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Gloria Swanson's 1957 interview: 'Am I through with Hollywood, or are they through with me?'

Gloria Swanson, one of Hollywood's most popular and bankable stars of the early Golden Age of movies, talks to TV journalist Mike Wallace in 1957 about why she is not making films, sex appeal, Hollywood in the 1920s, marriage, plastic surgery and more.

Note: The interview contains misinformation about cancer and also includes video advertisements for tobacco/cigarette products (which was legal at the time). Skip those parts but it's included for transparency, archival and historical purposes. 

Swanson (born March 27, 1899, died April 4, 1983) acted in dozens of silent movies during the 1920s with her famous "comeback" as Norma Desmond in 1950's "Sunset Boulevard." This interview was about seven years after that movie's release. She only appeared in three other movies after "Sunset Boulevard," including as herself in 1974's "Airport 1975."

The interview is at times contentious, but Wallace introduces her as "An opinionated woman with an unpredictable future and a sensational past. ... She was Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly, Gina Lollobrigida all in one." Wallace was infamous for doggedly asking confrontational questions of newsmakers. And he does so in this interview. 

As he describes the conversation:
"If you're curious to know what happened to Gloria Swanson, why she stopped being a femme fatale, why she flickered out of pictures, and how fame in the twenties helped her fortune in the fifties, we'll try to get these answers tonight. We'll also try to find out what she thinks of Hollywood morals, of dieting fads, of politics, of the younger generation, of Marlene Dietrich, and why she has devoted herself to promoting an alleged cancer remedy attacked by the organized medical profession."

The interview is part of the archive of the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin.


Read the full transcript of the 1957 interview below or watch on Youtube

More: Watch one of Gloria Swanson's most popular movies, 1919's Cecil B. deMille-directed "Male and Female," featuring the infamous lion scene, where Swanson acts opposite a real lion.

And check out her iconic scene below from "Sunset Boulevard":


WALLACE: Good evening. What you're about to witness is strictly personal. A direct, undiluted, unrehearsed, uncensored interview. My role is that of a reporter. Tonight we go after the story of a famous and controversial woman. We will discuss motives, opinions, and the record. I've asked my guest to express her true feelings. Her opinions are not necessarily mine, the stations, or my sponsors Philip Morris, Inc. Whether you agree or disagree with what you will hear, we feel that none will deny the right of these opinions to be broadcast. My name is Mike Wallace. The cigarette is Philip Morris.

ANNOUNCER: New Philip Morris, probably the best natural smoke you ever tasted, presents: The Mike Wallace Interview.

WALLACE: Tonight we go after the profile of a legend. The story of one of Hollywood's most spectacular links with its glamorous hey-day. The story is: Gloria Swanson. An opinionated woman with an unpredictable future and a sensational past. This is what she looked like in the fabulous twenties when she made a reported million dollars a year as a super-seductive sex symbol in films like: "Male and Female" and "Zaza." She was then called the most glamorous woman in the world. She was Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly, Gina Lollobrigida all in one.

WALLACE: If you're curious to know what happened to Gloria Swanson, why she stopped being a femme fatale, why she flickered out of pictures, and how fame in the twenties helped her fortune in the fifties, we'll try to get these answers tonight. We'll also try to find out what she thinks of Hollywood morals, of dieting fads, of politics, of the younger generation, of Marlene Dietrich, and why she has devoted herself to promoting an alleged cancer remedy attacked by the organized medical profession. We'll go after these stories in just one minute.


WALLACE: And now, the most spectacular movie star of her era, The Roaring Twenties, was Gloria Swanson. More so perhaps than Marilyn Monroe today, she was Hollywood's sex symbol. Women copied her hairstyle and her seductive come-hither look and she sold more tickets than Valentino. Today Miss Swanson is a legend within her own lifetime. Gloria, first of all let me ask you this: In your come-back film "Sunset Boulevard" back in 1950, you portray an aging, neglected silent film star Norma Desmond by name, who complains bitterly about the modern motion picture. She says, and I believe this is an accurate quote, she says: "I'm still big it's the pictures that have gotten small." Now, in view of your prolonged absences from films, how closely would you say that reflects your own opinion of today's motion pictures? Do you think they're small, anemic?

