Passing just one year shy of the character, Rose, who she portrayed and spoke narration for in 1997’s Titanic, Gloria Stuart grabbed a lot out of life, and had no illusions about Hollywood life. She was the oldest actress ever to be nominated for an Academy Award, and took delayed rise to the red carpet in stride. “When I graduated from Santa Monica High in 1927, I was voted girl most likely to succeed. I just didn’t realize it would take so long,” she wrote in her 1999 memoir. She also joked that her casting in the sweeping Cameron epic was more fluke than fate. She joked in a New York Times interview that she was when a few actresses in her age group who was “still viable, not alcoholic, rheumatic, or falling down.” She was 87 at the time.
Stuart starred in more than 40 films since the 1930s, including an array of musicals, horror films, and early science-fiction forays. She had supporting roles opposite Shirley Temple in Poor Little Rich Girl and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. She had difficulty breaking onto the list of A-list actresses, in part because she could not abide dealing with overblown egos and eccentricities of elite Hollywood icons like Claude Rains in shooting The Invisible Man, during which Rains continually blocked Stuart’s face in close profile shots. In a 1998 interview, Stuart elaborated on how many actors took themselves far too seriously, “afterall, up yours, it’s just acting!” she summed up succinctly. Stuart’s second husband, Arthur Sheekman, a comedy writer, felt she should spend more time at home than pursuing her career, but she still took small television roles and danced with Peter O’Toole in 1982’s My Favorite Year. Stuart’s first marriage was to sculptor Blair Gordon Newell. She had a daughter with Sheekman, and studied painting, becoming so accomplished that she had her first exhibit at the Hammer Gallery in New York in 1961. After Sheekman’s death in 1978, Stuart became reacquainted with friend and printer Ward Ritchie, who taught her letter-press printing, which became a consuming passion for her. The two remained companions until Ritchie’s death in 1996.
Stuart’s daughter related that her mother had received a diagnosis of lung cancer in 2005. Gloria Stuart is also survived by four grandchildren and 12 great grandchildren. On film and in life, she embraced moments with honesty and passion.
World News Overnight telecast, September 28, 2010. ABC-TV.