Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Glimpses Of Some Leading Men & Ladies

Clockwise from top: Cooper (with Kelly), Power, Turner, Monroe
Herewith some excerpts from The Star Machine on some of the most successful products to come off the Hollywood studio assembly line:

The horror of the star system -- and its power -- was that despite never giving himself over to it completely, Boyer was nevertheless defined by it. . . . The very things that made him a desirable leading man -- his Frenchness, his alluring accent -- might have doomed him to only a few years in support of big-name female stars or, worse yet, a longer career as a second banana, the guy who doesn't get the girl (a Gallic Ralph Bellamy). He might even have become no more than a stock villain (a Gallic Basis Rathbone). Instead, despite his independence, his ability to play both comedy and drama, his internationalism, his success in many areas, his brains, his form intentions not to let it happen, Hollywood found and typecast him.
. . . lasted for decades because he developed a type that incorporated its own opposite. His image today is sometimes defined as an actor whose dialogue was "yep" and "nope," but it's astonishing to review his filmography and see how often he played a sly con artist who could talk himself out of any jam (The Westerner) or a character who articulates the most important issues of a film (The Court Martial of Billy Mitchell). Cooper had impeccable comic timing, as well as the capacity to convey deeply felt pain. He could play a real kick -- shy and clumsy -- or the ultimate sophisticate.
Crosby's brand of warmth -- friendly, casual despite that underlying edge -- came across in anything: Movies, radio, recordings and television. In addition to his obvious musical talent, Crosby could act. . . . He could be cast comfortably with a variety of leading ladies, from Ingrid Bergman to Betty Hutton. . . . Whether he played opposite nuns, frowsy housewives, WAVEs, or movie stars, he paired easily and effectively with whomever he was assigned -- a major asset in the studio system. Just as important, Crosby was easily adaptable to another leading man. His confidence inside the frame allowed him to adjust his attitude and manner to any male co-star without fear of being upstaged.
. . . skyrocketed to spectacular fame. She was one of the last -- if not actually the last -- truly big female star to be "built up" by the star machine the old-fashioned way. . . . Allegedly, Monroe came out of nowhere, but "nowhere" was the usual time of development and growth, in her case a four-year apprenticeship in bit parts and walk-ons.
Her movie career was mostly one long specialty number, with her plots and co-stars thrown in around her as an excuse for her dancing. In this regard, she was like a Sonja Henie or Esther Williams -- hired for the things she could do that were athletic and amazing -- and Powell's tap dancing was nothing short of amazing. . . . To watch her perform one of her own original signature steps -- she kicks her leg up in the air right alongside her chin, then bends backward all the way to the floor -- is to wonder if she's human.
The career development of Tyrone Power illustrates how limiting the star machine process could become and how a great star could be both an asset and a problem. On the one hand, he was made into one of the most glamorous and successful movie stars of the studio era, a top-ranked box office bonanza with hordes of adoring fans, both male and female. On the other hand, being made into a glamour boy stifled him. The machine process glorified him and then stunted him. . . . Had he not been so beautiful, he might have been given more challenging parts, but Hollywood knew people would pay money to see Tyrone Power without his shirt on, whether he was acting or not. For someone without talent, it was the perfect job. For Tyrone Power, who actually could act, it had to have been some kind of hell.
. . . she is the epitome of Hollywood machine-made stardom. She got to the top at a time in movie history when there were many beautiful young hopefuls to triumph over, but she entered the system and rose up through it like a rocket. And then something went wrong. Although she was a top professional with an uncanny camera instinct, Turner's opportunity to develop as an actress passed after a series of sensational events in her private life. Her screen roles began to reflect these personal scandals, and, with three or four exceptions, the movies she played in were drivel. . . . Turner was not the first movie star to create romantic scandals. The difference for her was that she was never officially forgiven for her peccadilloes.
. . . was a pioneer career woman who took charge of her own image. . . . She studied every aspect of filmmaking, asking serious questions about lighting and camera angles, making herself the master of her own makeup and costuming. She was stubborn -- never agreeing to any hat, outfit, or hairstyle she felt did not show her to her best advantage.

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