SWANSON: Well, Mike, I'm not a critic on that perhaps because I don't see enough pictures and even if I did, it's very hard to tell. A lot of people, you know, ask me if “Sunset Boulevard” was my own life--which is rather odd. I've no dead bodies in my pool swimming pool and a few other things haven't yet happened to me. So that was difficult. I had an idea that it was perhaps some personal combination of personalities out there, but I don't actually know of anyone who lived like Norma Desmond.

WALLACE: But the pictures of today, as far as you're concerned, they are not small, anemic pictures those that you say you don't see....

SWANSON: I saw one of the most beautiful pictures I ever saw in my life "Funny Face." It's a new approach. I would say it was a new kind of motion picture.They use even television technique, they use the three screens. They've done a magnificent job.

WALLACE: Of course the thing that I'm after, Gloria, is this: what I'm after is why you're out of pictures. Now we've had other maturing actresses who have maintained their popularity, perhaps even increased it despite their age...Katherine Hepburn, Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Crawford...could it be...could it be that they have made up for their loss of youthful glamour with their acting ability, while you were unable to do that? For instance, I'd like to read you a criticism of your acting during your hey-day, by columnist John Rosenfield in the Dallas Morning News, August 13th, 1950. Rosenfield says: "Emphatically Gloria Swanson was not the best-dressed woman on the screen, nor was she the most beautiful, nor the best actress. She tackled her big dramatic scenes with all the nuance of Betty Hutton singing "You Can't Get a Man With a Gun". For pique she shoved out her long, under-lip, for grief she threw an arm over her face and buried both in a pillow." End quote, John Rosenfield. What about that?

SWANSON: Well, I suppose that comes from the silent technique in which one had to express their feelings and thoughts with their face, is what Norma says, of course, in the picture, rather than with lines and it's quite possible that's true. I never quite read all of my notices, let's put it that way. Perhaps I should have --it might have helped me a great deal. I think I was more known for personality, perhaps. I don't mean my own personality, but the things that I did than for my acting. It was one of...the thorn in my side because I felt even when I was at the top of my career that I've never done anything to deserve acclaim.


SWANSON: I've never made any epics, for instance. I never did anything spectacular like Doug Fairbanks, and some of those enormous pictures that we made in those days like De Mille made, except when I was with De Mille. But, I made what is know as "program pictures."

WALLACE: You made money. As I said at the beginning: you sold more tickets than Valentino. But what I'm saying, what I'm asking you is this: you were ...what I'm asking you to say or to tell us is this: did you at that time feel that you were just a personality, just a kind of a commodity, or did you feel that you were an actress at that time?

SWANSON: Oh well, I wanted to be an actress and I was very sincere about it because I'm that type. I want to learn and I try to do my best all the time...rather conscientious perhaps too much so.But when I came back at what was known as the height of my career, I remember so well what I said to my mother and to my husband Henri de la Falaise, as I drove away from the theatre. I was asked to leave the theatre, as a matter of fact, because I had just come back from Europe I had almost died over there I had been away from California for almost three years and I of course had married a title which was quite something unusual, especially a Marquise. So...that night, my mother or Henri, one or the other, said to me: what on earth is the matter with you, Gloria, you seem to be sad. Because after all this acclaim which was exciting that night... I suppose everybody in Hollywood was there.

SWANSON: I know I sat between Cecil De Mille and Mack Sennett and Lasky... everybody in the whole motion picture business and it had been a great day. I said: Well, you know, it is one of the saddest moments of my life, because I'm only twenty-six instead of fifty-six; and all the acclaim that you've seen does not come from my acting, it comes from the fact that I'm a prodigal returned, I'm Lazarus come out of the grave, and I am Cinderella having married the prince.

