Oscar Actors: Swanson, Gloria–Three-Time Nominee (Sadie Thompson, The Trespasser, Sunset Boulevard)

In the first year of the Oscars, 1929 (for achievements in 1927-1928), the winner of the Best Actress was Janet Gaynor, nominated for three different roles: Seventh Heaven, Street Angel, and Sunrise. (The rules changed a few year later, where a performer can only be nominated for a single role).

Janet Gaynor

One of the three films for which Janet Gaynor was honored with the very first Best Actress was “Street Angel,” in which she plays a poor prostitute who takes a refuge from the police with a circus, where she meets and falls in love with a painter (played by her frequent co-star Charles Farrell).

A large number of Oscar roles depict women who are betrayed by their husbands. Adultery is one of the most consistent male privileges–and a continuous source of suffering for women. Janet Gaynor won Best Actress for “Sunrise,” in which she plays a loyal wife betrayed by her farmer-husband with a glamorous city woman who wishes her dead.

In 1937, Gaynor was nominated for the first version of “A Star Is Born.”

There were only three nominees in the first year: Louise Dresser for “A Ship Comes In” and Gloria Swanson in “Sadie Thompson.”

The Other Two Nominees

Louise Dresser

Born Louise Josephine Kerlin in 1878 in Evansville, Indiana.  She borrowed her professional last name from her friend, songwriter Pual Dresser, the older brother of the famous novelist Theodore Dreiser.

Her first film was The Glory of Clementina (1922), and her first starring role was in The City That Never Sleeps (1924).
Dresser made an impression by playing Catherine the Great opposite Valentino In The Eagle (1925).
In 1929, at the age of 51, Dresser was nominated for the the Best Actress Oscar for A Ship Comes In, a silent film directed by William K. Howard, in which she plays Mrs. Plesznick, a Polish Immigrant.
Two of her best known roles were as Al Jolson’s mother in “Mammy” (1930), and opposite Will Rogers in “State Fair” (1933). She portrayed Empress Elizabeth in “The Scarlet Empress” (1934), starring Marlene Dietrich. Dresser’s last film was “Maid of Salem” (1937), after which she retired.
She was married to Jack Gardner, who died in 1951, and to singer-songwriter, Jack NorworthDresser died in 1965 in Woodland Hills, California, after surgery for intestinal cancer.

Gloria Swanson

For Sadie Thompson, Gloria Swanson received her first Best Actress nomination, 1927-28.

She remained popular with the public throughout the late 1920s.   Swanson received free publicity, when “controversy” over whether she had used her own singing voice.  The studio then sent proof that she did sing, which brought more viewers to the movie

Swanson’s second, consecutive Best Acress nomination was in 1928-29 for the star vehcile The Trespasser, in which she sang two songs.  The Trespasser premiered in London first, to good reviews, then New York.  Joseph Kennedy produced Sadie Thompson and then sold distribution rights.  The Trespasser earned Kenney a lot of money, but no credit.  For some reason, he didn’t think it was impor enough to put his money on it, until it opened and it was too late.”

The silent ear star received her third and last Best Actress nomination for Billy Wilder’s dark serio-comedy, Sunset Boulevard, in which she played her most famour role, Norma Desmond, a once glorious star now in decline–not unlike Swanson’s real-life career.