Glamour in a Golden Age
Movie Stars of the 1930s
Publication Year: 2010
Stardom is approached as an effect of, and influence on, the particular historical and industrial contexts that enabled these actors and actresses to be discovered, featured in films, publicized, and to become recognized and admired-sometimes even notorious-parts of the cultural landscape. Using archival and popular material, including fan and mass market magazines, other promotional and publicity material, and of course films themselves, contributors also discuss other artists who were incredibly popular at the time, among them Ann Harding, Ruth Chatterton, Nancy Carroll, Kay Francis, and Constance Bennett.
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
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Introduction: Stardom in the 1930s
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I am hardly the first to call the 1930s a golden age for Hollywood (see Schatz, Genius of the System part 3), nor am I alone in wanting to characterize the decade, despite its glow, as one marked conspicuously by opposition and change. Robert Sklar, for example, divides the era into a...
1. Not of Hollywood: Ruth Chatterton, Ann Harding, Constance Bennett, Kay Francis, and Nancy Carroll
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The careers of Ruth Chatterton, Ann Harding, Constance Bennett, Kay Francis, and Nancy Carroll, all cast and promoted as major stars between 1929 and 1937, have heretofore largely escaped sensationalized mythologizing as well as scholarly scrutiny. They were frequently mentioned in or featured as the subjects of major fan magazine stories, their...
2. Shirley Temple: Making Dreams Come True
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Just six months after her brief appearance in Fox’s Stand Up and Cheer, Variety declared Shirley Temple to be the “one box office sensation of 1934, the tot . . . who jumped to stardom and became a potent screen factor over night” (1 January 1935, 1, 36). Six-year-old Shirley (whom Fox claimed was only five), forty-three inches tall and weighing...
3. Gary Cooper: Rugged Elegance
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Gary Cooper—born Frank James Cooper to English parents in 1901 in Helena, Montana—first worked in Hollywood as an extra in 1925, but leapt to the attention of critics and the public through a small but heroic role as a doomed young engineer in director Henry King’s The Winning of Barbara Worth (1926). Under contract to Paramount in the late..
4. Bette Davis: Worker and Queen
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In December 1930, Bette Davis and her mother boarded a train in New York for Los Angeles. The trip was undertaken because Davis, who had recently debuted on Broadway, had been offered a contract with Universal Pictures. In fact, Universal was not the first studio to show an interest in her work. Earlier, Samuel Goldwyn had sent someone to New...
5. Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo: The Sexy Hausfrau versus the Swedish Sphinx
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The cover of the 1932 April Fool’s issue of a German magazine, Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung, featured Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo as conjoined twins appearing in a hypothetical film titled The Tragedy of Love (Weiss, Vampires and Violets 41). The practice of twinning these stars continues to the present day, particularly among their queer fans. It is a rare...
6. Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford: Rivals at the Glamour Factory
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Two of the signature glamour icons of the Great Depression, Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford, have much in common. Both endured a period of struggle in their youth, possessed incredible drive and ambition, and reached stardom during the silent 1920s, only to achieve greater fame in the 1930s while many Jazz Age stars faded away. Neither had theatrical...
7. Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland: Romancing through History
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In 1935, upon learning that rival studio MGM planned to film a version of the maritime drama Mutiny on the Bounty starring Clark Gable, Warner Bros. decided to put one of their own sea-adventure properties, Rafael Sabatini’s Captain Blood, up on the screen. Negotiations began with British actor Robert Donat, who had starred in the 1934 version of...
8. Jean Harlow: Tragic Blonde
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Jean Harlow’s life commands attention because of its intensity, complexity, and brief duration. Born in 1911, she died at the age of twenty-six of uremic poisoning. Before she was twenty she had already been married and separated from her first husband, with whom she eloped when she was sixteen. She married again at the age of twenty-one, only to...
9. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers: Modernizing Class
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The screen partnership of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers was, with one exception, entirely limited to films of the 1930s, after which both actors had prolific and successful individual careers lasting many decades—and yet the star image of each has remained strongly informed by association with the other. This is in some sense understandable, in that it...
10. Myrna Loy and William Powell: The Perfect Screen Couple
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During the 1930s, Myrna Loy and William Powell co-starred in eight films, including the first three entries in the Thin Man series (The Thin Man , After the Thin Man , and Another Thin Man ) as well as Manhattan Melodrama (1934), Evelyn Prentice (1934), The Great Ziegfeld (1936), Libeled Lady (1936), and Double Wedding (1937). From 1940...
11. Clark Gable: The King of Hollywood
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Clark Gable, a struggling stage actor just divorced from an acting coach some fifteen years his senior, signed a two-year contract with MGM in December 1930 and, before the ink on his signature was dry, was sent to the studio’s publicity department. There, he related his biographical information—everything from previous jobs in oil fields and selling tires to...
In the Wings
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The final year of the 1930s has acquired a reputation as perhaps classical Hollywood’s greatest, producing a large number of films recognized now as among the best the studio system ever created. Some of these films have been discussed already, but even a partial listing, in no particular order, still astonishes: besides Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz (the two most popular films of the year), there were Wuthering Heights, with...
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Page Count: 296
Publication Year: 2010