SWANSON: And I knew that, you see, instinctively it was nothing that I had done as an actress and it was one of the reasons that I wanted to get away and do character roles...and that's why I went to New York even lying to the studio and telling them I had to have an operation in New York.

WALLACE: But you wanted, in other words, to be an actress and not a commodity.

Oh yes, of course, I didn't want to be a clotheshorse. I called myself a clotheshorse.

WALLACE: We mentioned Marilyn Monroe and Gina Lollobrigida a little while ago, and Grace Kelly. We spoke by long-distance telephone yesterday to California with Francis X. Bushman, who was a matinee-idol when you were doing bit parts in his films. We asked Bush how he would compare you with Marilyn Monroe and he said: Gloria Swanson had drawing-room appeal, whereas Marilyn has universal appeal. I'd take Marilyn, drawing-room, back-room, garden or anywhere else. Do you....

SWANSON: Did he say that?

WALLACE: Yes he did and I'd like to know whether you consider yourself a "hot-house flower"...just a drawing-room type?

SWANSON: I have no idea...though I recall something that happened to show you the kind of young lady I was I was all of fourteen and a half, I guess, when I met Mr. Francis X. Bushman the first time. And the gentlemen's dressing-rooms were on one side of the building and the girls' on the other they saw some reason for separating them even in those days, I guess and I was sitting at the wardrobe mistress' counter as he passed. And he inadvertently, I'm sure, put his hand on my knee whereupon I smacked his face.

WALLACE: Oh....hence the drawing-room type...

SWANSON: Hence the drawing-room type...

WALLACE: I see...

SWANSON: Do you suppose that could be it?

WALLACE: Of course we do have at least one quite mature actress who continues to use plain sex-appeal in her performances Marlene Dietrich -- who is a grandmother like yourself. Now, what would have been your reaction, Gloria, as a grandmother, had you been offered a contract to sing in a Las Vegas nightclub in a strategically transparent evening-gown, the way that Miss Dietrich did just a year or so ago?

SWANSON: Of course, I'm not Miss Dietrich so I can't speak for her. I know that would be impossible for me to do this, but maybe I don't have the lovely figure she has. I have more grandchildren than she...The legs...well they hold me up...but know I was offered to go there and I...naturally I've been tempted, because of wanting to sing again. But somehow I said: Oh, I think I'll learn to ride a bicycle on a tightrope first. So I have that to do before. I've never had the experience , let us say, of working in a night-club, and I don't know what it would to me...or how I could react to it.

WALLACE: Well, are you through with Hollywood? Following Sunset Boulevard...

SWANSON: Am I through with Hollywood, or are they through with me?

WALLACE: Alright, that's a good question. Are you through with Hollywood, or is it the other way around?

SWANSON: Oh no. I would love to do pictures. But see pictures is so changed but so is life and sometimes people find it difficult to go along with changes. I find it rather difficult, because I.....I'm one of the people that believes in romance and I don’t think that that has any age, and somehow in Hollywood it does have. You will notice that all the old boys, all the old stars are still there, though they may wear toupees.

WALLACE: And the girls?

SWANSON: Oh, the girls are rather young and attractive and about sometimes thirty years younger....their junior. That, you see, is...that's why I like the picture called Summertime, because it was an adult love-story. And when I went around the country for Sunset Boulevard and another picture which I liked very much, The Heiress, I talked to the women whom I really believe were responsible for making motion-pictures successful.

SWANSON: Because it was Mary who took John to the picture-show. And she had to like that gal up there, she had to identify herself with the woman that was playing the part. Well she goes to the picture shows now,.....he identifies himself with Gable or Bill Powell, but opposite Bill Powell or Gable or the rest of them Cooper is some young thing that could be her granddaughter or daughter so she doesn't find herself there at all.

