Actress Gloria Stuart, who starred as the elderly Rose in James Cameron’s 1997 blockbuster Titanic, died at the age of 100. She was found in her West Hollywood home on Sunday, September 26th.
The Los Angeles County native was born Gloria Stewart in Santa Monica on the Fourth of July one hundred years ago, in the second year of William Howard Taft’s administration. Women did not have the right to vote, and African Americans and “Orientals” were second- and third-class citizens, legally. Seventeen presidents and a whole century later, the world had changed remarkably by the time of her death, but her fame came exclusively from a late 20th Century movie that took place primarily in 1912.
On April 10th of that year, almost three months before little Gloria’s second birthday, the H.M.S. Titanic sank in the North Atlantic after ramming an iceberg. In less than three hours, the mighty passenger liner went down with a loss of life totaling 1,517 souls. It was a “Night to Remember” that still resonates in human consciousness nearly a century after it happened.
Eight-five years after the big ship went down, director James Cameron produced and directed a movie about the event that went on to be the biggest money-maker in movie history.
A Life in Pictures
Gloria Stuart went on to the University of California at Berkeley after graduating from Santa Monica High School. It was at Cal that she first started acting, and she eventually dropped out of college to attend the Pasadena Playhouse, one of the premier repertory theaters of its time that provided training to tyro actors.
She was signed to a contract by Universal Studios, where she changed her name to “Stuart.” She made her debut in Street of Women (1932), and house director James Whale cast her in The Old Dark House and The Invisible Man, classic horror movies.Horror was the genre that kept Universal from going under during the Great Depression, but it was not the best genre for Stuart, who left Universal to sign with Warner Bros.
It only takes one role to make a novice or journeyman actor a star, but in the first half of the 20th Century, that role eluded Gloria. Gloria Stuart never became a star and retired from acting in 1946. After a near 30-year layoff, she returned to the small screen in the in the 1975 TV movie The Legend of Lizzie Borden (1975), starring Elizabeth Montgomery. She continued to work steadily on TV and in the movies for the next twenty years.
Stardom At Last
It was James Cameron’s Titanic that finally made her a star. Sixty-five years after entering motion pictures, she finally got the one role that pushed her over the top at an age when most of her peers were long retired — or dead.
The actress, then in her mid-80s, potrayed Rose DeWitt Bukater (played by Kate Winslett as a slip of a girl in the bulk of the film) at the age of 101. She won an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress at the age of 87, making her the oldest person ever nominated for an Academy Award.
The great success of the picture kept her in steady demand as an actress for the next decade. Her last film was Land of Plenty, which was released in 2004.
Los Angeles Times, Actress Gloria Stuart, the elder Rose in ‘Titanic,’ dies at 100
New York Times, Gloria Stuart, Actress, Dies at 100