Gloria didn’t intend on going into show business but she seemed destined to be one of the biggest stars of the silent movie era. In 1915 while working as a sales clerk at the age of 16, she decided to go to a Chicago movie studio with an aunt to see how motion pictures were made. Because of her beauty, she was picked out of the crowd to be included as a bit player in the film, followed by parts in several other films.
Her career took a major turn in 1919 when Cecil B. DeMille offered her a contract. DeMille transformed her from a typical comedienne to a lively, provocative, even predatory star. Gloria Swanson stared in the Cecil B. DeMille sex comedies Male and Female and The Affairs of Anatole, made in the late teens and early ’20s. In “The Affairs of Anatole,” not only does DeMille show women smoking, drinking (during Prohibition), exposing body parts seldom before seen on a movie screen, and frankly pursuing men who attract them; he also presents this debauchery with amazing visual flair.
Gloria Swanson is sometimes credited with starting the fashion for wearing colorful jewelry. The actress wore an Iribe-designed emerald, amethyst, and gold necklace in the 1920 film “Affairs of Anatole.”
By the middle 20’s she was the highest paid actress in Hollywood. It was reported that Gloria made and spent over $8 million in the twenties alone. Her studio contract required her to wear the latest clothes and jewelry whenever she appeared in public, at her own expense. Gloria hardly needed this incentive because of her extravagant taste in jewelry. She wore so much expensive jewelry that she had to rent it. In spite of paying only 10 percent of the value of her jewelry, one year her annual jewelry budget was $500,000.