Tuesday, October 13, 2009

She Clearly Vasn't Alone

To the casual classic movie aficionado, the 30s are (at least when it comes to analyzing female stars) basically a ten year slug-fest between the deep throated beauties, Garbo and Dietrich. And while certainly these two luminaries were indeed Hollywood's two biggest stars of that era (male OR female), to imply that there weren't other women closely nibbling at there heels is ludicrous.....................................................................................First there were in fact the established stars; Jean Arthur (Capra's personal favorite), Claudette Colbert (an Oscar winner), Irene Dunne (a five time Oscar nominee), Jean Harlow (not a great actress but definitely a star), Carol Lombard (the funniest lady this side of Lucy/Seinfeld's Elaine), Myrna Loy (shimmering in the "Thin Man" series), and, yes, most notably, Norma Shearer (MGM's first big female star/an Oscar winner/seven time Oscar nominee). Clearly these women competed strongly with Garbo and Dietrich. And, yes, me-buckos, when you add to that all of the fresh-faced up and comers; Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Olivia DeHavilland, Kathryn Hepburn, Vivien Leigh, Barbara Stanwyck, etc., damned if it wasn't a golden-age and then some.......................................................................................Of course, what was even more amazing back then is that the women, in very many instances, were bigger than the men (bigger stars)....and often got the better billing, too. Reference Jean Arthur over Jimmy Stewart in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington", Bette Davis over Henry Fonda in "Jezebel", Irene Dunne over Charles Boyer in "Love Affair", Greta Garbo over John Barrymore in "Grand Hotel", etc.. And the fact that the gals had so much longer careers back then - most of them maintaining star status well into their 40s-50s. Compare that to today when women (except for Meryl Streep, of course) get tossed aside at the initial sign of their FIRST wrinkle. Yikes, huh? So much for progress across the board.


SJ said...

a very informing perspective on these actresses from the golden studio era of Hollywood. I remember reading that Greta Garbo insisted on hiring the same cinematographer for all her pictures... even today with all the power starlets and A list actesses have, choosing the Director of Photography isn't something they are able to do now (Or would even have the foresight to if they did)
-According to the Photographer Charles Lang, Marlene Dietrich used to say "That's the light I'd like to use right there," indicating a high key light to exaggerate her distintive and beautiful cheek bones. -She picked her own lights!
What actresses today even know enough about photography to use it to their advantage? What actors for that matter?

Great piece Will.

Will "take no prisoners" Hart said...

Dietrich's cheekbones were as distictive as they come. Add to that that whole androgyny thing, dressing up in men's clothing and stuff. Youza. What an icon! P.S. I still like Garbo better as an actress, though (HER gender-bending scene in "Queen Christina" was so purrrrfect).

SJ said...

The Sci Fi writer Ursula K. Le Guin had one of her characters remark in a story that Dietrich had to have been a Romulan (as in Star Trek) due to those cheekbones.

Stella by Starlight said...

Will, I've always loved the actors in the Thirties and Forties movies. Excluding Audrey Hepburn and a couple of good movies here and there, the Fifties were one of the worst eras for films. Damn, those were the days.

Here's a few of my favorites.

Katherine Hepburn was a powerful female who wore the pants in the film family. I adored her all the way up to Look Who's Coming to Dinner. Funny, I never noticed her wrinkles, only her magnificent acting. Much as I loved Spencer Tracy, she always outshined him.

Vivien Leigh? One of the most beautiful, elegant actress of all? Yes, I know that scene in Gone with the Wind when Rhett carried Scarlett upstairs—some say the scene suggested rape. I love the movie: I can't help myself. I understand Leigh was bipolar and suffered tremendously towards the end of her life.

Too bad no one in Hollywood listened to Bette Davis: Hollywood always wanted me to be pretty, but I fought for realism. And can anyone forget Ingrid Bergman, particularly in Casablanca?

Will, you're absolutely right. Today, actresses must be wrinkle free and a size 0 to be considered worthy of notice in the film industry. Another actress, and I can't remember her name, was harassed mercilessly over her "too fat" size 4 body. Producers insisted she needed to diet. And this brief article pretty much sums it up.

That bitch, Elizabeth Hurley (someone who deserves to be forgotten), saw Marilyn Monroe's size 14 dress and commented, "I'd kill myself if I ever got that fat." Talk about classless... Well, people remember the great Monroe, but Hurley's long forgotten, except for her ignorant comment.

There are a few good actresses out there today, such as Charlize Theron—she and Cristina Ricci (she needs to gain a little weight) were fabulous in Monster. And let's not forget Kathy Bates. I love Roseanne who's intelligent, strong, and damn funny. Unfortunately, great women like these are mostly ignored based primarily on body types and wrinkles.

Do you ever wonder what the people behind the scenes look like that they could make such decisions?

Will "take no prisoners" Hart said...

Patricia Clarkson and Julianne Moore (2 of the few actresses pushing 50 still working) are probably my 2 favorite modern actresses.I'm sure that there are others. I just can't think of them now..............Just thought of one - Kristin Scott Thomas.