One of the few stars of the silent era to seque successfully into sound films, Norma Shearer (1902-1983) immersed herself in the art of cinematic illusion, emerging as one of MGM's most talented and glittering early stars. The centerpiece of such classic films as Marie Antoinette , Private Lives and The Women , Shearer was equally well-known for her marriage to boy-mogul cum Hollywood myth Irving Thalberg. Lambert's opening chapter, in which he meets the long-retired, septuagenarian film legend in a Hollywood restaurant, holds the promise of a guided tour to the outer reaches of ambition and vanity. But Shearer's mask is opaque, and Lambert ( On Cukor ) is unable to peel it away. Preposterously vain and steel-willed even from the grave, the actress ultimately triumphs over her biographer as the keeper of her own flame. Photos. (May) .