By Eric Veillette, originally published March 8, 2011
Hollywood star met the mayor, christened a street during 1950 promotional visit
Perhaps not the close-up Gloria Swanson had in mind when she called out her famous line in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard, the above photo was taken during the silent star’s visit to Toronto in July of 1950 — one of the 34 stops in her publicity tour for Paramount’s Sunset Boulevard.
Although the film would not premiere in Toronto until the following month, Swanson’s two-day stop was a busy one.
On Monday, July 3, she met with Mayor Hiram McCallum at City Hall, inspected the construction of the Yonge St. subway, visited Paramount’s Bond St. office, had tea at Eaton’s Georgian Room, took the stage at Shea’s for the CJBC radio broadcast “Opportunity Knocks,” then went over to the Toronto Men’s Press Club.
The following day, she christened a street off Trethaway Dr. as Sunset Blvd. In the afternoon, she visited the CNE, where she helped teen-age models for “Teen Town Theatre” — an attraction which ran from 1947 to 1953. She later signed autographs at Eaton’s Auditorium and then appeared on the CBC show “Playhouse.”
The 51-year old actress — whose previous visit to Toronto was in 1946 when she appeared in the play “Goose for the Gander” at the Royal Alexandra Theatre — also met with the Daily Star‘s Jack Karr, where they discussed her performance as Norma Desmond, but more importantly, the state of Hollywood starlets in the Betty Grable era.
“You can’t tell one from the other,” she said, probably from a fainting chair. “Now back in the old days, none of us looked alike. Once Mack Sennett said he was going to turn me into a second Mabel Normand. I told him he wasn’t going to turn me into a second anybody, so he tore up my contract.”
The Toronto Star, Jun 24, 1950; July 4, 1950; August 17, 1950.
The Globe and Mail, June 30, 1950; July 4, 1950.
Brockhouse, Robert, The Royal Alexandra: A Celebration of 100 Years. McArthur & Company, p. 289, 2008.
Thanks to Christina Stewart of the CNE Archives. Christina also provided some insight into Teen Town Theatre from a 1949 programme: “Headquarters for the young crowd, second floor of the Coliseum, packed with interest daily from noon on with fashion shows, public speaking contests, dancing afternoon and evening, refreshment bar, display of autographed pictures of famous people, mural display and lucky number prizes.”
Eric Veillette is a Toronto-based journalist and film programmer. A regular Arts and Insight contributor to the Toronto Star, he often examines our city’s dearly departed movie houses and how they helped shape much of our urban landscape. In the world of film, he runs Silent Sundays, Creepy Classics and other special events at the Revue Cinema and Fox Theatre. His musings can be found at Silent Toronto.