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Friday, October 7, 2011

Who is Norma Shearer?

“We were going through things belonging to deceased relative, and came across an autographed photo of Norma Shearer. Can you help me find out who she was?” The Newton Falls Public Library staff confessed that they had never heard of Norma either, but would be happy to see what information we could find for our patron.

Our search began online and we discovered the Internet Movie Database website,, had a great deal of information about this actress from the 1920s through 1940s. Edith Norma Shearer was born on August 10, 1902 in Montréal, Québec, Canada. The 5’1” actress’ most famous roles were in the movies: The Divorcee  (1930) for which she won an Oscar, The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934), and Romeo and Juliet (1936). She was offered the parts of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind (1939), the starring role in Mrs. Miniver (1942) and Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard (1950). According to the book, AmericanNational Biography, she also turned down the lead role in Pride and Prejudice. She died on June 12, 1983. The IMDb website offers some interesting sidelights about her including her noticing a photo of the daughter of a ski lodge receptionist’s daughter and recommending her to MGM. The girl in the photo became famous and known as Janet Leigh. “F. Scott Fitzgerald based one of his most famous stories, ‘Crazy Sunday,’ on a party hosted by Shearer, who also inspired the story's main character, Stella Calman  . . . She is one of the celebrities whose picture Anne Frank placed on the wall of her bedroom in the ‘Secret Annex’ while in hiding during the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam.”

On page 25 of the book 60 Years of the Oscar: the official history of the Academy Awards  by Robert Osborne, in the 1929-1930 awards Shearer was actually nominated for best actress in two films, The Divorcee and Their Own Desire. The following year the rule was changed so this situation could not again occur. The website, lists Shearer’s six Academy Award Best Actress nominations.

Our patron was surprised to learn how well known she was, and wondered how much the photograph might be worth. A variety of online sites offer Norma Shearer signed photographs for sale, ranging from $14.99 to several hundred dollars. Realizing that it is really only worth what someone is willing to pay; hoping to increase the value, our patron decided to see if she could locate a photograph which is the same as hers, discover if it is related to a particular film, and date the picture.

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