Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Sexy Norma and the George Hurrell photo shoot of October 1929

Norma Shearer was a big box-office draw for MGM throughout the silent era. She proved her worth to the studio when she became The First Lady of Talkies with MGM's inaugural talkie was The Trial of Mary Dugan (1929) . However, Norma had always been frustrated with the roles she had been given. She played numerous good girl parts during the silent era which made her famous but kept her type-cast. She wanted meatier more satisfying roles and even critics thought that she could rise above poor parts. However, with the advent of talking pictures her roles weren't getting any better.

After her frustration with Their Own Desire (1929), a film I absolutely adore yet was a major flop at the time, Shearer had her eye out for a very juicy part to play. MGM had been working on adapting the successful novel Ex-Wife by Ursula Parrot into the film The Divorcée. Norma Shearer's husband, MGM producer Irving Thalberg, didn't think she could be convincing as sexy, glamorous and modern and denied her the part.

Norma Shearer confided in her good friend and fellow actor Ramon Novarro, who had starred with Shearer in The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg (1928), about her situation. Novarro told Shearer of a photo shoot he had done with a then unknown photographer by the name of George Hurrell. Novarro had been very satisfied with the results and recommended Hurrell to Shearer.

Shearer immediately hired Hurrell for a photo shoot, one that she kept secret from her husband Thalberg. Hurrell and Shearer worked together on revamping her image. Shearer explained to Hurrell her major flaws including the slight cast in her eye and her thick arms and legs. Hurrell, along with a small entourage, gave Shearer a makeover. They cut and styled her hair, did her make-up and dressed her in luxurious silver lamé and silk. Hurrell worked with her on various different poses that would showcase her blue eyes, hide her large forehead and chin, and make her arms and legs look long and lean.

The results were astounding and Norma Shearer was very happy. She presented the pictures to Irving Thalberg who was happily surprised to see how his wife had transformed into such a glamorous sexpot. She had thoroughly convinced him of her potential and the role of Jerry in The Divorcée (1930) was hers! Norma Shearer was very grateful to George Hurrell and using her influence at MGM, she helped him get contracted as an official MGM photographer.

I love this story because it demonstrates how Norma Shearer fought for what she wanted and even being married to the boss didn't guarantee her a free pass to any role. It also shows how Shearer overcame her flaws and never allowed herself to be in a situation she wasn't happy with. Go Norma!


  1. Great story.

    As Johnny "Scat" Davis would say, "Hooray for Hollywood!"

  2. Great Post Raquelle, one of your best! I love these photos! They are such a fantastic mix of 1920's glamour and Arabian Nights. Norma looks absolutely gorgeous in all of them.

    Isn't it typical that husbands often put brakes on their companions. Think about Hearst that didn't want Marion Davies to do comedy. Downright stupid!

    How many fine actresses didn't end their successful careers with marriage and oblivion at this time?

    The only example I can find when the husband was right is the case of Mariah Carey who totally lost it when she divorced that Epic executive... :) Haha!

  3. wonderful post-- I adore these photos of Norma!

  4. Especially agree with the last part. Great post... Shearer is one of my favorites :)

  5. Just great! This is so entertaining and interesting to read. I love the word "revamping", haha!

  6. That is a great post. And looking at the photos, I wouldn't think Norma had any flaws at all. I understand that before she was cast as Jane in Tarzan the Ape Man, Maureen O'Sullivan had to have similar pictures taken of her, as she was typecast as the innocent ingénue in films at that time.

  7. This is one of my favorite Hollywood stories. It's all the better knowing that Norma was imperfect like the rest of us. Somehow I can't imagine that the stars were anything but perfect. :)

  8. The Divorcee is the only Norma movie I've seen so far. It's really interesting to learn how she got the part. Those are fantastic pictures!

  9. Norma was great! Hurrell took many photos of her as he was her favorite photographer.

    I have recently started a blog dedicated to all the great old Hollywood style photographers including Hurrell among others. Please feel free to take a look:
    Sincerely, Barb


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