Femme Fatale: Gloria Grahame

Femme Fatale – a woman who is considered dangerous alluring or seductive, a fatal woman who leads men to destruction.





Who fits the description of femme fatale better than Gloria Grahame? Just watch the way she enters a scene, no matter where she is, her eyes never leave the bedroom. Sultry, pouty lips and shapely legs, Grahame was not the girl next door unless you lived in a neighborhood filled with dark rain drenched mean streets, dramatic lighting and women who carried a gat strapped to their thigh.  Though she generally played a loose woman, unfaithful wife or gun moll she brought a sensitivity and intelligence to her roles that went beyond the stereotypical dimensions usually associated with these kind of parts. In reel life and in real life, Gloria Grahame lived close to the edge. You don’t get much more on the edge than sleeping with your teenage stepson and eventually marrying him after divorcing dad.

  gloria-grahame  Sexual heat just poured out of Gloria on film, even the titles of her films sizzled, “Naked Alibi,” “Blonde Fever,” “Human Desire,” “The Big Heat,” “The Bad and the Beautiful” and “Roughshod,” to name a few. Even in the perennial family Christmas classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” Gloria still was the town tramp, Violet Bick, dancing for a dime with men, and maybe doing more, generally being the anti Donna Reed.     

    Despite an Oscar winning performance as the over sexed wife of screenwriter Dick Powell in “The Bad and the Beautiful,” Grahame’s best performances were arguably in “In a Lonely Place” and “The Big Heat.”   She co-starred opposite Humphrey Bogart, in her then husband Nicholas Rays’ classic noir where she gives an amazing performance filled with paranoia, lust and distrust.  We watch her relationship with screenwriter and possible murderer Dixon Steele (Bogart) crumble before our eyes as she first believes him to be innocent, then begins to suspect he may have been involved in the murder of a young girl.  Vincent Curcio states in his Grahame biography, “Suicide Blonde,” that Ray continually rewrote the script changing it to correspond to his version of their decaying marriage. In Fritz Lang’s “The Big Heat,” Grahame is Lee Marvin’s narcissistic mirror loving gun moll who is brutally punished when he tosses scalding coffee on her face for talking to cop Glenn Ford. Disfigured, branded an informer, she eventually gets her revenge by throwing hot coffee back in Marvin’s face. Then there were the roles that got away, two roles in particular were due to Howard Hughes refusal to loan her out to other studios. She would have been wonderful in the role eventually played by Shelley Winters in “A Place in the Sun,” and it would have been fascinating to see her in the comical role played by Judy Holuday if she had been allowed to take the part in “Born Yesterday.” 

    Like her character, in “The Big Heat,” Grahame was obsessed with her looks, never seeing herself as truly beautiful. According  Curcio in his biography, Gloria had much cosmetic work done on her face, mostly around the lip area (she often use to stuff cotton under her upper lip hoping to straighten it out). She was always unsatisfied with the way she looked.           gloriagrahame002a-734372Though she continued to work until the 1980’s, the 1950’s was Grahame’s decade. Her best and most memorable work came in those ten years. Part of the reason for her decline is certainly attributable to her 1960 marriage to her former stepson Tony Ray, Nick Ray’s son by a previous marriage. She was 36 and Tony was 23. The marriage lasted 15 years and Gloria gave birth to two boys during the marriage. The mind-boggling relationships that developed out of all this became fodder for the news media of the day and took its toll on Gloria’s career.  Tony Ray would later on become a well-known actor, Assistant Director and Producer. Most of her post 1950’s work was beneath her talent, though she did make a few memorable appearances in films likes “Chilly Scenes of Winter,” “Melvin and Howard” and the TV mini series “Rich Man, Poor Man.” Much of her work though was on TV in shows like “Mannix,” “Then Came Bronson,” “Kojak,” “The Fugitive,” “The Outer Limits” and some low-budget films like “The Todd Killings” and “Mama’s Dirty Girls.”

    Gloria never became a major star though she was a major supporting player, always wanted by some of Hollywood’s best directors including Fred Zinnemann,  Robert Wise, Frank Capra, Edward Dmytryk, Elia Kazan, Vincent Minnelli, Fritz Lang and of course Nick Ray. Gloria Grahame died in 1981; she was only 57 years old.


 Below is a list of her essential works.


