Shearer slap anyone in her films, let alone any other woman.  I can't imagine Shearer playing that scene in "The women" the way Allyson did in "The opposite sex".  It is quite difficult to imagine Shearer slapping Crawford, or any other woman.

As bold and as passionate and as daring as I have seen some of the characters that Norma Shearer has portrayed, somehow, she seems to have such self-control, self-discipline, grace, dignity, and poise that for her (albeit in character) to put her hands on another woman would be way beyond the normal and does not seem to match her fiber - somehow very out of character, if you'll pardon the expression.   To slap another woman simply doesn't seem like Norma.  It just isn't her.

 

 

Well, that makes sense. I could see Shearer in the role Bette Davis played in the final version......

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