Old School Americana & Nostalgia


Gloria Stuart: From ’30s Scream Queen to ‘Titanic’ ’90s Oscar Nominee

Gloria Stuart: From ’30s Scream Queen to ‘Titanic’ ’90s Oscar Nominee

Gloria Stuart began her acting career starring in horror films of the 30s but managed to bookend it with an Oscar nomination for Titanic.

A native of Santa Monica, California, Stuart started acting in high school. She then pursued theater after studying at the University of California, Berkeley. Performing in local productions and summer stock in Los Angeles and New York City, she signed a film contract with Universal Pictures in 1932.

This is where Stuart crossed paths with Frankenstien director James Whale. Fresh off the success of the 1931 horror classic, Stuart was cast in Whale’s follow-up, 1932’s The Old Dark House. Based on the 1927 novel Benighted by J.B. Priestley, the film features an ensemble cast that includes other James Whale players like Boris Karloff and Ernest Thesiger.

The film tracks the journey of five travelers who take refuge from a fierce storm in the deteriorating country estate of the peculiar Femm family. Once obscure, the film has become a cult favorite and it routinely runs on beloved horror host Svengoolie’s show.

Gloria Stuart Stars in a Universal Monster Hallmark

In 1933, director James Whale and Gloria Stuart reteamed for another pillar of the classic Universal Monsters was introduced with The Invisible Man.

The film follows Dr. Jack Griffin (Rains), a scientist who goes crazy after an experiment leaves him invisible. Stuart plays the female lead of the film, Griffin’s fiancée Flora Cranley. The film is famous for its advanced effects. Rains unveils his invisibility by removing his bandages, shocking onlookers at crucial times.

In 1945, after acting for Twentieth Century Fox, Stuart transitioned to a career as an artist, creating various artworks for three decades. Her pieces are found in collections at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Stuart made a gradual comeback to acting during the late 1970s, taking on various minor roles.

Gloria Stuart’s ‘Titanic’ Oscar Turn

However, Stuart’s acting career would get an unexpected boost in the late 90s. She would also make a bit of history in the process.

At the 70th Academy Awards in 1998, Kate Winslet and Gloria Stuart were both nominated for Oscars for their portrayals of Rose DeWitt Bukater in 1997’s Titanic. Winslet, nominated for Best Actress, played Rose throughout most of the film. Stuart, nominated for Best Supporting Actress, portrayed an older Rose at the start and end.

This was the first time two actors were Oscar-nominated for playing different life stages of the same character in the same film.

With Kate Winslet and Gloria Stuart’s Oscar nominations, Titanic got a whopping 14 out of 17 possible categories. Receiving 14 nominations, Titanic shares the spotlight with 1950’s All About Eve and 2016’s La La Land for the most nominations in film history. In terms of wins, Titanic matches the record of 11 wins held by 1959’s Ben-Hur and 2003’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.

Of course, the film was also a huge crowd-pleaser. Titanic, James Cameron’s seventh feature film, reigned as the world’s highest-grossing movie for years until another Cameron creation, Avatar, surpassed it.

Gloria Stuart’s ‘Titanic’ Oscar Record That Still Stands

However, Gloria Stuart achieved a remarkable feat at the Oscars that remains unmatched. Competing against esteemed actresses like Joan Cusack, Minnie Driver, Julianne Moore, and Kim Basinger, Stuart’s nomination for Best Supporting Actress earned her the title of the oldest first-time Oscar nominee ever.

At 87, Stuart had a successful career, with this recognition coming after a decade-long break.

Although Basinger won the Oscar that year for L.A. Confidential, Titanic revived Gloria Stuart’s career. After Titanic, Stuart took on several more roles before passing away in 2010 at age 100. For fans of 30s horror and the Universal Monsters, it was a fitting tribute to a legend.