“If you’re over 40 and you’ve never had a failure, you’ve been deprived.” Gloria Swanson
Failure. The dictionary tells us it is a lack of success, an insufficiency or a deterioration of sorts. It is what not to become, what is subnormal, and therefore undesirable . And yet Swanson is not wrong. Most of us will experience failure in some capacity and multiple times throughout our life. It is not inherently a bad thing; and from it we will either rise like the phoenix or fall to the floor, retreat ,lick our wounds and possibly even throw the odd pity party for ourselves. Such reactions are neither better nor worse and not all failures lead to some mythical or inevitable higher success; some are simply that, a flop, a fiasco, a lemon and no amount of squeezing them will produce even the tiniest drop of lemonade. You can of course still learn form it, even if the lesson learned is despite feeling like you have gone twelve rounds with Katie Taylor, you can still stand and you will still get up in the morning, turn on the radio and make breakfast.
Swanson, despite being a huge film star in the 20s, was no stranger to failure. In both her career and her personal life she experienced failure many times over, and here I’m thinking of you Joe Kennedy; a lesser mortal might not have endured and survived the way she did. Nor could they have taken the role of Norma Desmond and produced such a sublime and fascinating character from what was essentially a pathetic, and decrepit character. Desmond, the decaying silent movie star bore so many similarities to Swanson it must have taken a lot of balls to play her. But she did, and she brought in even more of herself, the film includes some of her personal belongings and shows clips from her films, including the bomb that was Queen Kelly. To say she was able to laugh at herself doesn’t even come close and for this alone I take my hat off to Mz Swanson. What a sight it is to behold when in the final moments of the film, she descends that grandiose staircase and declares, “All right, Mr DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up”. We know the only thing she is getting close to is the inside of a jail cell, but we also know that although Norma Desmond may be lost in her own imaginings, Gloria Swanson is anything but lost.
Granted accepting failure still doesn’t sit well with me. I can honestly say that had some of them not happened, I wouldn’t complain or feel deprived in any way. I think I’ve learned to accept that failure doesn’t mean defeat; but what I’m still working on is accepting that neither does it always mean you will rise from the ashes, reborn and renewed, a better person. That failure can simply be that, a bust, with no promise of a boom.
Swanson lived to the ripe old age of 84. She was a business woman, a fashion designer, a film and tv star, a health food nut before there was even such a thing and was married six times. I think we can safely say failure never stood in her way or stopped her having a sufficient and successful life. If that is subnormal, why would anyone want to be normal?