Cecil B. DeMille, Billy Wilder and Gloria Swanson during the filming of "Sunset Blvd."in 1949.
VIEW GALLERY | 10 PHOTOS
Cecil B. DeMille, Billy Wilder and Gloria Swanson during the filming of Sunset Boulevard in 1949.Allan Grant—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Cecil B. DeMille, Billy Wilder and Gloria Swanson during the filming of "Sunset Blvd."in 1949.
Billy Wilder, Gloria Swanson and Cecil B. Demille during the filming of "Sunset Blvd."in 1949.
Gloria Swanson and Cecil B. DeMille during the shooting of the movie 'Sunset Blvd,' 1949.
Gloria Swanson and director Billy Wiilder during the shooting of the movie 'Sunset Blvd,' 1949.
Cecil B. DeMille and Hedda Hopper, sitting down and chatting during the filming of 'Sunset Blvd,' 1949.
Billy Wilder talking with actress Gloria Swanson and Cecil B. DeMille during the shooting of the movie 'Sunset Blvd,' 1949.
Cecil B. DeMille on the phone during the shooting of the movie 'Sunset Blvd,' 1949.
Billy Wilder and Cecil B. DeMille talking during the filming of "Sunset Blvd,' 1949.
Cecil B. Demille and Gloria Swanson during the filming of 'Sunset Blvd,' 1949.
Behind the scenes during the filming of 'Sunset Blvd,' 1949.
Cecil B. DeMille, Billy Wilder and Gloria Swanson during the filming of Sunset Boulevard in 1949.
Allan Grant—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
1 of 10

Rare 1949 Photographs Show the Making of Sunset Boulevard

As Glenn Close returns to Broadway to reprise her starring role in the revival of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Sunset Boulevard, which won her critical acclaim and a Tony Award more than 20 years ago, LIFE takes a look back at the making of the film on which the play is based.

These images, shot by Allan Grant on the set of Sunset Boulevard in 1949, were never published in the pages of LIFE—but, given the film’s plot, their subject matter is strikingly apt. They are pictures that show the making of a movie about the making of movies.

The film’s star, Gloria Swanson, 51 at the time of the movie's release, had gained her fame during the silent-film era. She had not made a movie in nearly a decade when she took a role that summoned echoes of her own life: Norma Desmond, “a selfish, middle-aged woman living in a dream world of her past glory as a movie star,” as LIFE summed it up in a June 1950 story about the star’s comeback.

The Billy Wilder-directed Sunset was a funhouse version of Swanson's life, to be fair—her fading career had not brought with it the madness that doomed Desmond, and her wrinkles were the work of makeup artists—but the comparison was inescapable. To underscore the point, real Hollywood figures like Cecil B. DeMille and Hedda Hopper, shown above, appeared as themselves.

Sunset Boulevard takes place in a shadow world, people largely by the ghosts of an older day in Hollywood,” LIFE noted. “The heroine is one of the ghosts.”

All products and services featured are based solely on editorial selection. TIME may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website.