Gloria Grahame shot to stardom and eternal fame after appearing in the Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life. Yet if her name isn’t as well known today, maybe that’s because this ingénue’s life never got a happy holiday ending—far from it. From her heights as a femme fatale to her lows as box office poison, here are 42 noir facts about Gloria Grahame, the Hollywood Temptress.
Gloria Grahame Facts
1. Black Magic Woman
Grahame was known in Hollywood as the go-to girl for femme fatales. If a director was casting around for a sultry, morally ambiguous blonde for an upcoming film noir, chances are Grahame’s name was on the table.
2. Get Stuffed
Grahame was infamously insecure about her upper lip, and thought it was too small and thin to be beautiful. To compensate, she would stuff cotton in her mouth to give it a plump appearance—but this had disturbing consequences. Multiple co-stars got a nasty surprise when the wadding fell out of her mouth during some particularly steamy kissing scenes.
3. Born and Bred
The actress was an L.A. girl through and through. Born in La La Land in 1923, her father Reginald Hallward was an architect, while her mother Jean McDougall was an actress and acting coach. As a result, Grahame was exposed to Hollywood’s inner workings from a very young age. Growing up, her mother even taught her how to act.
4. Teenage Dream
When she was still a teenager, Grahame dropped out of Hollywood High School to pursue her dreams of becoming an actress.
5. Broadway Baby
After working for a lengthy amount of time on Broadway, notorious MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer discovered her and signed her on to a film contract. Her motion picture debut was in 1944’s Blonde Fever as a gold-digging waitress—but in these early, heady days, the best was yet to come for the young actress.
6. We’re All Mad Here
Though co-workers and fans alike described Grahame as serious, sexy, and talented, some also noted that she was “a bit loony.”
7. A Wonderful Role
In 1946, Grahame got what should have been her big break: a featured role in Frank Capra’s film It’s a Wonderful Life. She played the cheeky Violet Bick, the flirty woman who is ultimately saved from a life of shame at the end of the film.
8. Gutted Gloria
It’s a Wonderful Life became an instant holiday classic—but it spelled doom for Grahame. Shortly after her performance in the film, studio executives became convinced that they could never make her a star. They heartlessly dropped Grahame from her contract, selling her over to business mogul Howard Hughes’s RKO Studios instead.
9. Barbie Girl
The actress was an early fan of plastic surgery. She started with smaller procedures around her lips but soon moved on to larger and more obvious changes. As her niece put it, she “carved herself up, trying to make herself into an image of beauty she felt should exist but didn’t.” Apparently, “others saw her as a beautiful person, but she never did.”
10. Bespectacled Beauty
In contrast to her bombshell image, Grahame was very near-sighted in real life, and often had to wear glasses.
11. Golden Girl
In 1953, Grahame won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress thanks to her performance in the star-studded The Bad and the Beautiful. Bizarrely, Grahame was only on screen for a spare nine minutes. At the time, it set records as the shortest performance ever to win an Oscar.
12. Fourth Time’s the Charm
Grahame’s love life was often as troubled as her professional career. She was married no less than four times, with only one of her marriages lasting much beyond four years.
13. The Loneliest Place of All
No one seemed to believe in Grahame when she needed it most. Today, many see her acting in the film noir In a Lonely Place opposite vintage stud Humphrey Bogart as one of her finest performances, but some people were incredibly cruel about it. The film was a flop, and studio owner Howard Hughes even confessed that he never bothered to watch it.
14. Put Me in, Coach
Oftentimes, Grahame would beg studio heads to lend her out and let her stretch her acting legs. She had good taste, too, and requested to appear in future hits like Born Yesterday and A Place in the Sun. Cruelly, Howard Hughes refused to let her do the pictures. Instead, he forced her into a mediocre supporting role.
