Excerpts from Gloria Swanson's Abortion
A review of her autobiography Swanson
by Herbert Ratner, M. D.
It is easy to scrape a baby out of the womb, but not so easy to
scrape the aborted baby out of the mind and - one may add - heart and soul.
Nowhere is this shown more poignantly than in
Gloria Swanson's life history, which she wrote when she was 80 years of age. In
Swanson on Swanson, her remorse over taking her unborn baby's life begins
and ends her autobiography. Despite her sophisticated, colorful, worldly career
as a renowned movie star, despite her half a dozen marriages - or perhaps
because of them and their lack of fulfillment - she still hadn't forgotten a
death that had taken place 55 years earlier. She began her autobiography by
I'm going to start with the moment in my life
when I thought I had never been happier, because until that moment, I hadn't
ever assessed the events that had come before it, and once it was over, I could
never view my life or my career in the same way again.
That blissful morning in Passy when I married my
gorgeous Marquis lifted me to the very pinnacle of joy, but at the same time it
led me to the edge of the most terrifying abyss I had ever known. One moment I
had everything I had ever wanted, the next I was more wretched than I had ever
been before; and in the days that followed, the more I blamed my misery on the
fame and success I had achieved in pictures, the more famous and successful I
seemed destined to become.
I was then twenty-five and the most popular
female celebrity in the world, with the possible exception of my friend Mary
What the press and fans didn't know that January
morning was that I was pregnant. Not even my dear, sweet Henri knew that, and I
didn't have the heart to tell him . . . and I couldn't let him take the
responsibility for a decision I would have to make alone. What I knew was that
if I had Henri's child in seven months, my career would be finished. The
industry and the public would both reject me as a morally unsound character,
unfit to represent them . . . . Therefore, I took a single close friend into my
confidence and with his help arranged to have a secret abortion the day after my
marriage. The very idea horrified me, but I was convinced that I had no choice.
I consoled myself with the fact that Henri and I were young and could therefore
have other children. I already had two, a girl of my own and an adopted boy.
Surely, I told myself peremptorily so that I wouldn't argue back - I could have
more. With that I stifled my fears and doubts and kept the dreaded appointment
In a steady stream of cablegrams Mr. Lasky and
Mr. Zukor begged me to sail with my Marquis to America in time for the New
York premiere of Madame Sans-Gene, the film I had just made in Paris.
Then, they said, they would transport us across the country for the Hollywood
premiere, and then back again to New York, where I would start my next picture
as soon as I felt up to it.
I wanted to refuse them. I wanted to hold them
responsible for my misery and blame them for controlling lives like mine that
didn't really belong to them, and for making me destroy my baby. But I am a very
pragmatic person. I could not, after all, back up and undo what I had done, so I
cabled Mr. Lasky that I would attend both premieres. I sent my children on ahead
with their governess and a few trusted friends, and Henri and I sailed on to
Paris the third week in March ....
The night of the premiere of Madame Sans-Gene
at the Rivoli Theatre, the police had to route all traffic around the block ....
It was our first quiet moment in days, the first
time I could really think.
Mother finally said, "Glory, you're so quiet.
This should be the happiest night of your life." My mother
and I could always look out the same window without ever seeing the same thing.
I shook my head. "No, Mother," I said, "it's the saddest. I'm just twenty-six.
Where do I go from here?"
I suddenly felt empty and sick and bitter and
exhausted and desolate. Henri took my hand. I'm sure he knew what I was
thinking. I was thinking every victory is also a defeat...
I was thinking of the price I had paid two
months ago to be able to walk that orchid-strewn aisle tonight. I was wondering
what all those glamorous important people would have thought if I had stood up
and shushed them and spelled out that price for them; if I had told them that in
order not to break my contract or create a scandal, I had had to speak to a
French surgeon like a criminal and sacrifice a child I was carrying . . . .
"But I just have to tell someone, Andre; that I have such a bad
conscience about what I'm thinking of doing."
"There's no other way, is there?" I ask
"Of course not Gloria," he said.
His voice was reassuring and I smiled feebly at him in
gratitude. Then I heard another voice speaking very clearly: "Don't do this,"
The voice, I knew, was inside me. It as the voice of my unborn
child. I tried not to listen. "Your heart is pounding," the voice said. "I know
you hear me. Listen to me. I want to live. I am frightened of the sewers."
I shuddered and started to sob.
Andre came over...He didn't ask me what was wrong. He thought he
knew. But of course he didn't know at all, and I could never tell him what I
had just heard.
Five and a half decades after those events, she could write:
". . . the greatest regret of my life has always been that I
didn't have my baby, Henri's child, in 1925. Nothing in the whole world is
worth a baby, I realized as soon as it was too late, and I never stopped
Herbert Ratner, M.D., is editor of Child and Family Magazine
1994 Herbert Ratner, M.D. Celebrate Life/
May-June 1994 /13