Stardom: Industry of Desire

By Christine Gledhill | Go to book overview

2

THE EMERGENCE OF THE STAR SYSTEM IN AMERICA

Richard deCordova

In standard histories the forces which put the star system in place are reduced to the play of personal initiative on the one hand and a reified notion of the public desire on the other. The star system is not simply the creation of one person or even one company; nor is the desire for movie stars something that arose unsolicited.

The emergence of the star system can perhaps best be seen as the emergence of a knowledge and analysed in these terms. Before 1909 virtually none of the players' names were known to the public, but by 1912 most of them had been 'discovered'. 1 It is clear from this example that the 'picture personality' was the result of a particular production and circulation of knowledge. Studio publicity departments, films and fan magazines produced and promulgated this knowledge. In this paper I want to examine the rules by which this knowledge was produced and the various transformations these rules underwent.

The emergence of the star system involved a strict regulation of the type of knowledge produced about the actor. I will argue that the development of this system was effected through three significant transformations in this regard. These can be listed in the order of their appearance: (1) the discourse on acting, (2) the picture personality and (3) the star.

Before discussing these three stages individually, let me note that the appearance of the second, the picture personality, did not mean the disappearance of the first, the discourse on acting (or for that matter, the third the disappearance of the second). This transformation can best be characterised as a progressive overlaying of discourses and knowledges about a particular site-the actor.


THE DISCOURSE ON ACTING

It is perhaps misleading to say that this site was the actor as if this site was constituted in itself. Before 1907 there was no discourse on the film actor. Textual productivity was focused elsewhere, for the most part on the apparatus itself, on its magical abilities and its capacity to reproduce

-17-

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Stardom: Industry of Desire
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgements xii
  • Introduction xiii
  • Part I - The System 1
  • 1 - Seeing Stars 3
  • 2 - The Emergence of the Star System in America 17
  • 3 - The Carole Lombard in Macy's Window 30
  • 4 - The Building of Popular Images 40
  • 5 - Fatal Beauties 45
  • Part II - Stars and Society 55
  • 6 - Charisma 57
  • 7 - Shirley Temple and the House of Rockefeller 60
  • 8 - 'Puffed Sleeves Before Tea-Time' 74
  • 9 - The Return of Jimmy Stewart 92
  • 10 - Three Indian Film Stars 107
  • 11 - A Star is Born and the Construction of Authenticity 132
  • 12 - Feminine Fascinations 141
  • Part III - Performers and Signs 165
  • 13 - Articulating Stardom 167
  • 14 - Screen Acting and the Commutation Test 183
  • 15 - Stars and Genre 198
  • 16 - Signs of Melodrama 207
  • Part IV - Desire, Meaning and Politics 231
  • 17 - In Defence of Violence 233
  • 18 - The Politics of 'Jane Fonda' 237
  • 19 - The Glut of the Personality 251
  • 20 - Pleasure, Ambivalence, Identification 259
  • 21 - 'A Queer Feeling When I Look at You' 283
  • 22 - Monster Metaphors 300
  • Select Bibliography 317
  • Index 332
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