Actress Gloria Stuart, best known for her role as the older version of Kate Winslet’s Rose in the blockbuster movie Titanic, has died in Los Angeles at the age of 100. According to the NY Times, Stuart’s death was confirmed by her daughter, Sylvia Vaughn Thompson. In addition to Thompson, Stuart is survived by four grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
Stuart’s Early Years
Gloria Stewart was born on July 4, 1910, in Santa Monica, Calif., just two years before the sinking of the Titanic, an event that would later reignite her Hollywood star. Stuart changed her last name from “Stewart” to “Stuart” upon her arrival in Hollywood. Stuart explained her reason behind the decision in her 1999 autobiography I Just Kept Hoping: “I thought, and still do, its six letters balanced perfectly on a theater’s marquee with the six letters in ‘Gloria’.”
Glamorous 1930s Screen Star
Stuart, a sparkling blond bombshell, had an active, though to her mind unchallenging, movie career during the Golden Age of Hollywood. Appearing in 46 movies from 1932 to 1946, Stuart left Hollywood and quit the movie industry because she was dissatisfied with always being passed up for plum acting roles.
“So one day, I burned everything: my scripts, my stills, everything. I made a wonderful fire in the incinerator, and it was very liberating,” explained Stuart, who was also a founding member of the Screen Actors Guild.
Life Away from Hollywood
After leaving the acting world behind, Stuart turned her considerable talents to painting. In 1961, Stuart’s one woman show at Hammer Gallery in New York City was a huge success and led the actress to her second career, that of prolific artist. In 1983, Stuart again shifted gears and became a successful and much sought-after designer of hand-printed artists’ books and broadsides. Stuart’s print work appears in several museums, including the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.
Rediscovery of Titanic Talent
Access Hollywood reports that Stuart was just what director James Cameron was looking for when casting the elder Rose in Titanic: An actress with well-honed acting chops who wasn’t widely known. At the time of Titanic, Stuart hadn’t acted in 15 years, last appearing in the 1982 film My Favorite Year. Titanic earned Stuart kudos as well a spot on People’s 50 Most Beautiful People list and an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Stuart remains the oldest actress ever to be nominated for an Oscar at age 87. Stuart’s increased popularity led to more acting work well into her 90s.
Stuart’s Continuing Impact
Gloria Stuart is unique among Hollywood stars in that her lasting impact will remain on two fronts: in the film world and in the art world. Although Stuart didn’t see her movie roles as important, this fan, for one, begs to differ. Whether she was facing villains in horror films, trying to solve a mystery, singing in a musical or just being a supportive second banana, Stuart always shined like a star.
My favorite Gloria Stuart role will always be as cousin to Shirley Temple in Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. My dad, who instilled in me a love of old movies, and I would watch Stuart in Rebecca together. Her acting was so natural and pure, never contrived. When I watch Gloria Stuart in a movie, I always have the same reaction: Wouldn’t it be nice if I had a friend or cousin like her?
But Stuart was excellent in other movies as well. One of my other Stuart favorites is The Invisible Man (1933) where she played Claude Rains’ fiancée, who is horrified at his scientific machinations. This movie is excellent, and if you’ve never seen it, you should give it a view. Stuart’s portrayal is perfectly nuanced in relation to Rains’ overacted performance.
Of course, how could I leave out Stuart’s indomitable role as a 101-year-old Titanic survivor in Titanic (1997)? Stuart is so real in her performance. As Stuart takes the viewer on Rose’s emotional journey, just looking into her eyes conveys the emotion, regret and love of the character.
Hollywood Responds to Gloria Stuart’s Death
Stuart’s death has prompted statements from some of her famous co-workers. James Cameron, whose Titanic was responsible for Stuart’s late-in-life Hollywood rise, said of the star, “She loves life and she loves people. She’s got a great wit and she likes the humor inherent in any situation and she just is a great person that we can all learn a lot from in terms of values. I have infinite respect for her.”
Kate Winslet, who appeared with Stuart in Titanic, lamented in a statement to Access Hollywood: “I am so saddened to hear of the loss of this remarkable woman. I feel blessed to have met her, known her, and to have acted alongside her. Anyone who spent time in her presence will know what an extraordinary shining light she truly was. She will be deeply missed.”