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Grahame began her acting career in theatre, and in 1944 she made her first film for MGM. Despite a featured role in It's a Wonderful Life (1946), MGM did not believe she had the potential for major success, and sold her contract to RKO Studios. Often cast in film noir projects, Grahame received a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for Crossfire (1947), and she won this award for her work in The Bad and the Beautiful (1952). She achieved her highest profile with Sudden Fear (1952), Human Desire (1953), The Big Heat (1953), and Oklahoma! (1955), but her film career began to wane soon afterwards.
She returned to work on the stage, but continued to appear in films and television productions, usually in supporting roles. In 1974, Grahame was diagnosed with breast cancer. It went into remission less than a year later and Grahame returned to work. It returned in 1980 but she refused to accept the diagnosis or seek treatment. She chose to continue working and travelled to England to appear in a play. Her health rapidly declined. She developed peritonitis after undergoing a procedure to remove fluid from her abdomen in September 1981. She returned to New York City, where she died in October 1981.Grahame was born Gloria Hallward in Los Angeles, California. Reginald Michael Bloxam Hallward, her father, was an architect and author and her mother, Jeanne McDougall, who used the stage name Jean Grahame, was a British stage actress and acting teacher. McDougall taught her younger daughter acting during her childhood and adolescence. The couple had another daughter, Joy Hallward (1911–2003), an actress who married John Mitchum (the younger brother of actor Robert Mitchum).
Grahame was signed to a contract with MGM Studios under her professional name after Louis B. Mayer saw her performing on Broadway for several years.She made her film debut in Blonde Fever (1944) and then scored one of her most widely praised roles as the promiscuous Violet, saved from disgrace by George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life (1946). MGM was not able to develop her potential as a star and her contract was sold to RKO Studios in 1947.
Grahame was often featured in film noir pictures as a tarnished beauty with an irresistible sexual allure. During this time, she made films for several Hollywood studios. She received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for Crossfire (1947).
Grahame starred with Humphrey Bogart in the 1950 film In a Lonely Place, a performance which garnered her considerable praise. Though today it is considered among her finest performances, it wasn't a box-office hit and Howard Hughes, owner of RKO Studios, admitted that he never saw it. When she asked to be loaned out for roles in Born Yesterday and A Place in the Sun, Hughes refused and instead made her do a supporting role in Macao. However, she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in MGM's The Bad and the Beautiful (1952).Other memorable roles included the scheming Irene Nieves in Sudden Fear (1952), the femme fatale Vicki Buckley in Human Desire (1953), and mob moll Debby Marsh in Fritz Lang's The Big Heat (1953) in which, in a horrifying off-screen scene, she is scarred by hot coffee thrown in her face by Lee Marvin's character.Grahame's career began to wane after her performance in the musical film Oklahoma! (1955). Grahame, whom audiences were used to seeing as a film noir siren, was viewed by some critics to be miscast as an ignorant country lass in a wholesome musical, and the paralysis of her upper lip from plastic surgery altered her speech and appearance. Additionally, Grahame was rumored to have been difficult on the set of Oklahoma!, upstaging some of the cast and alienating her co-stars, which furthered her fall from grace in Hollywood. She began a slow return to the theater, and returned to films occasionally to play supporting roles, mostly in minor releases.Grahame had a string of stormy romances and failed marriages during her time in Hollywood, including marriages to director Nicholas Ray and later to Ray's son, Anthony, with whom she had an affair while still married to Ray. All of this took a toll on her career, as did a two-year hiatus after the birth of her daughter in 1956. Marital and child custody problems hampered her performance on the set of Oklahoma!
She married:Stanley Clements (1926–1981), actor, married August 1945, divorced June 1, 1948.
Nicholas Ray, director, married June 1, 1948, separated 1951, divorced 1952. The couple had one child, Timothy (born November 1948, aka David Cyrus Howard during his mother's third marriage). Their marriage ended when Ray found Grahame in bed with his 13-year-old son by his first marriage, Anthony, whom she later married.Cy Howard, writer, married 1954, divorced 1957. They had one daughter, Marianna Paulette (born 1956).Anthony Ray, her former stepson, married May 1960, divorced 1974. The Rays had two sons, Anthony Jr (born 1963) and James (born 1965).
In the late 1970s, Grahame traveled to England to perform in plays. While there, she met Liverpool actor Peter Turner with whom she had a romantic relationship. They moved to the United States and lived in New York and California, where their affair ended. Turner subsequently returned to England.In March 1974, Grahame was diagnosed with breast cancer. She underwent radiation treatment, changed her diet, stopped smoking and drinking alcohol and also sought homeopathic remedies. In less than a year, the cancer went into remission. The cancer returned in 1980, but Grahame refused to acknowledge her diagnosis or seek radiation treatment. Despite her failing health, Grahame continued working in stage productions in the United States and Great Britain. While working in London in September 1981, she underwent treatment to remove excess fluid from her abdomen. During the procedure, the doctor accidentally punctured her bowel. She soon developed peritonitis and was hospitalized. After being notified of Grahame's illness, two of her children, Timothy and Paulette, traveled to London and decided to take her back to the United States.
On October 5, 1981, Grahame returned to United States where she was admitted to St. Vincent's Hospital in New York City. She died there a few hours later at the age of 57. She is interred in Oakwood Memorial Park Cemetery in Chatsworth, California, as Gloria H. Grahame.