WALLACE: No sense of identification.


WALLACE: Let's go back to the Hollywood that you knew. I would like your opinion.....

SWANSON: Oh, it was a fabulous....fabulous ...fabulous...

WALLACE: Well......

SWANSON: But we were all young then.....everybody.....

WALLACE: Well now is a description of Hollywood during the 1920's published in Reporter Magazine February 21st this year -- screenwriter Robert Ardrey writes as follows he says: Out of the Roaring Twenties in Hollywood came rape, manslaughter, white Rolls-Royces and an equal host of master pieces and paternity suits. Was Hollywood the wild, abandoned community that Mr. Ardrey suggests that it was?

SWANSON: Well, now let me explain to you something that I don't understand. I, of course, I have to admit that when I finished a picture I usually rushed off to New York or to Europe because I had other interests in my life other than just making pictures. I have always been a seeker after education was such that I needed to read a great deal; and traveling, I think, is a great educator.

SWANSON: And so I also, out of curiosity -- I wanted to see what other people were doing instead of hearing what the producer said to me and what I said to the producer and your head's going like this all the time. You hear...if you go to a dinner- party it's about pictures and afterwards you run a picture.....

WALLACE: So you got away from it.

SWANSON: So I did. So I more or less worked there rather than lived there. But I've been to some beautiful parties and I, of course, had heard about brawls and things like that. But....I've also heard about brawls and drunkenness in other parts of the world and I can't identify it with just Hollywood. Now...let us take the Roaring Twenties. You know the Roaring Twenties were....that was all over the world. It wasn't just in a little tiny spot out there in California.

SWANSON: Gaiety and a sense of freedom and abandonment was everywhere in the world and everybody seemed to have a feeling of freedom. That doesn't exist today. Now there's pressures, there are higher taxes, there are other concerns....

WALLACE: There is perhaps more conform it...

SWANSON: Yes, I think so....I mean...much more for instance this is now... United States is a country of do-it-yourself. Well, I'm so exhausted from doing it myself right now that I had to go to a hospital to lie down. Somebody said I had a nervous breakdown....they said, I had... I don't know...hurt my leg...something else...something else.....But I went there because I was exhausted -- doing everything myself.

WALLACE: Coming to -- coming to Hollywood morals though again, Gloria....Hollywood generally defends itself very vehemently against charges that it's a hot-bed of divorce. One of your best friends, silent film actress Lois Wilson was quoted in The Saturday Evening Post, back in July 22nd of 1950, as saying this about you....."Deep down in Gloria, I think she is ashamed she made a failure of marriage. And she feels her divorces betray some sort of flaw in her character".


WALLACE: And then she goes and says....."I know it sounds insane, but Gloria at her best -- Gloria at heart -- Gloria at heart is a hausfrau who would have had eight kids if that intense ambition in her had not been aroused." What about it?

SWANSON: I don't think it was ambition as much as it was that I was a product of that era. I'm sure that if I'd been born ten years earlier or later, heaven knows what I might have been doing. Maybe a telephone operator, or selling ribbons, or something. But I came along at a time when.......the very fact that you stand or could stand in front of a camera was wonderful. There was no casting bureaus in those days. But my first ambition, as a child, was to be grown up.

SWANSON: This was a dream -- to be grown up. Now I was an only child, so of course I was going to have six children. And I wanted a happy home and this is what I I wanted more than anything else. Circumstances of why I didn't have that are based a little bit on the fact that it was a little bit hard to be momma and poppa and a mother as well and the supporter of the family and you get into a thing as most motion picture people did....of supporting a lot of people, not only your own family, but those around you...

WALLACE: You said in that Saturday Evening Post said: When I was young, no man my age made enough money to support me in the style expected of me. There was no sense kidding myself, I loved all the pomp and luxury of that style. When I die....

SWANSON: Mike.....

