Rachel Syme at Bookforum:
One evening in early 1950, the film mogul Louis B. Mayer hosted a small dinner party for the actress Gloria Swanson. She was fifty-one years old, which was not considered an ancient, crone-like age, even in an industry that values youth above all else. Still, she was in need of a professional boost. Mayer’s small soiree was something of a ceremonial gesture. Here was one of the last tycoons of classic Hollywood extending his hand and his hospitality to an actress who was tottering, on marabou-covered heels, back into the business after a decade-long fermata.
Swanson was one of the highest-paid—and most dazzlingly famous—stars of the silent-film era, after signing with Cecil B. DeMille when she was only nineteen. If Mary Pickford was America’s Sweetheart, and Theda Bara its Goth Vamp Id, then Gloria Swanson was the Fashionable Cool Girl, gallivanting around Hollywood in peacock plumage and beaded tassels.