Oscar Actors: Shearer, Norma–The Divorceer-Winning Performance

Of the great MGM stars of the Golden Age, Norma Shearer is perhaps the least known, a result of several reasons.
Screen Career
Most of the films of Shearer (1902-1983) were silent. Between  1920 and 1928, she made 39 films, whereas from 1929 to 1942, when she retired, Shearer appeared only in 19 films.  This was a meager output compared to other MGM stars, such as Joan Crawford.
Also, her screen image was that of a ladylike, she represented class and elegance that were no longer fashionable in the 1940s.
In 1930, she was Oscar nominated for two films: Their Own Desire and The Divorcee, but she won the Best Actress only for the latter film.
In the melodrama The Divorcee, based on Ursula Parrott’s novel “Ex-Wife,” Norma Shearer, then married to MGM’s production head, Irving Thalberg, plays Jerry, a woman who tries to challenge society’s double standards regarding sexual mores.
Fed up by her adulterous husband Ted (Chester Morris), Jerry sets loose and demands her own sexual freedom in dating men, played by Conrad Nagel and Robert Montgomery.

As scripted by Nick Grinde, Zelda Sears, and John Meehan, “The Divorcee” was audacious and steamy for its times. It’s doubtful that a movie with such outre sexual politics could have been made after 1934, when Hollywood reinstated the Production Code, a censorship system that prevailed for over 30 years.

Reflecting the mores of the late 1920s, “The Divorcee,” for which Norma Shearer won her first and only Best Actress Oscar, has not aged well, but it offers minor pleasures, such as watching the graceful and elegant Shearer wearing long silk dresses.


Jerry (Norma Shearer)

Ted (Chester Morris)

Paul (Conrad Nagel)

Don (Robert Montgomery)

Helen (Florence Eldridge)

Mary (Helene Millard)

Bill (Robert Elliott)

Janice (Mary Doran)

Hank (Tyler Brooke)

Hannah (Zelda Sears)

Oscar Nominations: 4

Picture (Best Production), produced by Robert Z. Leonard Director: Robert Z. Leonard

Writing Achievement: John Meehan

Actress: Norma Shearer

Oscar Awards: 1


Oscar Context

In 1929-30, “The Divorcee” competed with four other films for the Best Picture Oscar: “All Quiet on the Western Front,” which won, the biopioc “Disraeli,” the prison drama, “The Big House,” and “The Love Parade.”

Norman Shearer was also nominated that year for “Their Own Desire,” but her Oscar honored her performance in “The Divorcee.”









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