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Norma Shearer: A Biography Hardcover – May 12, 1990


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 381 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1st edition (May 12, 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0394551583
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394551586
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.2 x 1.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #410,877 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

One of the few stars of the silent era to seque successfully into sound films, Norma Shearer (1902-1983) immersed herself in the art of cinematic illusion, emerging as one of MGM's most talented and glittering early stars. The centerpiece of such classic films as Marie Antoinette , Private Lives and The Women , Shearer was equally well-known for her marriage to boy-mogul cum Hollywood myth Irving Thalberg. Lambert's opening chapter, in which he meets the long-retired, septuagenarian film legend in a Hollywood restaurant, holds the promise of a guided tour to the outer reaches of ambition and vanity. But Shearer's mask is opaque, and Lambert ( On Cukor ) is unable to peel it away. Preposterously vain and steel-willed even from the grave, the actress ultimately triumphs over her biographer as the keeper of her own flame. Photos. (May) .
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Norma Shearer was queen of the MGM lot in the 1930s. Married to the studio's head of production, Irving Thalberg, Shearer starred in such movies as The Divorcee , The Women , and Idiot's Delight . She was nominated for five Academy Awards, and won one. Her last film was released in 1942, but Shearer lived until 1983. In comparison to Lawrence J. Quirk's Norma: The Story of Norma Shearer (St. Martin's, 1988), Lambert's book is more detached, although both authors interviewed Shearer. Quirk comes across as more of a fan and features more quotes from Shearer's coworkers. Lambert's book has more insight. Each book has information not included in the other; both are worthwhile.
- John Smothers, Monmouth Cty. Lib., Manalapan, N.J.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 29 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 15, 1998
Format: Hardcover
This is a fascinating look at the life of one of the most memorable stars of the 30's. Chronicles her life from her humble beginings to her arrival in Hollywood and her marriage to Irving Thalberg. Richly detailed, including interviews with Ms. Shearer done just before her death. Anyone with an interest in Ms. Shearer, or movie buffs in general, will fnd this book a delightful read. Illustrated throughout with exclusive photos of Ms. Shearer and her family. I highly recommend this book and it is well worth the search to find an out-of-print copy.
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Annick on November 30, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This is a must-read for anyone interested in early Hollywood, when stars had class. Norma Shearer is not as well remembered as she should be today, but after reading this book, you will be craving for more! This book is the best source there is out there for a look at this Queen of the MGM Lot (as she was called during her reign throughout the '30's) even though it has flaws. It gets some details of her career wrong, but the overall sense is that this is someone who accomplished a lot in terms of roles for women during the pre-code era of film. She played sophisticated society ladies who were just a bit naughty and flirtatious (and unapologetic!) She is worth remembering, so please seek out this book where you can find a copy and realize what those of us who have been captured by her star quality already know.......she was a star like no one else!
I also recommend a companion book to this(or if you can't locate a copy) Mick LaSalle's Complicated Women. He explains the glory that is Norma better than anyone can!
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31 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Leigh Melton on February 17, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Gavin Lambert does not seem to feel especially warm toward the subject of this book. His brief descriptions of meetings with her, when she was an elderly woman, seem designed to show her in the worst possible light. His constant mention of the fact that a woman in her seventies has wrinkles and that her memory sometimes failed irked me. It was as if Lambert was bitterly disappointed that his subject was a mere mortal after all.

Lambert also seems to think he was privy to Miss Shearer's most private of thoughts. I seriously doubt she confided in him about her sexual history, fulfilling or otherwise. He also veers toward taking her attitudes toward mental illness completely out of context; people still struggle with their feelings about it, and to condemn Miss Shearer for her shame and alarm regarding her sister's illness is to single her out for criticism, in my opinion very unfairly.

Having said all that, overlooking his personal interjections and, as others have noted, an overly long look at the early life of Irving Thalberg, for those interested in Miss Shearer's life this is an interesting and absorbing book. After reading it I feel I know the facts about her career and biographical details, but I am hoping to find another book which will give me more of a sense of who she really was.

As this item is out of print, copies tend to be somewhat expensive. While I am glad I read it, I am also glad I paid less than $50 for the privilege.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Plymouth 58 on June 26, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is a generally well written and researched book.There is a lag in the center section were the topic veers from Norma Shearer to husband, Irving Thalberg. It also suffers from not having insights from Shearer's intimates, including her daughter and second husband, who were both alive at the time of the book's publication. Shearer's post MGM years, from 1942 to 1983, are given a thin treatment. Lambert makes a couple of glaring errrors, such as when he describes a scene in "Marie Antoinette" where the Shearer character learns she is to die. There's no such scene, and given the wide availablily of the video, no excuse. Also, Lambert gets the inscription on her tomb wrong. He wrote that it reads "Norma Shearer Arrouge," when in fact it reads "Norma Arrouge."
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Edward Jay Bernson on May 28, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Gavin Lambert's "Norma Shearer: A Life" is the definitive biography of MGM's brightest star of the 1930's who is currently being rediscovered by the American viewing public. Lambert weaves actual interviews with Miss Shearer, conducted before her death, with the story of her humble beginnings in Canada. The author particularly proves that Miss Shearer had tremendous drive and eagerness to be a star, Thalberg marriage or not, and did not receive nearly the advantages that legend has created. Mr. Lambert does not try to hide Miss Shearer's mistakes, but instead gives a balanced and fair picture of a remarkable, yet complex woman. A fascinating must read for any film buff...
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Graceann Macleod on July 29, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Norma Shearer was incredibly private, and her children continued the tradition. Even her widower didn't want to talk to Mr. Lambert, saying that Norma's life was a closed chapter. You can imagine how daunting it would be to put together a complete biography of such a person, yet Lambert manages it in a way that is scholarly, objective and compulsively readable.

Norma was complex. She had insecurities and was mercurial at times. Her marriage to Irving Thalberg, while a loving one, was not terribly passionate (the description of their courtship is one of the many highlights of this superb book). Her relationship with her children was difficult in the extreme. Lambert manages to describe all of this while looking at all sides of the issues faced by the family members.

Fascinating reading, and I'm so glad I was able to get my hands on a copy. It will rest on my shelf with a very few other well-written biographies.
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