August 10, 2009
Known as “that ugly girl who can’t dance,” NORMA SHEARER (1902-83) was a self-made urchin who became the Queen of (Pre-Code) Hollywood, personifying the “she’s gotta have it” ethos. Stylish, independent, and opinionated, her characters wrapped men around their little fingers and — most scandalously — had fun doing it. Offscreen she won the successful role of Mrs. Irving Thalberg, the babyfaced Hollywood producer who was the preenactment of a contemporary nerd. Post-code her narratives changed, and she’s perhaps best known now for her star turn in Clare Boothe Luce’s horribly awesome The Women, where all they do (and I do mean ALL they do) is talk about men. Shearer plays the Pollyanna protagonist pining away for her nerd, an engineer who has left her (somewhat unaccountably) for racy retail spawn Joan Crawford, Shearer’s longtime real-life frenemy. The Shearer cult, dormant for decades, is currently enjoying a revival. Attention, 21c nerds, and the ladies that love them: watch and learn.
READ MORE about members of the Hardboiled Generation (1894-1903).