1946 – It’s a Wonderful Life

1948 – Crossfire

1950 – In a Lonely Place

1952 – Sudden Fear

1952 – The Bad and the Beautiful

1953 – Man on a Tightrope

1953 – The Big Heat

1954 – Human Desire

1954 – Naked Alibi

1955 – Oklahoma

1959 – Odds Against Tomorrow


Upcoming Gloria Grahame films on TCM

Oklahoma   April 19th 3PM

Human Desire   June 8th 8:30AM 

 In Human Desire with Glenn Fordgloria-gramhame-with-glford

Sultry with Sterling Hayden in Naked Alibigloria-grahame-with-s-hayden

Fatal in A Woman’s Secretgrahame-gloria-a-womans-secret_02

Publicity stills with Glenn Ford in The Big Heatbigheat


Those legsgloria-gramhame-in-shorts

On the cover of Life Magazine


Posters and Lobby Cards







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47 comments on “Femme Fatale: Gloria Grahame

  1. Wow, I never really knew much about her until I read this. The stepson- thing reminds me a lot of Greer Garson marrying the kid who played her son in Mrs. Miniver.. just something uncomfortable about it.

    I actually think she would have been better in A Place in the Sun, and maybe that role would have given her a chance to expand her repertoire beyond femme fatales.

    PS- LOVE the way you write- that “girl next door” bit is hilarious!

  2. John Greco says:

    Kate – I’m sure the older woman/younger man relationship was much rarer back in the 1940′s than it is today, but I believe what makes the Grahame thing strange is the real life step-mother/step-son relationship. I find that uncomfortable, and how do you reconcile going from one type of relationship (parental) to another (lovers). It reminds me more of the Woody Allen/Soon-Yi scandal of a few years ago.

    I agree with Grahame being a good fit for the Shelley Winters role in “A Place in the Sun.” Seeing her and Montgomery Clift together would have been great. What a missed opportunity.

    Thanks for the kind words!

    BTW – Really like your site! Nice artwork and am impressed with your Sinatra collection. Have you read Pete Hamill’s “Why Sinatra Matters”, an excellent slim book that focuses on his art, his music, and not on the scandals, the rat pack swagger, etc.

  3. Good write up on GG; I’m pleased that you scored a copy of “Suicide Blonde.” I passed on a copy about ten years ago because it was too pricey. Anyway, your write up covers the essentials and I recommend you vist the She Blogged By Night page and read another fine, GG article. I did one back in January, but yours is much better!

  4. I forgot about the Woody Allen thing.. definitely more pertinent than the Greer Garson comparison!

    I have read Why Sinatra Matters [it's in one of the many pictures of the collection] — I avoid reading any of those mob/rumor mill books; People know not to bring those rumors up around me or else I fly off the handle! Protecting Sinatra’s honor to my very last breath :)

  5. John Greco says:

    CK – Thanks for the kind words. I have looked at She Blogged by Night but must have missed the GG article. I will check it out. I remember reading your aritcle on her – It was very good. Her 1950′s work was classic.

  6. John Greco says:

    Kate – I forgot to mention, I have been reading, along with two other books at the same time, “Sinatra in Hollywood” by Tom Santpietro and like the title says the focus of the book is on his film work. It is fairly new. Believe it came out about two months or so ago.

  7. nitramnaed says:

    What a woman!!!!

  8. [...] here is my own little tribute that I did a while [...]

  9. Richard Joy says:

    I just watched the movie “In a Lonely Place”. I did not know who Gloria Grahame was but loved her performance along side Humphrey Bogart in the film. She provided a stunning performance. What an attractive women.

    • John Greco says:

      Richard – In a Lonely Place is a wonderful film noir and Bogart and Gloria Grahame was terrific together. She was a true beauty. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  10. CineMaven says:

    Wonderful write-up you did on the unsung Gloria Grahame. “In A Lonely Place” “The Bad & the Beautiful” “The Big Heat” “Roughshod” just to name a few…she is utterly riveting to watch.

    • John Greco says:

      Thanks Cinemaven- glad you enjoyed the article. If you get the chance, check out “Human Desire”, she is wonderful in it, as she is in a almost everything she appeared in.

  11. Craig says:

    When i met Gloria i was probably 14ish…tony her son (from Tony Ray son of her first marriage?) was my best friend at the time.I fell in love with Gloria’s daughter…can’t remember her name :( anyway i was young she was older…Gloria was an interesting person :)

    • John Greco says:


      thank you for sharing this personal anecdote, I appreciate it. Gloria’s daughter’s name was Marianna Howard (her father was Cy Howard).

  12. Janet Oliver says:

    Grahame wasn’t bad but, the ultimate femme fatale was Barbara Stanwyck.