15. Highs and Lows
Grahame had a pleasingly high-pitched twang to her raspy voice, but her singing voice? Not so much. According to one source, the actress was utterly tone deaf, leading to a very embarrassing moment. In her only singing role that wasn’t dubbed over by someone else—Oklahoma!—sound editors had to painstakingly splice her recordings together practically note for note.
16. Tuned out
Frightfully self-aware, Grahame refused to watch any of her films, and would turn off the television if any of her old movies came on.
17. Were You Expecting Someone Else?
Grahame and leading man Humphrey Bogart did not get along on the set of In a Lonely Place. Bogart was on a personal downhill slide at the time, and had been hoping producers would cast his wife Lauren Bacall in the film, rather than the upstart Grahame.
18. Family Matters
Grahame had four children with three different husbands; three sons and one daughter.
19. Lip Service
By 1955, Grahame’s insecurities caught up with her. After she starred in the musical Oklahoma!, audiences complained that her femme fatale good-looks didn’t match up with the country bumpkin she was playing—but there was something even worse. By this time, her obsession with plastic surgery was so advanced that a procedure had paralyzed her lip, affecting her speech and performance.
20. Hollywood Royalty
Lots of people like to claim they’re descended from earls and counts, but Grahame was descended from bona fide royalty. Her direct ancestor was the English King Edward III.
21. A Ray of Light
Grahame’s most high-profile—and most notorious—marriage was to film director Nicholas Ray, who directed the actress in her acclaimed performance in In a Lonely Place. Never one to over-think things, Grahame married Ray just one day after finalizing her divorce from her first husband, the actor Stanley Clements.
22. Wilde Side
Grahame’s family had some serious literary connections. It’s said that one of her ancestors, Reginald Francis Hallward, gave Oscar Wilde the inspiration for the artist character of Basil Hallward in The Picture of Dorian Gray.
23. An Uphill Battle
In 1974, doctors gave Grahame terrible news. They diagnosed her with breast cancer. The diagnosis was a huge wake up call for the actress, who immediately stopped smoking and drinking. In addition to radiation therapy, she also changed her diet and exercise regimen. Miraculously, it worked. Less than a year later, her cancer went into remission.
24. Comeback Kid
True to her studio workhorse roots, Grahame went right back to work as soon as her cancer was in remission.
25. Not Without My Wife
Initially, the producers of In a Lonely Place were looking at Lauren Bacall (as per Bogart’s request) or Ginger Rogers to play the lead femme fatale role, but Nicholas Ray insisted that they cast his wife Grahame—despite the fact that their marriage was in very troubled waters. Spoiler: This all went horrifically.
26. Three’s Company
Besides winning an Oscar herself, Grahame starred in a whopping three movies that were nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards: It’s a Wonderful Life, Crossfire, and The Greatest Show on Earth.
27. Deferring the Diagnosis
In 1980, what little luck Grahame had ran out. She received devastating news: her cancer came back with a vengeance, but that’s not even the worst part. The actress stubbornly refused to admit it. This time, she didn’t even receive radiation treatment and full-on ignored the diagnosis, burying herself in stage work all over the United States and Great Britain.
28. Sexy Cowgirl
Grahame’s part of Ado Annie in Oklahoma! called for her to act light and comic, but the actress couldn’t seem to shake her noir roots. Unintentionally or not, she reportedly kept adding some sexy va-va-voom to the role, leading the director to invent some straight-up comedic characters in order to balance out Grahame’s “basic instincts.”
29. Made for Movies
The actress’s later years were documented in Peter Turner’s book Films Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool. It has since gotten the Hollywood treatment, with a 2017 movie starring Annette Bening as Grahame.
30. Sign on the Dotted Line
If Grahame and Ray’s marriage was on the rocks by the time they were starting to shoot In a Lonely Place, it was completely falling apart by the end of it. Ray was reportedly controlling and aggressive with Grahame on set, and even forced her to sign a bizarre, disturbing Hollywood contract in order to work with him.
