Gloria Stuart, a glamorous blond actress who starred in 1930s horror films and musicals before reviving a long-dormant career in 1997 with her Oscar-nominated performance as the older version of Kate Winslet's character Rose in the box-office smash Titanic, died Sunday at her home in West Los Angeles. She was 100.
She had been diagnosed with lung cancer several years ago, said her daughter Sylvia Thompson, who confirmed the death.
In the role of a 101-year-old Titanic survivor, Stuart narrated the James Cameron-directed film and served as the linchpin of its past and present-day storylines. Her effective portrayal of a feisty, headstrong character made her the oldest actress to ever be nominated for an Academy Award.
She lost to Kim Basinger in L.A. Confidential, even as Titanic swept many of the awards that year including best picture and director.
She joked later to the New York Times that she was cast because, at 87, she was one of few actresses in her age group who was "still viable, not alcoholic, rheumatic or falling down."
Long before this career-defining role, the blond beauty appeared in James Whale's The Old Dark House (1932) as a traveler stranded by a rainstorm who takes refuge at a creepy home with a family of mysterious characters.
The next year, Whale directed her opposite Claude Rains in The Invisible Man. She played Flora Cranley, the lover of a scientist whose experiment with invisibility has turned him into a deranged killer.
Stuart appeared in more than 40 films during the 1930s that showcased her versatility.
Despite many efforts, Stuart said she had been unable to break through to A-list stardom and said she "got sick and tired of fighting."
After Titanic, Stuart received new acting offers. Many, she said, were a variation on "sweet old ladies." She turned them all down, instead agreeing to eccentric parts like a bag lady in the crime drama The Million Dollar Hotel (2000), directed by Wim Wenders.
Stuart wrote a memoir, I Just Kept Hoping (1999), in which she said of her late-blooming career, "When I graduated from Santa Monica High in 1927, I was voted the girl most likely to succeed. I didn't realize it would take so long."