Stardom: Industry of Desire

By Christine Gledhill | Go to book overview

21

'A QUEER FEELING WHEN I LOOK AT YOU'

Hollywood stars and lesbian spectatorship in the 1930s

Andrea Weiss

Boldly claiming to 'tell the facts and name the names', in July 1955 Confidential Magazine embarked on telling 'the untold story of Marlene Dietrich'. The exposé reads, 'Dietrich going for dolls', and goes on to list among her many female lovers the 'blonde Amazon' Claire Waldoff, writer Mercedes d'Acosta (rumoured to be Greta Garbo's lover as well), a notorious Parisian lesbian named Frede, and multi-millionaire Jo Carstairs, whom Confidential Magazine dubs a 'mannish maiden' and a 'baritone babe'. 1

The scandal sheet may have shocked the general public by its disclosures, but for many lesbians it only confirmed what they had long suspected. Rumour and gossip constitute the unrecorded history of the gay subculture. In the introduction to Jump Cut's Lesbian and Film Issue, the editors begin to redeem gossip's lowly status: 'If oral history is the history of those denied control of the printed record, then gossip is the history of those who cannot even speak in their own first-person voice.' 2 Patricia Meyer Spacks in her book Gossip pushes this definition further seeing it not only as symptomatic of oppression but actually as a tool which empowers oppressed groups: '[Gossip] embodies an alternative discourse to that of public life, and a discourse potentially challenging to public assumptions; it provides language for an alternative culture.' 3 Spacks argues that through gossip those who are otherwise powerless can assign meanings and assume the power of representation. Her concept of gossip as the reinterpreting of materials from the dominant culture into shared private values could also be a description of the process by which the gay subculture in the United States in the early twentieth century began to take form.

Something that, through gossip, is commonplace knowledge within the gay subculture is often completely unknown on the outside, or if not unknown, at least unspeakable. It is this insistence by the dominant culture

-283-

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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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