Grahame was born Gloria Grahame Hallward in Los Angeles, California. She was raised a Methodist. Reginald Michael Bloxam Hallward, her father, was an architect and author and her mother, Jeanne McDougall, who used the stage name Jean Grahame, was a British stage actress and acting teacher. McDougall taught her younger daughter acting during her childhood and adolescence. The couple had another daughter, Joy Hallward (1911–2003), an actress who married John Mitchum (the younger brother of actor Robert Mitchum). Grahame attended Hollywood High School before dropping out to pursue acting. Gloria Grahame was signed to a contract with MGM Studios under her professional name after Louis B. Mayer saw her performing on Broadway for several years. She made her film debut in Blonde Fever (1944) and then scored one of her most widely praised roles as the promiscuous Violet, saved from disgrace by George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). MGM was not able to develop her potential as a star and her contract was sold to RKO Studios in 1947. Gloria Grahame was often featured in film noir pictures as a tarnished beauty with an irresistible sexual allure. During this time, she made films for several Hollywood studios. She received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for Crossfire (1947). Gloria Grahame starred with Humphrey Bogart in the film In a Lonely Place (1950), a performance for which she gained praise. Though today it is considered among her finest performances, it wasn’t a box-office hit and Howard Hughes, owner of RKO Studios, admitted that he never saw it. When she asked to be loaned out for roles in Born Yesterday and A Place in the Sun, Hughes refused and instead made her do a supporting role in Macao. Despite only appearing for a little over nine minutes on screen, she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in MGM’s The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), a record at the time for the shortest performance on screen to win an acting Oscar, which she held for 27 years before Beatrice Straight broke it in 1977.
Other memorable roles included the scheming Irene Nieves in Sudden Fear (also 1952), the femme fatale Vicki Buckley in Human Desire (1953), and mob moll Debby Marsh in Fritz Lang’s The Big Heat (1953) in which, in a horrifying off-screen scene, she is scarred by hot coffee thrown in her face by Lee Marvin’s character. Graham appeared as wealthy seductress Harriet Lang in Stanley Kramer’s Not As a Stranger (1955) starring Olivia de Havilland, Robert Mitchum, and Frank Sinatra. Grahame’s career began to wane after her performance in the musical film Oklahoma! (1955). Grahame, whom audiences were used to seeing as a film noir siren, was viewed by some critics to be miscast as an ignorant country lass in a wholesome musical, and the paralysis of her upper lip from plastic surgery altered her speech and appearance. Additionally, Gloria Grahame was rumored to have been difficult on the set of Oklahoma!, upstaging some of the cast and alienating her co-stars, which furthered her fall from grace in Hollywood. She began a slow return to the theater, and returned to films occasionally to play supporting roles, mostly in minor releases. She also guest starred on television series including an episode of the gothic sci-fi series The Outer Limits. In the episode entitled “The Guests”, Grahame spoofed her own career by playing a forgotten film star living in the past. She also appeared in an episode of The Fugitive TV series (“The Homecoming”, 1964) and an episode of Burke’s Law (“Who Killed The Rabbit’s Husband”, 1965). The play The Time of Your Life was revived in March 17, 1972 at the Huntington Hartford Theater in Los Angeles with Grahame, Henry Fonda, Richard Dreyfuss, Lewis J. Stadlen, Ron Thompson, Jane Alexander, Richard X. Slattery and Pepper Martin among the cast with Edwin Sherin directing.
Over the course of her career, Grahame became increasingly concerned with her physical appearance. She was particularly concerned with the appearance of her upper lip which she felt was too thin and had ridges that were too deep. To remedy this, Grahame began stuffing cotton or wads of tissues between her lip and teeth to give the appearance of fullness which she felt gave her a sexier look. Several co-stars discovered this after filming kissing scenes with Grahame as the tissue or cotton would often transfer to their mouth. In the mid-1940s, Grahame began undergoing small cosmetic procedures on her lips and face. According to her niece, Vicky Mitchum, Grahame’s obsession with her looks led her to undergo more cosmetic procedures that rendered her upper lip largely immobile because of nerve damage. Mitchum said, “Over the years, she [Grahame] carved herself up, trying to make herself into an image of beauty she felt should exist but didn’t. Others saw her as a beautiful person but she never did, and crazy things spread from that.”
In March 1974, Gloria Grahame was diagnosed with breast cancer. She underwent radiation treatment, changed her diet, stopped smoking and drinking alcohol and also sought homeopathic remedies. In less than a year, the cancer went into remission. The cancer returned in 1980, but Grahame refused to acknowledge her diagnosis or seek radiation treatment. Despite her failing health, Grahame continued working in stage productions in the United States and the United Kingdom, living for some time in Liverpool. While working in London in September 1981, she underwent treatment to remove excess fluid from her abdomen. During the procedure, the doctor accidentally punctured her bowel. She soon developed peritonitis and was hospitalized. After being notified of Grahame’s illness, two of her children, Timothy and Paulette, traveled to London and decided to take her back to the United States. On October 5, 1981, Gloria Grahame returned to the United States, where she was admitted to St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York City. She died there a few hours later at the age of 57. She is interred in Oakwood Memorial Park Cemetery in Chatsworth, California. For her contribution to the motion picture industry, Gloria Grahame has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6522 Hollywood Boulevard.
- November, 28, 1923
- Los Angeles, California
- October, 05, 1981
- New York, New York
Cause of Death
- peritonitis and breast cancer
- Oakwood Memorial Park
- Chatsworth, California