BiographyDeepwater, Missouri, USA
This colorful diva of the Metropolitan Opera was one of several who jumped on the operatic bandwagon during the 1930s to achieve film stardom. Following her prima donna peers Jeanette MacDonald, Lily Pons and Grace Moore to the silver screen, Gladys' turnout would be meager and a major disappointment. Born in Deepwater, Missouri, an Ozark mining town, in 1900 (some sources give the years 1898 and even 1904), Gladys was schooled in Kansas City. A delicate and sickly child, her singing talents were robust, however, and she showed great promise at an early age. Read more... attended the Bush Conservatory of Music in Chicago where she received a Doctorate of Music in 1923. She joined the Chicago Civic Opera Company the following year where she learned over 22 roles. Training and performing in Europe in the late 20s, she made her Metropolitan debut in 1929 with "La Gioconda". As one of the Met's finest mezzos, her vast repertoire (25 in all) would include "Norma", "Peter Ibbetson", "La Forza del Destino", "Mignon" and, notably, "Carmen", which would become her signature role. While MGM had a lucrative commodity in MacDonald, RKO was busy grooming Pons and Columbia was putting Moore on glossy display. Paramount, in turn, courted and recruited the lovely, brown-eyed Gladys for their operettas. Rather docile and slightly meek in countenance, she nevertheless signed a lucrative deal and her publicity was quite the envy. She made an ambitious but ultimately unsuccessful debut in dual roles with Rose of the Rancho (1936). Not only playing a Spanish senorita, she was handed the role of "Don Carlos", the masked vigilante leader, due to her reputation on the operatic stage for playing "trouser" roles. Opposite John Boles, the film died fairly quickly at the box office. Things did not get better. Give Us This Night (1936) fizzled despite a book by Oscar Hammerstein II and a strong leading man in Polish tenor Jan Kiepura, who managed to outshine her. Champagne Waltz (1937) lacked both fiery songs and an engaging script. The mediocre Romance in the Dark (1938), which paired her again tritely with Boles, top-lined a declining John Barrymore. But it was the dull, non-singing melodrama Ambush (1939) that clinched her final cinematic curtain. Radio, on the other hand, was a superlative medium for Gladys. She was a vibrant guest on a number of programs and had her own show in New York City, singing everything from arias to spirituals to standards. She was named the #1 classical radio singer throughout the war years with sold-out recordings and concert tours to match. It would take something tragic to stop this workhorse diva and that's exactly what happened. Having survived rheumatic fever as a child, she developed life-threatening heart problems in later years and, following major surgery to repair a valve, was forced into retirement by 1957. Her personal life was, thankfully, quite blissful. Her second husband was opera singer Frank Chapman, who gave up his own career to manage hers. In the twilight years, they divided their time between a Connecticut home and a villa in Italy. Chapman died in 1966 and Gladys, who remained childless, died of her heart ailment three years later.