The Power of Glamour

Discussion of the actors, directors and film-makers who 'made it all happen'

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Garbomaniac
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The Power of Glamour

Post by Garbomaniac »

I bought a great book off of ebay called The Power of Glamour: The Women Who Defined the Magic of Stardom. It covers in length eleven women this author thinks fashioned fashion on screen and off. They are in order of appearance: Gloria Swanson, Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer, Carole Lombard, Kay Francis, Delores Del Rio, Constance Bennett, Claudette Colbert, Katharine Hepburn, Greta Garbo, and Marlene Dietrich.

This of course is an open discussion on any of these gals and their fashion sense. But, I wanted to start with Crawford since the author states that, “More than any other actress, she mastered the art of the Hollywood glamour game.” With her padded shoulders and tailored suits she became an icon for the working girl, and her clothes were copied more often than any other star.

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Re: The Power of Glamour

Post by moira finnie »

Do you really think that Joan Crawford "mastered the art of the Hollywood glamour game”?

I ask because if there's anyone who seemed more trapped and controlled by a need to look glamorous all the time, I suspect that it was J.C. I think she was very beautiful when at her most natural looking, for a period of a few years in the early to mid-1930s. While she was always impressive and immaculately groomed, there was a hardness and a driven quality to her that certainly helped her play those oddball roles she took late in her career, but underlined a terrible need to be seen as perfect (and apparently to be punished for it!)--something that I know I was aware of even as a kid, when things like The Story of Esther Costello and Beserk would show up on tv. It wasn't until years later that I discovered how truly lovely, vulnerable and luminous she was in her earlier films--qualities that may have culminated in the opening haunting scenes of Possessed (1947).

I think that Garbo, for example, was much wiser, (and perhaps mentally more stable) when she stepped away from the spotlight, (though if she really wanted privacy, why live in NYC?).

I hope that you don't mind my asking about this, Garbomaniac. I don't mean it as a criticism, since, as a classic film fan, I get a big kick out of the artifice surrounding the studio era. I'm genuinely a bit puzzled by some of it, though. I'm interested in whether or not you think that the women in the book you mentioned seemed to control their fate and the world's perception of them? Do you think that they changed over time, triumphing over the earlier classifications they may have had as enigmatic, glamorous figures, ultimately becoming women and human beings once the world moved on? Do you think that they found other aspects of life that engaged them as much as their earlier careers?

Thanks for any reply you might make. I really appreciate your bringing this topic up. I hope that you will be tolerant of my awkwardly phrased queries.
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Re: The Power of Glamour

Post by rudyfan »

moirafinnie wrote: I think that Garbo, for example, was much wiser, (and perhaps mentally more stable) when she stepped away from the spotlight, (though if she really wanted privacy, why live in NYC?).
Well, I think rather than Hollywood, NYC does (or at least did) allow people who were stars or famous to actually live a life in NY without a lot of intrusion. Not to mention, NY is much closer to Europe than Hollywood, made for easier travel.

Just my thoughts.
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Re: The Power of Glamour

Post by charliechaplinfan »

I think Joan Crawford couldn't let go of her image/persona created by the studio and kept clinging to it through to old age. No star ever was more respectful of her fans. I don't think she ever broke away from it.

Carole Lombard, it is difficult to predict what she could have become. I like to think because of her unique talent and (I feel) more natural beauty and her independence from any one major Hollywood studio that there were endless possibilites of what she might have become.

Katharine Hepburn, she was glamourous in the 30's and 40's but far too independent and talented to be dependent on a glamourous image.

Greta Garbo, was glamourous on screen, preferring comfortable wear off screen. It's my opinion (which might change as I read more about her) that she loved movie acting and hated celebrity and intrusion. I don't think she cared enough about the glamour. I think Garbo might have accepted less glamourous roles later in life but she took a break and was unable/unwilling to come back.

Marlene Dietrich, I just think she was a force to be reckoned with whatever she set out to do in life. She entertained troops, I'm sure when travelling she might not have looked her best. She accepted very unbecoming roles, like Touch of Evil. Then she reinvented herself as a chanteuse wrapped up in glamour that only Marlene could have pulled off and made her famous for another generation.

I don't know enough about the other ladies to add my twopennyworth, they all exuded glamour, were marvellously packaged and wouldn't have been the ladies they became or had as many chances in life had they not embraced the Hollywood glamour game so wholeheartedly.
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Re: The Power of Glamour

Post by Garbomaniac »

Hi, moira. As the Mad Hatter said, “Let’s not be silly!” Of course, I don’t mind your queries! That is why we are here, to bounce off of one another. I chose this topic because the book is so interesting, and it seems to have gotten your attention, too.

