Actress Gloria Stuart, a leading lady in Hollywood in the 1930s who found modern-day fame playing a shipwreck survivor in 1997 movie “Titanic,” has died, age 100.
Her daughter, Sylvia Thompson, told the Los Angeles Times that Stuart died Sunday night in her home in Los Angeles. She was diagnosed with breast cancer some five years ago, but had survived the disease.
“She just paid no attention to illness. She was a very strong woman and had other fish to fry,” Thompson said.
Stuart was born July 4, 1910 in Santa Monica, California, and she studied drama and philosophy in college before starting her career in theater and later Hollywood movies.
She was a founding member of the Screen Actors Guild, the trade union that represents actors and actresses, and was under contract for Universal Studios and 20th Century in the 1930s.
Her early movie roles ranged widely from star turns in horror flicks such as “The Invisible Man” to playing opposite Shirley Temple in “Poor Little Rich Girl” and working in director Busby Berkeley’s “Gold Diggers of 1935.”
When her contract expired in the 1940s, she began to work less and less in films and later took up painting. Stuart retired from movies in 1946, then roughly 30 years later returned in TV movies and continued working into the 1980s.
It was director James Cameron’s blockbuster “Titanic,” which until 2009’s “Avatar” was the highest-grossing movie of all time, that returned Stuart to stardom and earned her an Academy Award nomination at age 87 — the oldest actress ever nominated for an Oscar.
She played Old Rose, the counterpart of youthful passenger Rose (Kate Winslet) on the doomed ocean liner. Stuart’s work helped frame the shipboard romance between the upper-class young Rose and working man Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio).
In her 1999 autobiography, “Gloria Stuart: I Just Kept Hoping,” she wrote about the part that, “I knew the role I had wanted and waited for all these many years had arrived!”
After “Titanic,” Stuart would work in a few more films and on television, but nothing would bring her a similar level of fame. She was married twice, to Blair Gordon Newell, from whom she was divorced in 1934, and to Arthur Sheekman, to whom she stayed married until he died in 1978.
Alex has written for Vanity Fair, Barrons, Bloomberg and Condé Nast Traveler.