Sunset Blvd.

This is a true classic from 1950, directed by Billy Wilder and stars Gloria Swanson, William Holden, Erich von Stroheim and Nancy Olson, all of whom were nominated for Academy Awards.


The movie was nominated for a total of 11 Oscars, won 3, and is widely accepted as one of the greatest films of American cinema.


The role of Norma Desmond was initially offered to Mae West, who rejected the part because she felt she was too young to play a silent film star.

Mary Pickford also rejected it because she was afraid it would destroy her wholesome image.


And director Wilder wanted another silent star, Pola Negri, to play Norma, but when he called her on the phone, he could hardly understand her because of her thick Polish accent, which was what had killed her career when talkies came in, and he never did offer her the role.


Montgomery Clift had originally signed to play the part of Joe Gillis, but quit just two weeks before shooting started because, like his character in the film, he was having an affair with a wealthy middle-aged obsessive former actress and it was too close to reality.


Billy Wilder then offered the role to Fred MacMurray, who turned it down because he didn't want to play a gigolo. Marlon Brando was considered, but the producers thought he was too much of an unknown. Gene Kelly was asked next but MGM refused to loan him out.


So Wilder picked William Holden and they later worked together on several films and became longtime friends. 

 

William Holden was born William Franklin Beedle, Jr. and started acting while in junior college. He appeared in a number of small pictures until his first big role in 1939’s Golden Boy, with Barbara Stanwyck.


He was so grateful to Stanwyck for her insistence on casting him, that he reportedly sent her flowers every year on the anniversary of the first day of the filming.


Afterthis film his career took off and he starred in Stalag 17, The Bridges at Toko-Ri and The Bridge on the River Kwai.


Holden moved to Switzerland for tax reasons in 1959, and spent much of his later life working for wildlife conservation at an animal preserve in Africa.


He appeared in more than 70 films, was nominated for 3 Oscars and won one Academy Award.


In November, 1981, according to the Los Angeles County Coroner's autopsy report, Holden was alone and drinking in his apartment in Santa Monica, CA, when he slipped on a rug, severely cutting his forehead on a bedside table.


Evidence suggests that he was conscious for at least half an hour after the fall, but it’s unsure if he didn’t call for help because he didn’t know how bad the injury was or whether he wasn’t able, but he bled to death on the floor and his body was found four days later.


In 1911, a beautiful twelve-year-old girl made her stage debut at a town hall on Caroline Street in Key West. Only a few years, later little Gloria Mae Josephine Svensson, daughter of Joseph and Adelaide, and a Key West Army brat, had become Gloria Swanson, silent film superstar, and by the mid-1920's was the highest paid woman in film, earning $250,000 per week.


Swanson had lived in Key West for four years when her father was with the US Army transport service. In 1924, she returned to Key West on the train on her way to Havana and visited her childhood home at the Army Barracks. She returned to Key West again in 1965 to visit her friend Jeanne Porter, whose home was the Heritage House.


Swanson was born in 1899, and for a petite woman (she wasbarely 5 feet tall), she lived life large ­ she had 7 husbands, many love affairs (the longest and most well known with Joseph Kennedy,) and, by her own estimation, made & spent over $8.5 million dollars simply enjoying herself.


She appeared in over 80 movies & TV shows and received 3 Oscar nominations, including the very first nomination in the Best  Actress category. But the role for which she is most remembered is that of Norma Desmond in this film.


After a few more films in the 1950s, Swanson more or less retired from the big screen and throughout the 60s she appeared mostly ontelevision.


Her last movie appearance was in Airport 1975, where she played herself, and she died in 1983, at the age of 86.

 

Erich von Stroheim was an actor, director and writer who emigrated to America from Austria in1909. Upon arrival at Ellis Island, he claimed to be Count Erich Oswald Hans Carl Maria von Stroheim und Nordenwall, the son of Austrian nobility.


In reality, he was the son of a lower-middle-class Jewish hat maker. He was a great fantasist and his authorized biography contained so many errors that many in Hollywood considered it almost a work of fiction.


He received his only Oscar nomination for his performance in this movie. Despite the fact that Erich von Stroheim plays a butler/chauffeur, he couldn’t drive in real life and during the scenes where he drives, the car was towed by another vehicle.

 

For the role of Betty Schaefer, Wilder wanted a newcomer who could project a wholesome and ordinary image to contrast with Swanson's flamboyant and obsessive Desmond and chose Nancy Olson, in only her third movie.


She appeared with Holden in three other films but none repeated the success of Sunset Boulevard and her career eventually stalled. She had parts in several TV shows in the 50s, 60s and 70s and also appeared in Gloria Swanson’s last film, Airport 75.


Most recently she was in the HBO series Big Love.

 

The "Desmond mansion" was built in 1924 at a cost of $250,000 and was not located on Sunset Boulevard, but on Wilshire Boulevard. Its second owner was Jean Paul Getty, who bought it for his second wife.


But they eventually divorced and she got the house; and it was Mrs. Getty who rented it to Paramount for the filming. The "fee" for renting the mansion was for Paramount to build the swimming pool, which features so memorably in the film.


The mansion was torn down in 1957 and a gas station now stands on the spot. The silent film clips from Norma’s past that are shown in this movie are from one of Swanson’s actual silent films, Queen Kelly from1929, which was directed by von Stroheim.


And the photos of the young Norma Desmond that decorate the house are all genuine publicity photos from Gloria Swanson's heyday. The car used as Norma Desmond's limousine is an antique Italian car that once belonged to a 1920s socialite, who was given the car by her lover, automobile magnate Walter Chrysler.


The movie's line "All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up" was voted as the #7 most famous movie quote by the American Film Institute. It’s also one of the most frequently misquoted lines,usually given as, "I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille."


Swanson's other lines - "I am big! It's the pictures that got small." was voted #24th, and "We didn't need dialogue. We had faces." was #13.

 

You’ll recognize Jack Webb, later famous as Sgt. Friday onTV’s Dragnet, playing Artie Green.


Look for gossip columnist Hedda Hopper at the top of the stairwell, as Norma descends toward the cameras.  And watch for Buster Keaton in the card game scene.


Strangely, fifteen years after Sunset Blvd. came out, both Hopper& Keaton would die on the same day:  February 1, 1966.


Keep an eye out for Cecil B. DeMille during Norma's visit to the studio; he agreed to do the cameo for a $10,000 fee and a brand-new Cadillac.


And when director Wilder went back to him later to shoot a close-up, DeMille charged him another $10,000.