Well, do I think the women in the book controlled their fate and the world's perception of them? Yes, to a large extent. All of them were extremely shrewd business women. They knew what had to be done and they did it. Lombard is another one who, after finally scoring in The Twentieth Century, took control of her own destiny. She, like Crawford and the others, knew that it wasn’t enough to be a “good actress,” not that many in the book were, but you had to LOOK the part. In each of the stories I have read, it talks about the gruelling diets they went on to slim down so their clothes would hang beautifully. They also chose certain types of clothes to develop their “look.” They learned lighting techniques, angles in photography, and basic tricks of the trade to make themselves larger than life.

Interestingly enough, many of them had fleeting careers. Those actresses, like the models of today, had a limited shelf life. New young girls were coming in all the time to challenge their position. I am thinking of Lana Turner whom Ava Gardner spoke so highly of saying that Lana taught her how to be a STAR, which included clothes and off screen behaviors. But, many of them transformed themselves and their careers. Crawford and Dietrich stand out. But, both kept the glamour angle. It was one thing that never changed.

Do you think that they changed over time, triumphing over the earlier classifications they may have had as enigmatic, glamorous figures, ultimately becoming women and human beings once the world moved on?
Well, to some degree it must have happened. You know as we grow older, we get smarter and more realistic, and although Crawford and Dietrich held on to their image, it did change to meet the times and their age, even though they almost became parodies of themselves. Of course, Crawford’s eyebrows were something, but the younger gals had them like Audrey Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor, though perhaps not as severe.

Now, as to whether or not they found other aspects of life that engaged them as much as their earlier careers, I think some of them did. Of course, Carole didn’t get the chance, but Claudette, Katharine, Norma, and Gloria all moved on to bigger and better things. Claudette and Kate had rewarding enough lives that they even made the occasional movie as “old gals.” Norma was happy and even helped some younger people get started. Gloria had her nutrition kick to keep her busy. I don’t know about Constance, and I haven’t read her story yet. As for Garbo, I don’t think she had any real regrets, but as for finding other aspects that engaged her as much as her career, I don’t think she ever did. She seemed a lost soul wandering the earth until her death.
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Re: The Power of Glamour

Post by moira finnie »

Thank you for your thoughtful replies.

I think I tend to agree with each of you about most of the women you mentioned, and share Alison's sense of mystery about Carole Lombard. One of the many unknowable things about Lombard was that "what might have been" for her. I think she had so many possibilities as a person and as an actress.

After reading Barry Paris' bio of Garbo and seeing the splendid Kevin Brownlow documentary on her several times, I'm not sure that she was waiting for the end, as many film fans thought. In her own individual, eccentric way, I suspect that she took her life as it came, having some regrets, (as anyone who has lived a few years will, despite Will Rogers' maxim).

Donna, I think your point about Manhattan is well taken, though I have wondered why Garbo never wanted to live in a more secluded area, though, as one of the commentators in the Brownlow doc says, the area around her apartment house abutting the East River reminded her vividly of Stockholm.

I'm not sure if many of the actresses mentioned were shrewd businesswomen, though Norma Shearer and Constance Bennett seemed to have good sense about their money. Colbert, who may have had the most talent comedically of the bunch, wisely grew out of stardom, (and had that second long and reportedly stable marriage, as well as the gumption and luck to play really interesting older roles on stage and tv, too). Btw, if you'd like a splendid read about all the Bennetts, you might enjoy The Bennetts: An Acting Family by Brian Kellow. I absolutely agree about the way that Katharine Hepburn transformed herself into something more as she aged. Interestingly, she came from a family with money and some stability, (unlike many of the girls), though I often find myself preferring her work from the '30s, before she was sure that she was going to be "a legend" of her own creation, even though I admire her appearance of having a stainless steel self-confidence from the '40s on!
garbomaniac wrote:I am thinking of Lana Turner whom Ava Gardner spoke so highly of saying that Lana taught her how to be a STAR, which included clothes and off screen behaviors.
Wow, that says more than Lee Server did in 500 pages on dear ol' Ava's often puzzling choices in life! Lana Turner, a role model for stardom. Hmm, I guess it makes sense as far as glamming it up, but I gotta think about that one. One of the problems with being educated in stardom at MGM seems to have been that the studio made a point of catering to their stars needs to an absurd degree, which I suspect affected both ladies deeply.

A relatively recent interview I saw with Andre Previn as part of the extra footage for Robert Trachtenberg's "Gene Kelly: American Master", mentioned that at MGM in the '40s and '50s, a leading man or lady would come to expect such perks as a limo ride from one soundstage to another, even when they are right next door to one another, or the change of one word in a song or a beat, or even a pause in a script to suit the star, (even though Previn often said he'd changed something, but hadn't!).