WALLACE: ......May I just go through one more sentence, Please?....When I die, you wrote, or you said, my epitaph should read: "She paid the bills.. that's the story of my life".

SWANSON: Well, I never read the second issue....the second chapter of that particular story because I spent seventeen hours at least with the gentlemen who wrote it, who had promised to let me see it, so that I might correct things that were incorrect. As I recall, there was not a date correct......there was not in the first chapter that I read....the first story....there were two parts to I never bothered to read the this is quite new to me and I don't remember uttering it any more than I would use the word "lousy", which I think he put in my mouth, I don't think I've ever used it. So it was not an accurate article or reporting job, frankly.....

WALLACE: In that same article -- now-- see if this is accurate...

SWANSON: Mind you....excuse me.....I would love to be supported. I would love it. Nothing would please me more.I would feel before I die if that could happen, at last I'm a wife and I'm a woman and I'm fine. It would be just wonderful.

WALLACE: Well, in that same article, is this accurate? You summed up your acting career as follows -- you said: It was utterly absurd that I was paid a million dollars a year for making faces at a camera. There was only one justification for it: I was a commodity --and we're coming back to what you said at the beginning-- I was a commodity that brought in three times as much money as the people peddling me. I knocked out four pictures a year and there wasn't time to give them an artistic quality.

WALLACE: In view of that, Gloria, and in view of what has happened to you since you left films, what is meaningful and....what do you consider is the meaningful....the productive part of your life now?

SWANSON: When you're so busy and you've been catapulted into something as I this motion picture thing because I wanted to be a mother with six children and then thought I wanted to be an opera singer because I had a voice, and suddenly I'm a motion picture are going so fast in such a merry-go-round. Because that isn't only making pictures....there are other demands made on you you know.

SWANSON: So that your time is not your own; there is no such thing as privacy, and so on and so forth. So I have given.....I have tried now....I have other interests. I have always had other interests. I've always asked why this is happening and why is that happening. So I became interested in the things around me, civic things and politics......

WALLACE: An alleged cancer cure?

SWANSON: Alleged cancer cure...well, what's alleged.....Yes, I am very much interested in Proviosin, is one of them; but there are others equally as important. And...others that I know less about. This particular one I happen to know about because of Dr. Andrew Ivy and Dr. Drovak who invented this serum, I think it could be called....Proviosin.... and this man, Dr. Ivy, is one of our top researchers. So when he had given the amount of time that he has to Proviosin, naturally I became very much interested in it.

SWANSON: Also the fact I had heard of Dr. Tobey's son who has been cured, or at least cancer arrested when he only had a year to live....and this particular time I am the chairman of a committee called Committee for Independent Cancer Research, and it means exactly that. We want...

SWANSON: At the moment there's a president now who had only a couple of weeks to live -- this is some six months ago -- his name is David Kassin -- and when he was in coma ready to die; they gave him this so it couldn't have been psychosomatic; and he is alive to tell the tale now and he is devoting his life to it. So it is my hope that I will be able to get enough funds into this committee to enable the top researchers in this country, and there are more than Dr. Ivy, to investigate any possible cure or arresting of cancer because it's come to such a point now where it's almost an epidemic. Babies are born with it.

WALLACE: Where can people in our audience find out more information about the Independent Cancer Research?

SWANSON: Well, they can write's simpler if they write to Gloria Swanson, Westport, Connecticut. And if they would only send contributions to this, because we never know who we're helping. I happen to be blessed, but....

WALLACE: Just to Gloria Swanson, Westport, Connecticut?


WALLACE: I have a couple of question, one in particular, that I'd like you to think over a moment before you answer. Last year in one of columns for the United Press you wrote as follows, you said: When I say the American man is not the best lover, husband or father....I know that I am pouring oil on an age-old argument of American males versus their foreign brethren. Nobody can say, you went on....nobody can say I am too young to know what I am talking about and I feel qualified to make the statement that something dreadful has happened to the American man. Well, I'd like to know what that dreadful thing is, Gloria, and we'll get the answer to that question in just a minute.

