What Dreams Were Made Of
Movie Stars of the 1940s
Publication Year: 2010
Published by: Rutgers University Press
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Introduction: Stardom in the 1940s
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The 1940s are often conceptualized as a split decade, a temporal “house divided.” Most obviously, World War II deftly cleaved the decade in half. Hitler invaded Poland in late 1939, resulting in Britain and France declaring war on Germany. While the United States refrained from entering the fight initially, the pull grew month by month, until the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941. The war then dominated all...
1. Abbott and Costello: Who's on First?
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Bud Abbott and Lou Costello were undeniably the most prolific comedic actors of the 1940s. In that single decade the comedians appeared in more than two dozen films, as well as performed live on stage, broadcast multiple radio shows, appeared on Broadway, and made numerous fundraising tours to sell U.S. war bonds. Their slapstick routines and flawless comedic timing captivated audiences and helped catapult them to fame far beyond the burlesque shows in which they began their partnership. ...
2. Gene Autry and Roy Rogers: The Light of Western Stars
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Friends have learned to tolerate my apparent obsession with the western movie (they don’t any longer call them “cowboy films” when I’m around). Even so, there were some sniggers when I said I was trying to write something about singing cowboys. “You mean Roy Rogers?” they’d say with a laugh, scarcely bothering to disguise their disdain. “Do you really like that stuff?”...
3. Ingrid Bergman: The Face of Authenticity in the Land of Illusion
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The story of Ingrid Bergman, the Swedish actress who starred in fifteen films in the 1940s and won one of the three Oscars for which she was nominated during that decade alone, has become known as a subset of the story of independent producer David O. Selznick. While Selznick, who distributed his films through United Artists during this period, did indeed work hard to get Bergman to Hollywood after seeing her...
4. Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall: Tough Guy and Cool Dame
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Although the thriving Hollywood studio system of the 1940s produced hundreds of movies featuring dozens of popular stars, Warner Bros.’ Humphrey Bogart, typically imagined with fedora and trench coat, cigarette dangling from his lip, may have been the decade’s most emblematic star—the thoroughly contemporary man. Bogart (1899–1957) had been paying dues onscreen since 1930 and made notable movies in the...
5. Claudette Colbert, Ginger Rogers, and Barbara Stanwyck: American Homefront Women
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Pondering the signature stars of the 1940s, one might not immediately consider Claudette Colbert, Ginger Rogers, and Barbara Stanwyck, who seem so much of the 1930s. Each was, however, a major star who appeared in many hits and contributed excellent performances to fine films. They achieved heights of cultural importance during the forties, and the trajectories of their images, from newfound peaks to postwar declines, are...
6. Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney: Babes and Beyond
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Early in the musical Strike Up the Band (1940), Jimmy (Mickey Rooney) and Mary (Judy Garland) envision their futures as the leader and lead singer in a big band. Jimmy sees these aspirations to popular music as artistically honorable: “Look at George Gershwin. His music’s as good as Beethoven or Bach. And best of all, he’s American.” Audiences in the 1940s seemed to regard Rooney and Garland in the same way: popular...
7. Greer Garson: Gallant Ladies and British Wartime Femininity
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During the first half of the 1940s, Greer Garson was a star with extraordinarily high visibility, appeal, and timely cultural resonance. Audiences responded enthusiastically to her persona and its dominant characteristics, which seemed to embody homefront fortitude and resilience, striking such a resonant chord during wartime that Garson, and the iconic character she played in Mrs. Miniver (1942), came to epitomize England and...
8. Betty Grable and Rita Hayworth: Pinned Up
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In March 1949, Look magazine published a cover story entitled “The American Look Is a Proud Thing.” Just as “American Marshall Plan money rejuvenates the world’s economy,” Look writes, “the American Look rejuvenates its women, for this look is being copied all over the world today”—indeed, the “lithe and vibrant” beauty of the American woman had...
9. Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn: Domesticated Mavericks
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Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant are rarely considered an onscreen “star couple” in the conventional sense of the term. Unlike Astaire and Rogers or MacDonald and Eddy, they did not become linked to each other in the public eye through repeated teamings in a series of star vehicles. In fact, the two appeared together just four times, in a period spanning five years. By the time Hepburn had switched from RKO to MGM (a studio that she remained attached to for the entirety of the 1940s), Grant...
10. John Wayne: Hero, Leading Man, Innocent, and Troubled Figure
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John Wayne had a distinct 1940s, different for him from the decades that preceded and that followed. His forties began in 1939, with John Ford’s Stagecoach, the film that promoted him from Poverty Row to major stardom. It ended with Ford’s Rio Grande (1950), which elaborates a troubled, complex Wayne persona that began to unfold not long after Stagecoach allowed Wayne to leave Monogram, Mascot, and their like behind. ...
In the Wings
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Intriguingly, a sizable number of performers who became major stars just before and during World War II would see their popularity barely survive into the 1950s, including many of those discussed in this volume. On a basic level, the sudden and precipitous decline in fortunes for all of Hollywood during the postwar period would impact the durability of various A-list performers (see Kinder 319). As Milton Berle triumphantly demonstrated, television was capable of...
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Page Count: 280
Illustrations: 55 photographs
Publication Year: 2010
Series Title: Star Decades: American Culture/American