Divorcee, The (1930): Starring Norma Shearer in Oscar-Winning Performance

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.

Cast

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

Actress

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.”