One of the most fascinating parts of Stefanie Syman’s The Subtle Body, a history of yoga in America, is her discussion of yoga’s early influence in Hollywood circles. Among the early yogis and yoginis was Gloria Swanson, the silent film star whose present-day fame in popular culture is due to her portrayal of the delusional Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard.
Here’s the famous “I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille” scene. The script’s line is, of course, slightly different:
It’s terribly ironic that Swanson is most famous for playing an aging star as, according to many sources, she was truly a “health nut.” Hollywood rumor has it that makeup artists for Sunset Boulevard had to apply makeup to make Swanson appear older to play Norma Desmond. There are some fascinating photographs of Swanson practicing yoga with Indra Devi, her yoga teacher in Syman’s book.
But possibly the best endorsement for yoga is this Dick Cavett interview with Swanson from 1970. She’s 71 years old and is absolutely vibrant, articulate, and glamourous. Janis Joplin, sadly, does not fare as well, poor thing.