Born Gloria May Josephine Svensson in a military base in San Juan, Puerto Rico to a Swedish-American father, she grew up in Puerto Rico, Chicago, and Key West, Florida. Her film debut was in 1915, as an extra in The Fable of Elvira and Farina and the Meal Ticket, but she was a star by the next year, in A Dash of Courage. She played many Mack Sennett slapstick comedies, but in 1919 she signed with Cecil B. DeMille, and he turned her into a romantic lead. She starred in the 1922 silent film Beyond the Rocks with Rudolph Valentino.
Swanson's 1929 film Queen Kelly, was directed by Erich von Stroheim and produced by Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., the father of President John F. Kennedy. She was romantically linked to the elder Kennedy at the time.
When Swanson starred in the 1950 Sunset Boulevard, it is scenes of Queen Kelly that her character, Norma Desmond, is watching (with von Stroheim playing her butler).
Swanson made it into the talkies, even singing in Music in the Air, and she hosted a television anthology series, Crown Theatre with Gloria Swanson, in which she occasionally acted. Her last Hollywood movie was Three for Bedroom C in 1952, although she did appear in the Italian movie Mio figlio Nerone.
Her last acting role was in the television horror film Killer Bees in 1974, though she also appeared as herself in the movie Airport 1975 which was also released in 1974.
She has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame - one for motion pictures at 6748 Hollywood Blvd. and one for television at 6301 Hollywood Blvd.
Swanson was the mother of a biological daughter, Gloria, by her second husband, and also of an adopted son, Joseph Patrick, whom everyone thought (erroneously) was named for her lover at the time, Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. (father/founder of the Kennedy political clan). Swanson was the mother of actress Michele Farmer.
Gloria Swanson was cremated, her ashes buried at the Church of Heavenly Rest, in New York City.
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