Old Rose from Titanic played a small part in one of the most romantic moments on The Waltons
Gloria Stuart sold John the dress that Olivia wore to renew their vows.
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One of the most romantic episodes of The Waltons found John and Olivia renewing their wedding vows at the same time John-Boy falls in harder in love than he ever has before.
These tender feelings in "The Woman" build to a scene where the Walton patriarch goes into town to buy a new dress to surprise his wife.
There, he runs into his son John-Boy with his new girlfriend, and the three of them, with the help of a saleswoman, together decide upon the beautiful dress that Olivia will wear. (The family is throwing a proper wedding ceremony, as she and John initially eloped.)
You'd be forgiven for not paying any special attention to the saleswoman in the dress shop in this scene. She was really just a background character, but next time you watch, take a closer look and you’ll notice she is actually an actor who’s associated with one of the most iconic romantic roles of the last quarter-century.
Playing the saleswoman is Gloria Stuart, who in 1997 was nominated for an Oscar for her portrayal of the older version of Kate Winslet's character Rose in the smash-hit film Titanic. It's from Stuart's perspective that the entire love story unfolds.
Nobody knew who Stuart was when she appeared in Titanic, but her performance was a big splash and it was billed as a major comeback.
What many fans of the movie Titanic may not realize is that the film was actually not Stuart's first comeback as an actor, but rather her second.
In the 1930s, The New York Times praised Stuart as "clever and charming" for her appearance in a Boris Karloff film called The Old Dark House. She continued appearing in movies, quickly becoming one of the big screen's greatest beauties. In 1937, a photo ran in LIFE Magazine of Stuart posing with a fan. His shirt was unbuttoned to reveal he'd gotten her face tattooed on his chest.
She's quoted in the magazine saying, "Oh my gracious!"
But no matter what she did, she never seemed to get offered the really juicy parts that turned a pretty actor into a glittering star. Instead, Stuart felt stuck, cast only as "girl reporters, girl detectives, Shirley Temple's sister, society girls, girls trying to get jobs, girl victims in murder mysteries."
Sick of being offered nothing of substance, she quit acting in 1946.
Her first comeback happened nearly three decades later in 1975, when she appeared in a couple of TV movies and The Waltons, her first-ever TV show appearance. After getting her feet wet acting again, she continued taking bit parts, until once again she got fed up with acting and quit in 1987.
Stuart said highlights from this period included dancing with Peter O'Toole in the movie My Favorite Year and snooping around with Angela Lansbury on Murder, She Wrote. In her memoir, she summed up the Seventies and Eighties blandly, writing that after she hoped lightning would strike and she'd start earning a living acting again, she felt disappointed when Hollywood didn’t embrace her.
"In all, I landed maybe a dozen roles in TV and film, all of them very small, barely warranting screen credit," Stuart said of her first failed comeback.
But then James Cameron came calling almost exactly a decade later.
Stuart said her role in Titanic was the best part she ever got. As a result, People named her one of the most beautiful people in the world.
"Old Rose in the Titanic script grabbed me instantly — her introduction, her voice-overs, her scenes. I knew that evening the role I had wanted and waited for all these many years had arrived!" Stuart wrote in her memoir.
As it turns out, she never would’ve been offered that part of "Old Rose" if she had become a giant star in the 1930s, or in the 1970s. Cameron specifically wanted an unknown actor to play the older version of Rose.
When Stuart read for the role, Cameron asked her to wear no makeup. He wanted to see her face as she read, and Stuart said in her memoir that she knew she could deliver the feeling he needed to make the movie connect with audiences.
Stuart said, "I've been asked many times: 'Did you know Titanic was going to be the great success it is?' 'Did you know you’d get an Academy Award nomination?' 'Did you know the movie would gross over a billion dollars?'"
The answer is, she said, "No." She didn't know.
However, "I did know, for myself, I was giving a fine performance. And that Titanic had to be a classic."
After all that time away from acting, Stuart proved she still had it in her to be a star. All she ever needed was the right part. The rest is Hollywood romance history.
"If I had been given plum roles like this back in the old days," Stuart once told The Chicago Tribune of her role as Old Rose, "I would have stayed in Hollywood."