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Gloria Stuart, Oldest Oscar Nominee at 87 for `Titanic' Role, Dies at 100

Gloria Stuart, who became the oldest person nominated for an Academy Award for her role in “Titanic,” the record-breaking box-office hit, has died. She was 100.

She died yesterday at her home in West Los Angeles, California, the Los Angeles Times reported, citing her family. She was diagnosed with lung cancer five years ago, the newspaper said.

Stuart was 87 when “Titanic,” director James Cameron’s epic fictional account of passengers aboard the doomed luxury liner, opened in December 1997. The movie followed Rose (Kate Winslet) and Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) as they met, fell in love, navigated the Titanic’s strict class divisions and then tried to survive after the ship struck an iceberg.

Stuart narrates the movie as 101-year-old Rose, who joins treasure hunters searching the Titanic’s wreckage for a legendary diamond necklace. Toward the film’s end, she reveals the necklace she has secretly possessed since the night the ship sank, and drops it into the ocean.

The movie earned $1.8 billion worldwide, making it the highest-grossing film of all time. Stuart earned one of the movie’s 14 Academy Award nominations, for best supporting actress. It won 11 Oscars, including one for best picture.

The late actress Gloria Stuart is seen here attending the Centennial Celebration with Gloria Stuart event held at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on July 22, 2010 in Beverly Hills, California. Photgrapher: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images Close

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The late actress Gloria Stuart is seen here attending the Centennial Celebration with Gloria Stuart event held at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on July 22, 2010 in Beverly Hills, California. Photgrapher: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

“All these years -- I’ve been waiting for this a long, long time,” she said after learning of her nomination in February 1998.

She lost the Oscar to Kim Basinger, but the two shared the Screen Actors Guild award for supporting actress.

Stuart’s role in “Titanic” capped a film career that appeared to have ended, with little fanfare, decades earlier.

‘Classy Yet Seductive’

Elegant and blonde, she was a hard-working leading lady in Hollywood in the 1930s, appearing in 42 movies including “Air Mail” (1932), “Here Comes the Navy” (1934) and “Gold Diggers of 1935.” Yet stardom eluded her.

“She possessed a classy yet seductive low-pitched voice and proved herself a good actress on occasion, but no sort of instantly recognizable, larger-than-life or sympathetic persona was ever built up for her,” Variety wrote in a profile.

Stuart left acting in 1946, focusing on her family and her other love, painting, for almost 30 years. She appeared in television movies in the mid-1970s and on the big screen in “My Favorite Year” (1982) and “Mass Appeal” (1984).

Stuart said she was painting one day in May 1996 when she got a phone call inviting her to play a role in a forthcoming film about the Titanic directed by Cameron.

Hooked by Script

“Who is he?” she thought, according to her 1999 memoir, titled, “I Just Kept Hoping.”

Once she looked into the project, she was hooked. “Old Rose in the ‘Titanic’ script grabbed me instantly,” she wrote. “I knew that evening the role I wanted and waited for all these many years had arrived!”

So, finally, did the fame. People magazine named her one of the 50 most beautiful people in the world in 1998, and she received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2000.

Cameron and his wife, actress Suzy Amis, who met during filming of “Titanic,” hosted a party to celebrate Stuart’s 100th birthday in July 2010. “Gloria’s so alive, and her creativity, her artistry and the sparkle in her eyes is a challenge to all of us to live as fully and richly as she has,” Cameron told the guests, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Fourth of July

Gloria Frances Stewart -- she later decided the spelling “Stuart” looked better on movie marquees -- was born July 4, 1910, in Santa Monica, California.

After two semesters at the University of California- Berkeley, she began her film career by signing a seven-year contract with Universal Studios. Her first movie was “Street of Women” (1932).

She starred with James Cagney in “Here Comes the Navy” (1934), nominated for an Academy Award for best picture, and was listed with Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo and Jean Harlow in a 1932 magazine article about beautiful women.

Still, she fretted over the studio placing her in two “dreadful musicals” in 1934, “Gift of Gab” and “I Like It That Way.”

“Betty Davis and Loretta Young and Olivia de Havilland were getting wonderful dramatic parts,” she recalled in her book. “Why not me? What had I ever done to deserve all this dreck?”

Shirley Temple Films

All told, she made 42 movies during her first seven years as an actress.

Though “sick to my stomach at the thought of doing a Shirley Temple movie,” Stuart did two after moving to Twentieth Century-Fox: “Poor Little Rich Girl” (1936) and “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm” (1938).

Stuart’s first marriage, to her college sweetheart, sculptor Gordon Newell, ended in divorce after four years.

She was married to script writer Arthur Sheekman from 1934 until his death in 1978. Their daughter, Sylvia Thompson, a cookbook author, helped write her mother’s autobiography.

At 72, Stuart began another long relationship, with printer Ward Ritchie, who died in 1996.

Politically active, Stuart was an early member of the Screen Actors Guild, formed in 1933, and helped start the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League in 1936.

To contact the reporter on this story: Laurence Arnold in Washington at larnold4@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Greiff at jgreiff@bloomberg.net.

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