"I would say I don't notice the difference between 100 and, say, 90," Stuart said while sitting in the bonsai-lined garden of her home in the Brentwood district of Los Angeles. "You're still frail, feeble, and full of you-know-what," she continued, with a laugh.
Truth is, the only thing obviously frail about Stuart is her voice, which is just a few decibels above a whisper. And while she moves a little slower than some, Stuart said she still has many things to do and places to go. She prints books. She paints. She gardens.
Thursday night, she was to be honored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills for a film career spanning eight decades.
Her first contract was with Universal, where she quickly became a favorite of the legendary James Whale, who would direct two of Stuart's most highly regarded movies, "The Old Dark House" (1932) opposite Boris Karloff and the hit "The Invisible Man" (1933) opposite Claude Rains.
The problem was that most of the rest of what Universal give Stuart "wasn't garbage, but it wasn't first-rate, second-rate, third-rate. Maybe fourth-rate," she recalled. "And I was looking at the studio next door, and there was Ann Harding, Claudette Colbert, Marlene Dietrich at Paramount. And then, at RKO, was Katharine Hepburn and so many others. And I was there at Universal, with a horse."
She'd eventually move over to 20th Century Fox, where her output included a blast of films, including the Shirley Temple favorite "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm" (1938). But Stuart's star didn't rise as high as she hoped, and, by the mid 1940s, one of the first members of the Screen Actors Guild wouldn't act again on the screen for some 40 years.
"I didn't get to be Greta Garbo," she said, smiling. "Terrible. A terrible blow. It took me a long time to get over that. But I'm over that."
Then again, Garbo didn't get to be in "Titanic," which broke box-office records and earned Stuart, then 87, her first Oscar nomination.
Of all her films, Stuart is most proud of the James Cameron epic, and that, of all her roles, she most relates with the character of Old Rose — the 100-year-old woman with the heart of a young lover.
"I think that's the important thing," Stuart said. "If you're full of love, admiration, appreciation of the beautiful things there are in this life, you have it made, really. And I have it made."
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