LOS ANGELES — Gloria Stuart, a 1930s Hollywood leading lady whose first significant role in nearly 60 years — as the centenarian survivor of the Titanic in James Cameron’s 1997 Oscar-winning film about the ill-fated ocean liner — earned her an Academy Award nomination, has died. She was 100.
Stuart, a founding member of the Screen Actors Guild who later became an accomplished painter, died Sunday night at her West Los Angeles home, her family said.
Stuart had been diagnosed with lung cancer five years ago.
The actress, who was born July 4, 1910, was honored with an “Academy Centennial Celebration With Gloria Stuart” at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills in July.
As a glamorous blond actress under contract to Universal Studios and 20th Century Fox in the 1930s, Stuart appeared opposite Claude Rains in James Whale’s “The Invisible Man” and with Warner Baxter in John Ford’s “The Prisoner of Shark Island.”
She also appeared with Eddie Cantor in “Roman Scandals,” with Dick Powell in Busby Berkeley’s “Gold Diggers of 1935″ and with James Cagney in “Here Comes the Navy.” And she played romantic leads in two Shirley Temple movies, “Poor Little Rich Girl” and “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.”
But mostly she played what Stuart later dismissed as “stupid parts with nothing to do” — “girl reporter, girl detective, girl nurse” — and “it became increasingly evident to me I wasn’t going to get to be a big star like Katharine Hepburn and Loretta Young.”
After making 42 feature films between 1932 and 1939, Stuart’s latest studio contract, with 20th Century Fox, was not renewed. She appeared in only four films in the 1940s and retired from the screen in 1946.
By 1974, “the blond lovely of the talkies” had become an entry in one of Richard Lamparski’s “Whatever Became of … ?” books.
Writer-director Cameron’s $200-million “Titanic” changed that.
As Rose Calvert, Stuart played the 100-year-old Titanic survivor who showed up after modern-day treasure hunters searching through the wreckage of the sunken ship found a charcoal drawing of her wearing a priceless blue diamond necklace.
Stuart’s performance framed the 1997 romantic-drama that starred Leonardo DiCaprio as lower-class artist Jack Dawson and Kate Winslet as the upper-class young Rose.
In “Gloria Stuart: I Just Kept Hoping,” her 1999 autobiography written with her daughter Sylvia Thompson, Stuart said that after reading the script, “I knew the role I had wanted and waited for all these many years had arrived! I could taste the role of Old Rose!”
At 87, Stuart became the oldest actress ever nominated for an Academy Award.
In 2000, several hundred fans gathered on Hollywood Boulevard next to the Egyptian Theatre for the unveiling of Stuart’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Dennis McLellan/The Los Angeles Times (MCT)