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Gloria Stuart, fiery to the last

September 27, 2010 |  4:34 pm

It was the middle of summer and Gloria Stuart had recently turned 100. The actress, who began her career in the early 1930s in such films as James Whale's "The Old Dark House" and "The Invisible Man" and made a comeback in 1997 earning an Oscar nomination as old Rose in "Titanic," was about to be honored by the motion picture academy. Stuart

Sitting in the dining room of her cluttered, art-filled house in Santa Monica, the still beautiful Stuart was a real pistol even though she had been diagnosed with lung cancer a few years earlier. Though her grandson Benjamin offered me a glass of orange juice and his grandmother some water, she insisted on white wine.

Roaming the house were two calico cats, one with a Groucho Marx mustache. She was keen on talking about her romance with famed scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer when she was a student at Berkeley. And the mad crush she had on Peter O'Toole, with whom she waltzed in a memorable moment from 1982's "My Favorite Year."

The years she wasn't working, Stuart became a well-respected painter, sculptor and fine book artist whose works are in museums around the country. And she was eager to show me her last great work, "Flight of the Butterfly," on which she collaborated with her great-granddaughter Deborah, who referred to Stuart as "Great Gloria."

Her final book, a miniature "I Dated Robert Oppenheimer," was in proof form.

Stuart passed away Sunday. Her grandson Benjamin sent me a lovely remembrance this morning; it was comforting to know she was surrounded by her daughter Sylvia and extended family. And she went out in fine style -- in a bed she had built decades earlier from two life-size merry-go-round horses.

-- Susan King

Bill Paxton, Gloria Stuart and Suzy Amis on the set of "Titanic." Credit: Merie W. Wallace

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