Grahame was born Gloria Hallward in Los Angeles, California in November of 1923. Her mother, Jean McDougal (who used the stage name Jean Grahame) was a stage actress and theater teacher who taught Gloria acting during her childhood and adolescence. While acting onstage, she was spotted by an MGM talent scout and was signed with the studio, leaving New York for Los Angeles.
Grahame was a familiar fixture in film noir crime dramas from the late 1940s through the 1950s, including Sudden Fear (1952) with Joan Crawford and Jack Palance, and Naked Alibi (1954).
Although Gloria Grahame was a talented and accomplished stage and screen actress, her acting career was often overshadowed by a scandalous private life. Grahame had a string of stormy romances and failed marriages during her time in Hollywood. Although her role in Oklahoma! was her most well-known, marital and child custody problems began to affect her life on the set.
In 1960, Grahame's fourth marriage created her biggest scandal; she married her former stepson from a previous marriage. Finding difficulty in getting film roles, she returned to the theater and continued to work as a stage actress.
Along with the demise of film noir as a film genre in the late 1950s, her scandalous marriage damaged Grahame's acting career. Retreating to the stage and doing TV guest appearances, she waited until the early 1970s to make her comeback in a series of mostly low-budget films.
In 1981, Grahame collapsed during a rehearsal for a British stage play, and returned to New York City, where she died soon after from breast cancer at the age of 57.