Monday, April 23, 2012
The Star Machine - Jeanine Basinger
During the Golden Age of movies the studio system controlled and manufactured the lives of their actors, having final say over everything from haircuts to spouses and covering up the seedier side of Hollywood. Basinger brings to light the lives of lesser known actors and shows us from the inside out how they were created and kept in line. It's an intimate look at a way of life that has since disappeared, accompanied by a great set of archival photos.
My love of classic movies runs deep so this book was right up my alley. The great part about this book is it introduces the reader to actors they may not know as well. It doesn't cover the John Wayne's and Judy Garland's of the era. Instead it introduces readers to other amazing actors like Jean Arthur and William Powell, stars who were famous more than 50 years ago but have since been mostly forgotten. For me, it was nice to read more about a group of actors I'd watched on screen but knew little about. For example, Eleanor Powell was almost singlehandedly responsible for saving Warner Brothers Studios during the Depression. "Her powerful, low-to-the-ground tap dancing tended to blow any male partner out of the water. She was physically stronger than most of the men available to play opposite her, and she certainly could out-tap everyone."
The reader is told the old studio system is no longer in existence but in its hey day was extremely impressive. MGM could complete a film every nine days. 'In 1950 alone they completed 16 cartoons, 12 "Travelogues", 9 "Pete Smith specialties", 8 "People on Parades", 104 "News of the Day" and 41 feature films.' I tried not to let my jaw hit the floor. The amount of complex coordination it would have taken is mindboggling. Basinger references a huge stack of movies and provides a variety of stock and candid photos that help put names to faces and also reveal the variety of talent at the studios. I only wish the book had included more actors or had been longer. It was nice to see how things worked but I almost wanted a more chronological approach to see how things started and follow through to when the system broke down. If you love classic movies then I would highly recommend this book. It's a great addition to any library and now has a home in mine.