In it, she had to agree that “my husband shall be entitled to direct, control, advise, instruct and even command my actions during the hours from 9 AM to 6 PM, every day except Sunday.” She then further acknowledged in writing that “in every conceivable situation his will and judgment shall be considered superior to mine and shall prevail.” All I can say is: YIKES.
31. Bedroom Eyes Strictly Forbidden
As a part of her indentured servitude to Ray on the set of In a Lonely Place, Grahame also had to promise not use her feminine wiles to needle him in any way, no matter what her problem was. Or, as Creepy Hollywood Stipulation #500 stated, she couldn’t “nag, cajole, tease or in any other feminine fashion seek to distract or influence him.”
32. Stay Together for the Film
To absolutely nobody’s surprise, Ray and Grahame separated while In a Lonely Place was still in production, though they tried to keep it hush-hush. Terrified that one or both of them would get the boot, Ray started sleeping in a dressing room under the guise of working on the script, while Grahame played along and acted like nothing was wrong.
33. Face the Music
In 1981, Grahame couldn’t outrun fate, or her cancer, any longer. She became acutely sick during rehearsals for her latest performance in Lancaster, England, prompting her cast to rush her to the nearest hospital. While there, she got the news she had been dreading. She had a tumor the size of a football in her abdomen, and there was simply no hope.
34. Take Me Away
According to her former lover and friend Peter Turner, the stubborn Grahame had just one last, dying wish to make. He claims that she called him up and asked if she could spend her little remaining time on Earth at his mother’s house in Liverpool. She also begged him to tell absolutely no one about her condition, not even her children.
Turner agreed to let her move in—but, guilt-stricken, he told her family anyway.
When Grahame’s children Timothy and Marianna found out about their mother’s illness and her wish to stay in Liverpool, they immediately flew across the pond to see her. Tragically, they then decided to ignore her stated desires and take her right back home with them, even though her illness had advanced to an incredibly fragile state.
36. A Swift Goodbye
Gloria Grahame made it stateside just long enough for her family to admit her into St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York City. She died just mere hours after she arrived; she was 57 years old.
37. Fatal Attraction
For all the dramatics while filming In a Lonely Place, the reason for Grahame and Ray’s final, official divorce is even darker—and like something out of one of their hardboiled movies. Though the pair briefly reconciled afterward, it all permanently unraveled when Ray made a whopping, deal-breaker of a discovery.
Ray claims he came home and found Grahame in bed with his 13-year-old son, Anthony. Yeah, I wasn’t kidding about the “deal-breaker” part.
38. Young Flame
Somehow this freaky Mrs. Robinson situation gets a whole lot weirder. In 1958, eight years after they were caught red-handed, Grahame and Anthony Ray got back in touch. Two years later, the lovebirds married in a wedding ceremony in Tijuana, Mexico—a well-known destination for highly respectable, pre-planned unions.
39. Ex-Wife Strife
The Tijuana wedding wasn’t to everybody’s tastes. Cy Howard, one of Grahame’s bevy of ex-husbands, was so incensed and disturbed by the union that he went to great lengths to punish Grahame. He charged her with being an unfit mother. Both he and Nicholas Ray soon entered into a long, protracted legal battle with the star over the custody rights of their children.
40. Rock Bottom
In 1964, faced with a career on the downslide and a handful of scandals at her doorstep, Grahame suffered a nervous breakdown. Things got so bad that she even submitted herself to electroshock therapy.
41. Get Outta Town
Though Grahame and Anthony kept their forbidden love under wraps for years, their secret leaked in 1962. The revelation ignited a blaze of tabloid speculation and scandal-mongering, with widespread denouncements of the union. Almost overnight, Gloria Grahame’s fading Hollywood star turned into total box office poison.
42. In it to Win It
Grahame and Anthony Ray’s relationship lasted just shy of 14 years, and it was her longest marriage by far. They only divorced in May 1974.