Norma Shearer, 80, one of Hollywood's most popular actresses in the 1920s and 1930s and Academy Award winner for her role in the 1929 film "The Divorcee," died of pneumonia June 12 at the Motion Picture and Television Hospital in Woodland Hills, Calif., a suburb of Los Angeles.
Miss Shearer, a winsome brown-haired girl with a near-perfect profile and a willowy figure, was a beneficiary and exemplar of Hollywood's old star system. Although critics warily expressed reservations about her talent, she was immensely appealing to the public. Next to Mary Pickford, she was the wealthiest movie queen of her day.
Actor Robert Morley, who starred with her in "Marie Antoinette," once wrote that she was "possessed of immense determination and few illusions." He said she became a star because she had decided that that was what she wanted to be.
"Her voice wasn't particularly pleasing and she was by no means a good actress, but her determination was, if anything, the greater," Morley wrote. "Her knowledge of lighting was as great as the cameraman's."
A critic wrote, "Her command of the medium was very sure. She could be maternal and girlish, loyal and frivolous--the one desired by men and emulated by women: the epitome of film starriness."
In addition to winning an Oscar in 1929, Miss Shearer received nominations for that coveted award for her roles in "Their Own Desire" in 1929, "A Free Soul" in 1930, "The Barretts of Wimpole Street" in 1934, "Romeo and Juliet" in 1936, and "Marie Antoinette" in 1938.
She also starred in 1939's "Idiot's Delight," opposite Clark Gable, "Strange Interlude," "Smilin' Through," "Tower of Lies," "Strangers May Kiss," "A Lady of Chance," "The Stealers" and "The Women."
Her career might have continued had she not turned down two other parts--Scarlett O'Hara in "Gone With the Wind," because her fans pleaded with her not to play a "bad woman," and the title role in "Mrs. Miniver," because she would have had to portray a mother with a grown son. Her replacements, Vivien Leigh and Greer Garson, soared to movie immortality in those roles.
She was born Edith Norma Shearer in a suburb of Montreal. Her father was an architect who went broke after World War I. She left school at the age of 14, and with her mother and sister, Athole, moved to New York. To finance the trip, they sold the family piano.
Miss Shearer later played the piano in movie theaters, and she and her sister took minor parts on Broadway. Her first film role was a small part in "The Stealers" in 1920. Her silent films included "He Who Gets Slapped," "Upstage" and "The Student Prince."
She also played a minor role in a 1923 western thriller called "Channing of the Northwest." She was brought to Hollywood by the legendary producer Irving Thalberg, who offered her a contract starting at $150 a week. Thalberg worked tirelessly to guide her career from minor roles to top stardom. She eventually made $5,000 a week. Her final contract paid her $150,000 a picture.
Thalberg and Miss Shearer also had one of the most celebrated romances in the movie capital. They were married in 1927. Thalberg died on Sept. 14, 1936, at the age of 37, shortly after producing "Romeo and Juliet" and "The Good Earth." He left Miss Shearer with an estate of $4.5 million and two children, Irving Jr. and Katherine.
In 1938, Miss Shearer went back to work in the lavish production of "Marie Antoinette." This was followed by "Idiot's Delight." In 1939 she made "The Women," a hit. Her last movie was "Her Cardboard Lover," filmed in 1942.
Later that year, she married Martin J. Arrouge, a ski instructor at Sun Valley, Idaho, where Miss Shearer and her children often vacationed. The couple traveled extensively, often to places that offered good skiing, and lived for some time in Switzerland. In later years they lived quietly in Hollywood.
Miss Shearer's survivors include her husband and two children.