TCM Summer Under the Stars: Day Ten — Norma Shearer

So awesome.

Day 10 of Summer Under the Stars is my favorite day, celebrating none other than the great Norma Shearer. I was introduced to Shearer through her 1939 film, The Women, which I have literally seen more often than any other movie in existence. It wasn’t until years later after my first viewing of The Women that I discovered Shearer’s pre-Code offerings, and fell completely in love with them, especially The Divorcee (1930), Private Lives (1931), and A Free Soul (1931, all of which are airing on her Summer Under the Stars day. I anticipate being firmly and happily installed in front of my television screen from morning ‘til night.


Edith Norma Shearer was born in 1902 in Montreal, Canada, the youngest of three children of Edith and Andrew Shearer, who owned his own carpentry and lumber manufacture business (her older siblings were Douglas, born in 1899 and Athole, born in 1900). Called by her middle name from an early age, Norma decide at the age of nine that she wanted to be an actress, after seeing a vaudeville show starring the Dolly Sisters.

Little Norma.

Although she once described her childhood and adolescent years as “a pleasant dream,” complete with piano lessons, swimming, skiing, and parties, this idyll ended abruptly in 1918 when Norma’s father sold his business, resulting in a significant hit to the family’s finances. The Shearers moved to a dreary rented house and, a short time later, a still smaller one. By now, Edith Shearer decided she’d had enough and she left her husband, taking her two daughters with her. (Douglas was already out of the house and working.) As it happened, Norma’s uncle had connections in the motion picture business in New York, and suggested that Norma try her luck in this budding industry. After he produced a letter of introduction to the studio manager of the Selznick Company, Edith sold the family piano and arrived with her daughters in New York in January 1920.

Norma quickly found work as an extra in The Flapper (1920) and Way Down East (1920), but the director of the latter film, D.W. Griffith, judged that Norma had no future as a star. A short time later, she was rejected following an interview with impresario Florenz Ziegfeld who pronounced that she had bad legs and a poor figure. Luckily, Norma had the good fortune to sign with a talent agent (later producer), Edward Small, and she soon found herself billed fourth in her big screen debut The Stealers (1920).

In her first film, The Stealers.


  • Norma suffered from a slight case of strabismus, a condition where the eyes don’t look in exactly the same direction at the same time. She worked for many years on a regime of eye exercises; as a result, the condition became less noticeable and she learned to conceal it for long stretches on screen.
  • Norma’s sister, Athole, was married to famed director Howard Hawks for 12 years, from 1928 to 1940.
  • Norma’s brother Douglas was hired as an assistant in the MGM camera department after going to visit his stister at MGM studios one day. When MGM started making sound pictures, Douglas was named as head of the sound department. He won his first Oscar for sound recording for The Big House (1930), the same year that Norma won an Oscar for The Divorcee (1930), making the pair the first brother and sister to win Academy Awards. (Douglas would go on to win a total of 12 Oscars for Best Sound Recording).

    Her wedding day.

  • In 1927, Norma married Irving Thalberg, the “boy wonder” production manager for MGM studios, where Norma had been under contract since 1923. After her marriage to Thalberg, Norma had her pick of choice MGM productions.
  • Norma Shearer’s daughter, Katherine, was married for 12 years to actor Richard Anderson, who appeared in The Long, Hot Summer (1958) and the television show The Bionic Man.


What a quandary! You don’t even know. How to choose from my four favorite Norma Shearer films? Well, it wasn’t easy. It finally came down to a fierce battle between the two pictures that bring me the most joy – Private Lives (1931) and The Women (1939). Although I can recite practically the entire screenplay of The Women (and often do), I ultimately settled on Private Lives, for its sheer wittiness and what I consider to be a tour de force performance by Shearer.

Take a peek inside these Private Lives.

Based on a Noel Coward play, Private Lives tells the story of Amanda (Shearer) and Elliot (Robert Montgomery), ex-spouses who happen to wind up in neighboring hotel suites while both are on their honeymoons to other people. It turns out that Amanda and Elliot never got over their mutual love, and when they discover each other in the hotel, all kinds of madness ensues.

If you’re in need of a lift, tune into Private Lives on Norma Shearer Day. You only owe it to yourself.

And join me tomorrow for Day 11 of Summer Under the Stars!

~ by shadowsandsatin on August 9, 2020.

7 Responses to “TCM Summer Under the Stars: Day Ten — Norma Shearer”

  1. Private Lives would definitely be my choice but we not to be blessed with a screening on TCM Canada. Drat!

    Although my second choice The Barretts of Wimpole Street is by no means a slouch, it is a different sort of film altogether. Heck, I may even shed a tear or three over Smilin’ Through.

  2. Oh my, we’ll have to agree to disagree about “Private Lives”. I’m a Shearer fan but didn’t like the film version of the Coward play. It really plays so much better on stage. There is so little plot and on film, all that bickering between the two leads is just annoying to me. Sorry.
    I saw it on stage in London with Maggie Smith and her then husband Robert Stephens. Loved it.
    Wish we had SUTS in Britain. Our TCM is a very weak version of what you get.

  3. This was a super post on Norma Shearer-thanks! At one point in time, I belonged to a Norma Shearer Yahoo group where passionate fans shared photos and interesting tidbits. One of Norma’s biographers was even part of the group. Thanks!

  4. […] Day 10: Norma Shearer […]

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