  13. Pete says:

    Gloria Grahame has always fascinated me for some reason. I never saw any of her movies, other than “It’s a Wonderful Life,” where she had a small role. But as a kid I loved the ’60s TV series “The Outer Limits,” in which she had a guest part in one of the better episodes. I remember she played a forgotten silent film actress who never made it to talkies, and was doomed to living in the past. I guess she was spoofing her own career. I’ve never forgotten her icy beauty and strange manner of talking. Thanks for this great tribute to her.

    • John Greco says:

      Pete, thanks for your comments. I do not remember that OUTER LIMITS episode, a show I use to watch, but it sound interesting. You should check out some of her other films. She was quite an actress. Thanks again!!!

  14. Geoff says:

    Forget Glida, Gloria is the kind of woman men really> dream want!

  15. Gloria Grahame is so wonderful. great post.

  16. Katy Villagrá Saura says:

    Unas fotos excelentes y una actriz ya mítica. Gracias por este regalo

  17. Randy Hoffman says:

    Let’s not forget “The Greatest Show on Earth”. Not her best role but showed off her beauty the most. She seemed to fair better in color. I am a little biased on this film because it was the first time I saw her and I was only 12. I had a crush on her after seeing that movie, sick in bed, for 2 days. I still think she is the most interesting and beautiful actress to come in that period and she still can quicken by breath. It’s great that she is still remembered like this, even the film critic Dana Stevens recently mentioned her recently on the Culture Gabfest.

  18. Janessa says:

    I always loved the way she talked and find it so strange that she hated her upper lip to the point of permenant nerve damage due to too many lip cosmetic surgeries. Ironically; that is the feature that makes her stand apart in facial beauty. What a shame when celebrities critique themselves to the point of deformity. Loved her acting and all of her film roles! Her personal lifestyle? Not so much. Play around with men, but boys?

    • John Greco says:

      Her personal life was a wreck but she was extremely talented. Many people seem not be able to judge their own looks no matter how great they look. Human nature?

  19. [...] bad guys. He is unforgettable in a role that brought him his first taste of screen recognition.  Gloria Grahame is always a devilish treat. Here she is Vince’s sassy outspoken main squeeze who likes the [...]

  20. Lawlor Wm. Lwew says:

    Yep, Graham has always been one of my favorites. I was surprised you didn’t mention “Odds Against Tomorrow” (which was in your list) as one of her better roles. Her moments on screen seducing the nasty Robert Ryan character, and being seduced by him, are stunning. She and Marie Windsor were kind of alike in the roles they payed and even a bit in looks, though Graham had softer features. But both terrifically sensuous.

    • Randy Hoffman says:

      It is hard for me to comment on “femme fatale” because I’m still trying to see all her films and can’t get a hold of some of them like “Naked Alibi”. Any suggestions?

      • John Greco says:

        “Naked Alibi” is available only as a bootleg. If you goggle the title and DVD a few places will pop up. As usual with bootlegs the qualityis a gamble.

  21. Lawlor Wm. Lee says:

    Damn my poor typing, spelled my name incorrectly. not “Lwew” but Lee

  22. John Greco says:

    Not sure why I did not include ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW, an excellent film, and as you say, Gloria gave a stunning performance. Marie Windsor is right up there. She was fantastic as the tramp of a wife in THE KILLING and terrific also in THE NARROW MARGIN. In case you are interested here is a review I wrote on THE KILLING a while back.


  23. Sam Juliano says:


    You have penned another terrific piece on a defining figure in film noir, one that you accurately gage in every sense. Yes, it was certainly her intelligence and sensitivity that set her apart, and I would have to agree that her work in THE BIG HEAT and IN A LONELY PLACE stands on top, with the turns in ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW and THE KILLING right up there. Also memorable as you note are her performances in HUMAN DESIRE and NAKED ALIBI.

  24. Ziegfeldman says:

    Hi John:

    In all the comments, unless I missed it, I didn’t see mention of one of my favorite Gloria roles-the “girl who can’t say no”-Ado Annie in “Oklahoma!” Here’s an interesting tidbit from IMDB regarding that:

    In her autobiography ‘Playing the Field’, Mamie Van Doren recalls her campaign to play Ado Annie. Van Doren claims one of the reasons she lost the part was that her acting coach, who happened to be Gloria Grahame’s mother, mentioned Van Doren’s interest in the part to her daughter; Grahame suddenly became interested in playing the part herself, launching a campaign of her own to win the part–which she did.



