American Heroes, Myth and Reality

By Marshall W. Fishwick | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 12
The Man and the Mouse: Doug and Mickey

"My strength is as the strength of ten, Because my heart is pure."

-- Alfred Tennyson

Douglas Fairbanks was all man, Mickey all Mouse. But they found similar answers to common problems. And thereby, so far as the story of the American hero is concerned, hangs a tale.

Movie stars are barometers of contemporary taste. In films we see people and places we would like to know; Hollywood is our dream factory. Technicolor images on modern screens, like those on medieval stained glass, are windows to the soul. Doug, Mickey, and our other celluloid idols tell us what we are.

Analyzing movies is more difficult than it might seem. More than most creative efforts, films are conditioned by their special history and mode of production. The naiveté of the end product often conceals unseen complications. Movies are intricate and communal. Writers, directors, and executives have their say before the filming. Styles are set before actors appear. The casting director must meet preconceived public demands by steering available personnel into available channels. Once associated with a stereotype, a star cannot escape it easily. The result is ham for ham's sake. Hollywood has supplied us with new favorites through an art form which allows less spontaneity than any in history.

Movie heroes fall into one or two categories. The first is the lonesome good man. We have met him earlier in our history as Daniel Boone, Abraham Lincoln, or the Cowboy. He is outdoors and Western, goes through life under a spell of troubled silence, and gets his woman by saying nothing. Perhaps his name is

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