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Irving Thalberg Jr. was educated at a military school, a public school, and at Le Rosey near Rolle, Switzerland. He began to study philosophy at Stanford University, served in the army, and then returned to Stanford, where he married fellow student Suzanne McCormick in 1956. After teaching at various schools, he and his family moved to Chicago, and in 1965 he joined the philosophy department of the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle (UIC). Irving and Suzanne had three daughters, Shoshana, Deborah, and Elana. Suzanne taught philosophy at the University of Chicago. Irving and Suzanne divorced in 1971. During his tenure at UIC, Irving Jr. wrote three books and seventy articles on philosophy. He later married an anthropology instructor named Deborah Pellow. A universally respected scholar, Irving Thalberg Jr. died of cancer on August 21, 1987.


Katharine Thalberg was educated at the Westlake School for Girls. She married an Olympic skier named Jack Reddish in 1954, when she was eighteen, and continued her studies at Vassar, Stanford, and UCLA, earning a degree in English literature. Her second marriage was to actor Richard Anderson, with whom she had three daughters, Ashley, Brooke, and Deva. After moving to Aspen, Colorado, she opened the popular Explore Bookstore, and later married businessman Bill Stirling. After years as a pillar of the community and a respected animal-rights activist, Katharine Thalberg died of cancer on January 5, 2006. 



076: Shearer with her children in the 1940s





In 1957, fifteen years after Norma Shearer’s last film, MGM (which had just dropped the hyphens from its corporate initials) created a syndicated television package comprising films released between 1929 and 1948. As a result, millions of people too young to have seen Shearer on the big screen encountered her in their living rooms. The 1970s saw a wave of interest in cinema history. This manifested itself in repertory programs, college courses, and tribute films such as That’s Entertainment! 


Shearer’s part in this process was complicated. She was aware of the nostalgia craze but did not participate, except to chide MGM management in 1974 for neglecting to identify her in a clip from Idiot’s Delight. By the time of her death in 1983, her pre-Code films were not being shown on television as often as Marie Antoinette and The Women; consequently, she was best remembered for these “noble” roles. Because she (and her films) had been absent from the scene for so many years, critics like Pauline Kael and Richard Schickel could rewrite history, which they did, characterizing Shearer as the untalented obsession of a myopic executive. Yet, as her films were shown in repertory, historians like James Card of Eastman House strove to undo the damage that had been done by a few hostile critics. 


The real Shearer revival began in the 1980s, when MGM-UA Home Video released a number of Shearer titles. In 1988 Turner Network Television began to air the entire Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film library. In 1994 Turner Classic Movies began to showcase Shearer’s films. For the first time, the majority of them could be seen and evaluated. 


In the 1990s a number of high-profile books formally reappraised Shearer's work. The first was a major biography by Gavin Lambert. Next came Complicated Women, by Mick LaSalle, film critic at the San Francisco Chronicle. Then came four books by photographer Mark A. Vieira: two revisionist biographies of Irving Thalberg; and two biographies of George Hurrell. These books recognized the control Shearer exercised over her work, which included her choice of material and her patronage of Hurrell, of Gilbert Adrian. As the Internet began to exert influence on popular culture, Shearer’s reputation benefited from increased access to her work and to archival material about her.


In the second decade of the twenty-first century, Norma Shearer is accorded almost the same kind of respect she knew as First Lady of M-G-M. LaSalle has called her "the exemplar of sophisticated 1930s womanhood . . . exploring love and sex with an honesty that would be considered frank by modern standards.” While there had been instances of performers who were given a belated celebrity by historians, this was the first time that a star’s reputation had been restored by scholars and solidified by the Internet. Shearer is celebrated as a feminist pioneer, “the first American film actress to make it chic and acceptable to be single and not a virgin on screen.” Her films continue to be exhibited and studied, whether her dual role in Lady of the Night, her breakthrough in The Divorcee, her skillfully nuanced Romeo and Juliet, or her triumphant Marie Antoinette. 


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