- Birth name:
- Gladys Clare Evans
- Date of Birth:
- 8 December 1900 Patten, Maine, USA
One of the fine if relatively short-lived character actresses of Hollywood heydays of the 1930s and 1940s, Gladys George came into an acting family while literally on the road. Her parents were actually English and touring with a Shakespearean theater company in Patten, Maine when she was born (although usually noted as 1900, other sources put it as late as 1904). Her parents stayed in America, and by the time she was three years old they formed a family act for vaudeville-The Three Clares (Gladys's middle name). From then, George worked the acting career. With experience she developed an interest in legitimate stage and while still in her teen years first trod the Broadway boards in 1918 in the original play "The Betrothal", the star being Isadora Duncan. Her experience in stock meshed with her natural talent and a face to frame the emotion of great pathos as well as hard cased and worldly wise. She was in good hands when she worked for the famous Broadway star Pauline Frederick, who made a fortune on the Great White Way and via her touring stock company. Frederick's career took on new dimension when she turned to film as well (1915), and George was probably influenced to follow her. George began in silent film with the young female romantic lead in Red Hot Dollars (1919) and would steadily move in lead and good second lead roles through 1921. But then she was severely burned in an accident which curtailed her early movie career. She returned to stock and married for the first time.By 1934 she had a new husband-significantly, a rich one-the millionaire manufacturer Edward Fowler who was able to further her career. A mere month into her run in the Broadway original play "Queer People" George left with the opportunity for a screen test with Paramount Pictures. That transpired, but it was MGM that signed her for a screen contract. Her first film was not surprisingly an adapted play _Straight Is the Way_ (1934). The film was a bit of a curiosity as dealing with a struggling New York Jewish family (not a usual focus) mixed up with gangsters. In this her first audio film, George played the mouthy bad girl to good effect, displaying her vocal acting ability. In her personal life she also had a socialite's talent for partying-and alcohol-and romance on the edge. She had only been married to Fowler about a year when he found her with her leading man from her then Broadway hit comedy "Personal Appearance". Ironically, she played a carousing, man-hungry star, and the press made hay with the coincidence. Her next film was not until 1936 and as a loan-out to Paramount, but it was pay dirt for George. As the mother against the world in Valiant Is the Word for Carrie (1936)_, George was the whole movie and so good that she received a Best Actress nomination for that year. It and perhaps her personal life had much to do with her biggest role the next year, _Madame X (1937_, as the long suffering soap opera-like Jacqueline Floriot. In another bit of coincidence, Frederick had also done the role in the 1920 silent film.Though some mark it as the beginning of a downturn to character roles, on the contrary George was bubbling beautiful and in fine form in the supporting role of Madame du Barry in Marie Antoinette (1938) with Norma Shearer. But by the next year physical change is more apparent as the speakeasy owner Panama Smith in The Roaring Twenties (1939) with its famous ending of the fatally wounded James Cagney staggering up the church steps after having rubbed out old rival Humphrey Bogart. He staggers back down diagonally and falls professionally face up with George quickly kneeling next to him. "He used to be a big shot", she says as the police arrive. Into the 1940s George spent a year or so on Broadway and was cast in no few soap opera B movies where she alternated with sympathetic or hard-cased roles. She was usually right on, but the roles were throwaways compared to what she was capable of doing. There are those who take her most recognized role as the widow of bumped off private detective Miles Archer in the legendary The Maltese Falcon (1941) with Bogart again. One is hard put to even recognize her in black lace mourning profiles and the few lines she has. Definitely she was remembered for better than that! The same year she had a good comedic lead role displaying her range from hard-headed to soft-hearted with the Dead End Kids in Hit the Road (1941).But a standout role of the decade was ironically so small, and yet it was subtlely profound for showing how she excelled at displaying pathos of the human condition in the great classic of post-World War II homecoming The Best Years of Our Lives (1946). As Hortense Derry she is the second wife of aging failure Pat Derry, played with equally effective sympathy by Roman Bohnen. That they live near poverty is starkly portrayed with a near skeleton of a hovel under an arched overpass (looks like that near the Soto street exit of the 101 freeway in LA). Whereas two returning servicemen, Fredric March and the wonderful novice actor naval veteran Harold Russell live in middle class comfort, Fred Derry (Dana Andrews, who just about like everyone in this movie, plays one of his most memorable roles) returns to his bitterly resolved father and his quietly desperate but loyal wife-yet he is not ashamed of them-he has his own expectations. George, frowzy with little makeup and clutching her old morning robe is eagerly patronizing and quick to speak--with a slight edge in her voice--for her husband-tongued-tied in his own self-possession-to welcome Andrews home. She is keeping the dignity of the family-exhausted from the effort but in gathering age still trying to charmingly glow, as she once did, with fast talk and quick smiles in the effort to make things look right-a slice-of-life jewel.Except for showing some old fire in her supporting role in Flamingo Road (1949), George had only a few more roles-with a couple of brief TV appearances--into the early 1950s. Gladys George was worn out with hard living and serious afflictions: cirrhosis of the liver, advancing throat cancer, and cumulative heart disease. Though she supposedly passed away from a stroke, there was some suspicion that she had taken an overdose of sleeping pills to put a sad end to her story.