Previn saw this, and other luxuries and accommodations--astutely, I thought-- as corrupting, and in a sense, deliberately hobbling an actor, making it much more difficult for them to accept and fit into the real world. I checked theAmerican Masters PBS site where this footage was recently, but unfortunately it doesn't seem to be available at present.

Thanks again for your kind responses.
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Re: The Power of Glamour

Post by Garbomaniac »

Some really good points made by all of you.

Moira, I never did answer your first question. Yes, I think Crawford did master the art of glamour. Of course, I am new to Crawford. For most of my life I disliked her intensely for the very reasons you pointed out, her hardness and her drive. But, she has come up so often lately that I have been delving into her life, and everything I have read tells me she worked harder than anyone on her image (especially clothes). At one point she was criticised for wearing outrageous outfits on screen supposedly representing the shop girl. But, Louis B. Mayer, her publicist, and others all reminded her that the shop girl wanted to live vicariously through Joan's onscreen success, so it continued. Also, when I said shrewd business women, I didn't mean monetarily. I meant as far as knowing how important all aspects of stardom affected their careers. You are right that many of them spent lavishly and had no sense for money.

rudyfan, I agree with your thoughts. I have read that time and time again about her choice to live in NY. But, like moira, I always wondered about that. I thought she would buy a farm in Sweden and retire there.

CCF, I had forgotten that Dietrich made Touch of Evil. That was very uncharacteristic of her. But, she was a smart cookie!
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Re: The Power of Glamour

Post by Vecchiolarry »

Hi,

Each probably had an effect on fashion in their time...

Here's something I've noticed about those women, who's careers started with the emphasis on beuty and glamour only (acting came later for some) - -
Most of them shut themselves away, hid themselves, when fame left them and perhaps their beauty faded.
Marlene, Norma, Kay, Joan, Lana and Ava....
And, to a certain degree Greta and Claudette too.
Katharine seems to be the only one who trooped herself out there - wrinkles and shaking and old age and all...

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Re: The Power of Glamour

Post by Ollie »

I have sincerely enjoy seeing actors/actresses do older roles as they aged. Katherine and Audrey didn't seem to let their age keep them away from anything they wanted to do. Lauren Bacall's recent roles make me aware that her presence in a film almost requires me to donate a high value to it. Just because she's in it, I wanna see it, I wanna respect it. Fortunately, it's been easy enough to actually do!

I think highly of Gloria Swanson, taking a role in SUNSET BLVD that poured onto the screen many issues she certainly knew about. Seeing her later appearances in comedic settings where she parodying or used her glamor-queen role as part of the fun - I know I give Gloria's earlier career much more attention because I grew up on the fun she had in her later roles.
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Re: The Power of Glamour

Post by charliechaplinfan »

I wonder what it is like for an actress to look at yourself everyday and see sheer beauty looking back at you, you go to the studio and everyone tells you the same, your face is in countless magazines, people copy your look. Then one day you look in the mirror and the makeup man can't fill in the wrinkles, can't plump up the skin that's sagging. Do you think it is payback for looking so beautiful? Katharine Hepburn clearly could cope with the ageing process, it suited her and the roles she took. I don't think she gave a hoot. I suppose it depends on who you are, if you've made your money and been wise with it, married and had children you probably didn't care that much. Many actresses were so young when they started acting, they never escaped to really live their own lives.

Garbomaniac, do you think Greta retired from films because she aged. There is a picture in the back on the Vieira book of Garbo before it had been retouched, she looked fine.

Marlene, was a great actress. I recently watched Judgement at Nuremburg, I know the role was made for her, she was brilliant, much, much more than the glamourous beauty Von Sternberg brough to Hollywood.
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Re: The Power of Glamour

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Well, CCF, Marlene had matured. That alone brings volumes to your performance. As Ollie said, older actresses bring so much to a role, especially if they have been in the business for years. I think most of us enjoy seeing the older actresses perform. That is one aspect of growing older I think Garbo didn't take into consideration. And, yes, I KNOW she left because of age. I have read sooo many books on her, and the ones which were insightful always stuck in one of those moments when she looked into a mirror. Some were documented as I think I have said before like the woman who came into the restroom and saw Garbo running her fingers over her lines in her face. She was obssessed with aging. She didn't like it. And, she thought she would not be successful if she continued. But, as we all know, we would have loved to see her age in any role she chose.