SWANSON: Very well.


WALLACE: Alright, ma'am, you once wrote that something dreadful has been happening to the American male. What is it?

SWANSON: Mike, you didn't read the entire article, because I said: Time; you cannot be a father or a husband or a lover without time. It takes time. You can go to the corner and buy some posies for the one you love; it takes time.

WALLACE: You also said: Love needs the fantasy of romance to keep it alive. Why oh why does the American male imagine that because he says he loves you and has taken out a life-insurance policy, that's it?

SWANSON: Well, that's it. I mean...he decides that that's all that's necessary and romance has to do with moonlight, it has to do with poetry, it has to do with dancing, it has to do with things that.....away from that quick business of "Darling, I love you Good-bye - I'm off to make that dollar...."

WALLACE: But is it possible, Gloria, that in your search for that kind of thing --in that search for romance --in that search to make your man spend more time with you as've been searching for the....

SWANSON: Are you touching a weak spot now?

WALLACE: ......searching for the will-o'-the-wisp...and is that the reason for successive divorces, perchance?

SWANSON: Maybe that is so, except that I believe honestly and truly I don't believe all the buttons and push-buttons and electrical gadgets that we have today, and a car that much longer each year....just because somebody's told them that they should have going to make all this happiness. And I feel so sorry to think that a person can't get off that treadmill.

Mind you, I know what the treadmill is like when you have to go on just because there're a lot of bills to pay and this is what happens to the American man....I feel sure...because I know that in Spain when a man was asked to make more gloves, he said: No, I don't want to. The man said: I'll give you twenty-five thousand dollars. He said: I don't want head-aches too, nor ulcers; I hear you have them in America. And the American couldn't understand this. This is the difference....I think.

WALLACE: A couple of unrelated questions now. What do you think of cosmetic surgery face lifting, nose-bobbing?

SWANSON: Well, I had an unfortunate experience because a woman wrote to me back in Chicago and said: my little child has been maimed through an automobile accident and I understand you had your nose fixed by Dr. Bla-bla, or whoever he was in Chicago, and of course I was frantic because here was a woman sending her child presumably to a doctor who was obviously a charlatan and who had never touched my face at all.

SWANSON: Now, I can understand women, especially in this day and age, when they want to look younger, or because they have some unattractive feature and because it has been so during the war that we've made faces over, that one may get to a point of where they ....if it's important to them, and I suppose it is when they feel that they're losing maybe their husband or sweetheart to a younger woman; because in America you know, everything is youth conscious and everybody is running after it...whether it's the husband or the wife....I think this is partly to blame. I think it's the male who has done this to the woman made her self-conscious about a wrinkle here and there.

WALLACE: Gloria, one final question which you may or may not answer, as you see fit's an impertinent one old are you?

SWANSON: I was born March the 27th, 1899 right after midnight and this is so help me God the whole truth and nothing but the truth, and my mother can verify it because she's seventy-seven and she is.....

WALLACE: That makes you fifty-eight?

SWANSON: Yes, I'm always a year older than the year...well...after March.... not before then...I'm the same as the year.

WALLACE: Gloria, thank you so much for taking time out to come and spend this half-hour with us and on your trip to Europe which is shortly coming up: Bon Voyage.

SWANSON: Thank you, Mike.

WALLACE: There's a wide gulf between the calculated glamour of Hollywood today and the spontaneous glory of its past. Gloria Swanson bridged that gulf in Sunset Boulevard and she almost won herself an Academy Award doing it. When Miss Swanson completed that comeback film in 1950, the entire production staff chipped in for a gift inscribed to proclaim that Gloria Swanson is the greatest star of them all, and no one has ever accused them of exaggeration.

In a moment a rundown on next week's interview.