I originally wrote this piece for IMDB in 2004. I want to archive it here. Enjoy! MAX!!
I just want to clear up a misconception about Gloria Swanson and her performance as Norma Desmond in “Sunset Blvd”.
Gloria Swanson was NOTHING like Norma Desmond in real life. At the time she was offered the role, she was very busy (thank you very much) in New York with, among other things, pioneering early live television. She had a very busy family and social life, and wasn’t that keen on returning to California and the silver screen.
She was, however, very intrigued with the script, and was talked into it by Billy Wilder.
When she got to the coast and began to make contact with some of her old friends from the silent days, she was very disturbed and a little freaked out to discover that there were indeed many “Norma” cases hidden in the Bel Air hills. She was shocked to find many of her old acquaintances were stuck in the past, whereas she had moved on and never looked back. She then actively sought out these people and began studying them, incorporating parts of each of them into her portrayal of Norma Desmond.
A couple of interesting stories about the making of this movie are worth relating.
In 1948, Billy Wilder and his collaborator, Charles Brackett were searching for story ideas. They were lunching at Chasens restaurant in
Beverly Hills and Wilder noticed an aged, apparently “homeless” man hovering around C.B. Demille’s table. Wilder observed DeMille motioning the old bum over and whispering something to him. The bum shuffled out. Intrigued, Wilder filed the incident away. Several days later he ran into De Mille on the
Paramount lot and asked about it. “Oh yes, that was old
Griffith asking for work again.” Aghast, Wilder asked “
“D.W. Griffith” Demille simply replied, and walked away.
It so shocked Wilder that such a titan of the film industry could become such a severe has –been, could have fallen so low. It gave him and Brackett the germ of the idea that eventually became “Sunset Blvd”-the true, unvarnished look at how Hollywood treats its “living legends”.
Another interesting story occurred at the film’s Hollywood première. It was, of course a huge, star-studded affair. Everyone who was anyone was there. After the screening, L.B. Mayer, then recently deposed head of MGM and one of the most powerful of all movie moguls stormed into the lobby, where Billy Wilder was holding court, ravishing in the praise from all. “You muckraking scum! You’ve ruined this town with this filthy picture! You and your kind are ruining our industry!” Mayer barked in Wilder’s face. Wilder, with an ever so faint smirk on his face clucked his tongue and said “Mister Meyer? Go f@ck yourself”
And that, ladies and gentlemen, was Mr. Billy Wilder