GLORIA SWANSON'S ABORTION - A review of her autobiography "Swanson on Swanson",
by Herbert Rainer, MD, (c) 1944

It is easy to scrape a baby out of the womb,  but not so easy to scrape the aborted baby out of the mind and - one may add - heart and soul.

Nowhere is this shown more poignantly than in Gloria Swanson's life history, which she wrote when she was 80 years of age. In Swanson on Swanson,
her remorse over taking her unborn baby's life begins and ends her autobiography.  Despite her sophisticated, colorful, worldly career as a renowned movie star,  despite her half a dozen marriages - or perhaps because of them and their lack of fulfillment - she still hadn't forgotten a death that had
taken place 55 years earlier.  She began her autobiography by saying:

"I'm going to start with the moment in  my life when  I  thought I had never been happier,  because until that moment,  I hadn't  ever  assessed  the events  that  had come  before it,  and  once it was over, I could never view my life or my career in the same way again.

"That blissful morning in  Passy when  I married  my gorgeous  Marquis lifted me to the  very pinnacle of joy, but at the same time it led me  to the  edge
of the most terrifying abyss I had ever known.  One moment I had everything I had ever wanted, the next I was more wretched than I had ever been before; and in the  days that followed, the more I blamed my misery on  the fame and success I had achieved in pictures, the more famous and
successful I seemed destined to become. 

"I was then twenty-five and the most  popular female celebrity in the world, with the possible exception of my friend Mary Pickford. . . .

"What  the press  and  fans didn't know that January morning  was that I was pregnant.  Not even my dear, sweet Henri knew that, and I didn't have the heart to tell him . . . and I couldn't  let him take the  responsibility for a decision I would have to make alone.  What I knew was that if I  had Henri's child in seven months, my career would be finished.  The industry  and the public would both reject me as a morally  unsound character, unfit to represent them. . Therefore,  I  took  a single close friend  into  my  confidence  and with  his  help arranged  to have a  secret abortion  the  day  after  my  marriage.  The  very  ideal  horrified  me, but  I was convinced that I had no choice.  I consoled myself with the fact that Henri and I were young and could therefore have other children.  I  already  had  two, a girl of  my own and an adopted boy.  Surely, I told  myself - peremptorily so that I wouldn't argue back - I could have more.  With  that I stifled  my fears and  doubts and kept the dreaded appointment. . . .

"In a steady stream of cablegrams Mr. Lasky and Mr. Zukor begged me to . .sail with my Marquis to America in time for the New York premiere of 'Madame Sans-Gene,' the film I had just made in Paris. Then, they said, they would transport  us across the country for the  Hollywood premiere,  and then  back again to New York, where I would start my next picture as soon as I felt up to it.

"I wanted to  refuse them.  I wanted to  hold them responsible for my misery and blame them for controlling lives like mine that didn't really belong to them, and for making me destroy my baby.  But  I am a  very prag matic person.  I could not, after all, back up and undue what I had done,  so I cabled  Mr. Lasky that I would attend both premieres, I sent my children on  ahead with their governess and a few trusted friends,  and Henri and I sailed on to Paris the third week in March  . .

"The  night  of  the  primiere of 'Madame  Sans-Gene'  at the  Rivoli Theatre,  the police had to route all traffic around the block. . .

"It was our first quiet moment in days, the first time I could really think.

"Mother finally said, 'Glory, you're so quiet.  This should be the happiest night of your life.'

"My mother and I could always look out the same window without ever seeing the same thing.

"I shook my head.   'No, Mother,'  I said,  'It's the saddest.  I'm just twenty-six.   Where do  I go from here?' I was thinking that every victory is also a defeat.  Nobody  gets anything for nothing.

"I was  thinking of the  price  I had  paid two months ago  to be  able to walk that orchid-strewn aisle tonight.

I was wondering what all those  glamorous and  important people would  have thought if  I had stood  up and shushed them and spelled out that price for them; if I had told them that in order not to  break my contract or create a scandal,

I had had to sneak to a  French surgeon like a criminal  and sacrifice  a child I was carrying. "Even if Sid  Grauman  built me an Arch of Triumph  in California as  colossal as the  one in  Paris,  it would always have a tomb under it, the tomb of an unborn baby who had picked Henri and me for parents and  who was now dead."

Later, in Chapter 11,  Swanson recounted in more detail her experiences at the time of her third wedding and her abortion the day after.

"But I just have to tell someone,  Andre,  that I have such a bad conscience about what I'm thinking of doing.'

'"You mustn't blame yourself,' Andre said.  'Leave it to me.  I will arrange everything. I promise to get you the very best doctor in France.  No one need ever know.'

'"There's no other way, is there?'  I asked. 

'"Of course not, Gloria,' he said.

"His voice was reassuring,  and I smiled feebly at him in gratitude.  Then I  heard another voice speaking very clearly:  'Don't do this,' it said.

"The voice, I knew, was inside me.  It was the voice of my unborn child.  I tried not to listen.

"'Your heart is pounding' the voice said.  'I know you hear me.  Listen to me.  I want to live.  I am  frightened of the sewers.'

"I shuddered and started to sob convulsively.  Andre came over and held me tightly in his arms.  He didn't ask me what was wrong.  He thought he knew. But of  course he didn't  know  at all,  and I could  never tell him what I had just heard.

Five and a half decades after those events, she could write:

"... the greatest regret of my life has always been that I didn't have my baby,  Henri's child, in 1925.  Nothing in the whole world is worth a baby,  I realized as soon as it was too late, and I never stopped blaming  myself.  Then in 1979 Bill  and I traveled  to Japan,  and at a  Buddhist  temple at a place called Kyo San, or Honorable Mountain, our guide and a Buddhist Monk led us up through the most timeless, peaceful landscape I have ever seen,  asleep or awake;  a mountain  forest of giant cedars,  with  a network of  pathways lacing the area, the cedars.  Then another.   Then I realized that there were hundreds.  With little cloth bibs around them. 

'"What are these?' I asked.

'"Babies,'  the guide said.  He  crouched down  for a closer look at one of the stones.  'Fifteen hundred twenty-five.  This babies life was ended before he was born.'

"Then he and the monk must have seen how deeply  moved I was,  for they  showed me how to  pay respect in that place.  They gave me a dipper of water and indicated that I should  pour it over the tiny stone figure. Then I burned the incense the monk gave me and left some grains of rice. 

"As we stood up,  I was crying fresh  tears out of the guilt I had carried for fifty-four years.  The guide and the monk exchanged some words,  and then
the guide said to me, 'we all choose our parents.  We choose everything.  No blame.'" 

"I believed him . . ."

"Things are not clear yet, ' Swanson wrote in the last paragraph in her book.  Despite the solace of a Japanese monk, her belief remained with her that 'nothing in the whole world is worth a baby."  And so  went her effort to wipe out the pain of a choice echoed through her life. 


Doctor Ratner, M.D.,  is editor of "Child and Family" magazine. 
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"Blessed be the GOD and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the GOD of all comfort, Who comforts us in all our afflictions so
that we may be able to comfort those, who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted of GOD"  -
II Corinthians 1:3-4