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137 ★★★★★★★★★★ ✩✩✩✩✩✩✩✩✩✩ 6 Geraldine Farrar A Star from Another Medium ANNE MOREY Despite the brevity of her screen career, the experiences of soprano Geraldine Farrar (1882–1967) in Hollywood and Fort Lee, New Jersey, define many of the most significant trends in stardom of the midteens to the early 1920s. Her entrance into filmdom in 1915 and her exit from it in early 1920 similarly bracket a period of major transition for American film as a whole, marking the moment when directors came to rely less on stage talent and more on talent created within the film industry (Koszarski 228). Farrar’s career marks the peak of the importance of stardom derived from the stage, or, in her case, the opera, taking, as Jesse Lasky observed, “the curse off movie work for stage personalities” (118). Geraldine Farrar. Courtesy of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. But while Farrar obviously represents a classic instance of the star-making strategy of borrowing fame garnered from elsewhere, this chapter argues that the specific contours of Farrar’s personality and training made her far more valuable to the film industry than her opera prestige alone would suggest . Her importance resided in her ability to unite two apparently incompatible aims: she permitted film to make a claim for the upper-middle-class carriage trade at the same moment that she helped to domesticate a cadre of risqué “brothel play” roles. Farrar was perhaps the most popular American-born opera star of the first quarter of the twentieth century. After beginning her career in 1901 in Germany, where she trained with Lilli Lehmann (Farrar 34) and was rumored to be a possible marriage prospect for the son of Kaiser Wilhelm II, she returned to the United States in 1906, where in 1907 she performed as the first American Cio-Cio-San in Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, opposite Enrico Caruso. She continued her career largely at the Metropolitan Opera under the general direction of Giulio Gatti-Casazza, performing frequently with Caruso in operas such as Carmen. Farrar developed a fervent following, with troops of primarily female “Gerry-flappers” (including Dorothy Gish) worshiping at her shrine (Wagenknecht, “Geraldine” 24). Indeed, during her final performance at the Metropolitan Opera in 1922, the “Gerry-flappers” unfurled a banner reading “None But You” (Brenda Ueland, “Geraldine Ferrar and Her Father,” Liberty, 25 April 1925, 23), and Tim Page noted that “Farrar was mobbed by thousands of admirers who escorted her open car up Broadway” after her last matinee (“The Opera’s First Superstar,” New York Times, 28 February 1982, D19). Cecil B. DeMille attempted to explain the swarms of admirers by describing the Farrar personality as “not synthetic. It was magic” (DeMille 140). When she signed her first film contract in 1915 with Lasky, her participation in filmmaking was considered quite a coup; Lasky, Morris Gest, and Samuel Goldwyn all emphasize their personal roles in garnering her services, suggesting how important her stardom seemed to each of them (Gest, “Winning Farrar,” Photoplay, July 1915, 115; Lasky 116; Goldwyn 83). Indeed, William C. de Mille describes her at the time of her first contract as a star so important that she was Famous Players’s best hedge against the drawing power of Mary Pickford, who had been signed by Adolph Zukor (de Mille 147). Clearly, then, Farrar’s film career, involving only fourteen films and four directors, marks a moment when the film industry successfully used class to appeal to the mass. Both Lasky and Goldwyn claim in their autobiographies that Farrar’s presence before the camera represented a bid for high culture’s long-delayed approval of cinema (Lasky 116; Goldwyn 83), a view ratified by 138 ANNE MOREY Sumiko Higashi, who sees Farrar’s contract as the sign of a more aggressive and programmatic attempt to extend the mass of filmgoers upward (Cecil 1). But more than obvious lion-hunting explains Farrar’s value to her producers: she was not only already famous but associated with particular kinds of realist dramas that her two studios (Paramount and later Goldwyn) desired to replicate onscreen. If Farrar’s movies attracted highbrow audiences, they also made it possible for producers to introduce less genteel stories and more daring performances than would have been acceptable had they been undertaken by someone without Farrar’s associations with European high culture and Yankee rectitude. Specifically, stories of “the woman who pays,” the reformed or unreformed woman of ill...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780813550725
Print ISBN
9780813550145
MARC Record
OCLC
804661511
Pages
288
Launched on MUSE
2012-08-22
Language
English
Open Access
N
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