Here are some images of the glamour those women brought to the screen in their prime:

Joan Crawford

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Kay Francis

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Carole Lombard

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Katharine Hepburn

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Norma Shearer

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Marlene Dietrich

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Constance Bennett

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Gloria Swanson

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Dolores Del Rio

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Claudette Colbert

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Greta Garbo

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Garbomaniac
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Re: The Power of Glamour

Post by Garbomaniac »

I wonder what it is like for an actress to look at yourself everyday and see sheer beauty looking back at you, you go to the studio and everyone tells you the same, your face is in countless magazines, people copy your look. Then one day you look in the mirror and the makeup man can't fill in the wrinkles, can't plump up the skin that's sagging. Do you think it is payback for looking so beautiful?
Hey, CCF, I wanted to elaborate on my answer to your question, but I mostly wanted to play around with the quote feature to see if I could make it work!

It must have been a sad event in those women's lives, especially Garbo's, to have been hailed as the most beautiful face of the century and to watch it fade. I don't know if it's payback. It is just life. All of those gals got to live a life none of us got to, but one many of us would have liked. Personally, I dislike getting older. I was getting my hair cut yesterday staring into the mirror wondering what had happened to that youthful face of MINE? We all deal with it in our own way. As you said, Katharine didn't seem to have any problems with it, but we don't know how she really felt about her face or her shaking. She must have had days when it bothered her. As for Garbo, she made it to 35, but was obviously maturing at a fast rate. By 40, the lines around her lips were prominant, and by 50, she didn't look very good at all, in my opinion. Although, selfishly, I would have liked her to have made more films, but I admire her for never having done so.

One of the best affirmations of her never making another film because of her looks is in Vieira's book. A conversation with Cukor went like this:

Garbo: (As she held a magnifying mirror to her face.) I am old!
Cukor: No, you are beautiful!
Garbo: No, look! (She pointed to two tiny lines above her lip, which Cukor could hardly see, and when he did, dismissed them because the camera wouldn't show them.)
Cukor: Oh, those are nothing.
Garbo: Those lines will get deeper, (She said darly.) and I must quit!

Garbo at 25 and 45.

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What a difference twenty years can make.
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Re: The Power of Glamour

Post by Ollie »

So many great comments. My wife's a beautiful former model and she's made me keenly aware of CCFan's "corrupting beauty" argument. She views it like a steady diet of sugar - it seems good at first but even sweets get tiresome, and their ability to rot and decay below the surface is a heavy price to pay, and always done later when the perceived beauty can be considered fragile or "fading". (It's incredibly unfair. This stunningly beautiful creature has few tolerances for the lines of life in her face, yet loves all those in mine.)

I have little tolerance for the '70s disaster flicks, but seeing Shelley Winters in POSEIDON and Myrna Loy in AIRPORT '75 is still a renewal of why I have big crushes on both actresses, and for their entire careers. Both THIRTEEN WOMEN and AIRPORT 75 have been broadcast recently, and Myrna's ability to span all those decades yet deliver a Myrna Loy perforance remains constant.

Seeing Audrey Totter recently brings me back to the Jack Palance Criticism - she's still got the great face, eyes, lips, all the steely looks that could shred a cop's badge. Good grief - here's a face that still has all the power that it's always had. Maybe it's not really the Jack Palance Criticism - it's the Norma Desmond Criticism. "It's the pictures that got small." Small minded. Small minded producers. Smaller minded writers. Smallest minded financiers.
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Re: The Power of Glamour

Post by Birdy »

Thank you for bringing up an interesting topic. I will look for the book.
In my opinion, Constance was the most glamorous at the time and wore a dress the best!
As for aging, well, I would have guessed Garbo was 55 in that picture. Are you sure? (Just kidding)

Now, with bigger television in our homes and hi-def res., I'm discovering there are some people who just should not be in a close-up on the big screen. This goes more for your man-on-the-street than those primped for it. I'm having trouble focusing on the topic if I can count nose hairs. And all this is just fueling our youth-obsessed culture (spending). Has tooth-whitening gotten out of control or is it just me? I mean, I'm all for lightening a few shades, but teeth are not really supposed to be the color of milk.

One of my favorite later appearances is Leslie Caron in Chocolat. She was so lovely and sweet.
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Re: The Power of Glamour

Post by charliechaplinfan »

It might be because of the age I am but there does seem to be a transition between having a line free face (say that age is up to 35) and becoming a beautiful looking mature woman. There's so many examples of woman who were beautiful both in youth and in middle to older age. Then there seems to be the transition period, it's particularly relevant today. 40 year old women are still trying to come across as young and single or young mum. I saw a kids film recently that had Courteney Cox in it and she'd ruined her beautiful face by plumping it up. I do understand the insecurity for women who have built their life and fortune on their looks.

I suppose for us ordinary mortals if we keep reasonable care of ourselves we can at least look at people we went to school with and think 'well at least I look better than you' this is especially rewarding when the once prettiest girl in school has let herself go.
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