Gloria Stuart, actress in 'Titanic,' dies at 100

Glamorous 1930s star returned to Hollywood in her 80s to play the older Kate Winslet character in the blockbuster movie. She was 100.
By Sarah Halzack
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 27, 2010; 6:17 PM

Gloria Stuart, 100, a glamorous blond actress who starred in 1930s horror films and musicals before reviving a long-dormant career in 1997 with her Oscar-nominated performance as the older version of Kate Winslet's character, Rose, in the box-office smash "Titanic," died Sept. 26 at her home in West Los Angeles.

She had received a diagnosis of lung cancer several years ago, said her daughter Sylvia Thompson, who confirmed the death.

In the role of a 101-year-old Titanic survivor, Ms. Stuart narrated the James Cameron-directed film and served as the linchpin of its past and present-day story lines. Her effective portrayal of a feisty, headstrong character made her the oldest actress to ever be nominated for an Academy Award.

She lost to Kim Basinger in "L.A. Confidential," even as "Titanic" swept many of the awards that year, including Best Picture and Best Director.

Many profiles of Ms. Stuart suggested that her nomination was largely sentimental, but she won admiration from several prominent movie critics.

"Her ease is poetic," reviewer Elvis Mitchell wrote of Ms. Stuart in 1997. "This actress in her 80s holds the picture together, and the irony is, we come to look forward more to her scenes than we do those featuring the colossal scale of the rebuilt Titanic and its expertly milling passengers."

Ms. Stuart had all but abandoned acting when a casting director contacted her and asked her to audition for the part in "Titanic."

Cameron was looking for an actress whose heyday had been Hollywood's golden era, and Ms. Stuart filled the bill.

She joked later to the New York Times that she was cast because, at 87, she was one of few actresses in her age group who was "still viable, not alcoholic, rheumatic or falling down."

Long before that career-defining role, the blond beauty appeared in James Whale's "The Old Dark House" (1932) as a traveler stranded by a rainstorm who takes refuge at a creepy home with a family of mysterious characters.

The next year, Whale directed her opposite Claude Rains in "The Invisible Man." She played Flora Cranley, the lover of a scientist whose experiment with invisibility has turned him into a deranged killer.

Ms. Stuart said that working with Rains, an English actor who had a distinguished stage career, had difficulties stemming from his vanity.

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