    • John Greco says:

      Admittedly, I have seem OKLAHOMA since I was a young teen, but I do thank you for adding this interesting footnote about Mamie Van Doren’s attempt to get the role.

  25. Tony Williams says:

    “Suicide Blonde” is an interesting look at Gloria Grahame’s professional and personal life.

    About a year ago, I read the book and concluded that Grahame suffered from body dysmorphia — a condition in which people imagine deformities that are not there and no one else sees. The brain plays a trick on the sufferer, and when that person looks in the mirror he or she sees a defect, ugliness or deformity. Body dysmophia also can be tied to obsessive-compulsive disorder so that person is compulsed to “fix” the imagined defect. Cosmetic surgeons see such patients all the time. Nothing anyone could say to Grahame could convince her that she was beautiful. Today some medications are helpful in relieving the symptoms.

    Regarding her film work, if I spot a movie with Gloria Grahame’s name, even in a minor role, I watch it. I’ve never seen her give a bad performance.


    • John Greco says:

      Thanks Tony for the interesting information./ I read SUICIDE BLONDE a while back and I agree, it’s an interesting look at a sad life. I am pretty much like you about Gloria’s film work.If she is in a film, I will watch it. Thanks and sorry for the delayed response!

  26. John Morris says:

    Gloria Grahame had enormous screen presence. When she was in the frame, one watched her no matter who else was included. I too fell in love with her in The Greatest Show on Earth. I too will never miss seeing a film of Grahame’s on TV.

    • John Greco says:

      Sorry for the late response John! I agree with you on Grahame, she stands out in crowd.In fact, if you have TCM, she is in a film called IT HAPPENED IN BROOKLYN tonight with Frank Sinatra.

      • Randy Hoffman says:

        Holy cow. I guess I’ll missed another one. Some of these films are hard to pin down. Doing an IDBM list and then searching you will come up short with what’s available..

        I feel GG stands out because there were too few intersting actresses in that period. And I could tell even at 12 years old. But that’s not fair. There are a few types that follow her line today.

        I other day I saw a dead-ringer, when watching “Captain America, The First Avenger”. Natalie Dorman (Henry VIII) was a surprise delivering a retro role. I knew she had a strange pull on me and in this movie, it explains it. I would like to ask Natalie Dormer (Some one with a Twitter account?) if she knows of the similarity when she did this role. I mean, watch that scene and tell me you didn’t see a ghost.

        Another beautiful and cherished actress who somewhat looks and follows Gloria Graham’s direction is Justine Waddell, the beautiful princess of British period drama’s.

    • John Greco says:


      I am not familar with the two actresses you mention but I will keep an eye out for them. And keepin mind the holiday season will soon be here and that means IT”S A WONDERFUL LIFE will be popping up in TV.

  27. Nancy says:

    Watching Goria for the first time actually knowing her name, and i am 62 years old. Remember her from Oklahoma and totally understand her sad personal life. Reading about her husband, the father of the ‘boy’ she later married, I can see she was trying to find peace and love in someone yet to be jaded or immoral or ignoring of her charms. Nowadays, she would have been jailed, but the boy apparently didn’t mind as they married some 8 years after they were caught in bed (him at 13). Love reading about how these lives turn out…and so sad when they start with promise and end too early, and too ugly. I’m sure there is another side to Gloria’s story, and too bad she’s not here to share it.

    • Bryce Mainwaring says:

      I’ve read that story about Grahame and her alleged affair with her stepson in a lot of places but I have yet to see any proof. I’m inclined to think it was malicious gossip circulated after their later marriage.

      • Randall Hoffman says:

        Do we really know if she was that sad? I’m sure not Elizabeth Hartman sad (Who jumped out the window at a hospital because of her waning career.)
        I was sad, because I miss her inhabitating a role than few actress can fulfill. She made me aware of a side of the female role that intrigues me to this day.

        Fortunately for fans, the re-incarnation of GG is Natalie Dormer. Check out film like “Rush”, “Captain America”. Like GG, not only is she the most original and appropo face in the film but the throw-away character with the appropo pathos. Like GG even the production itself reflects this with the lack of credit and photos. Despite this bias, in “Rush” like GG, I wanted to see a lot more of Natalie than Olivia Wilde.

  28. John Greco says:

    Despite her talent, beauty and success Gloria had a very sad life. There must have been a veneer of insecurity wrapped around her that she could not shed. And yes, it would have been good hear her side of the story. Thanks nancy!

  29. fenetre21 says:

    Love her on screen. I never miss her movies on tv. She is to me one of the essentials

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