Glamour in a Golden Age: Movie Stars of the 1930s

Glamour in a Golden Age: Movie Stars of the 1930s

Glamour in a Golden Age: Movie Stars of the 1930s

Glamour in a Golden Age: Movie Stars of the 1930s


Shirley Temple, Clark Gable, Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and Norma Shearer, Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo, William Powell and Myrna Loy, Jean Harlow, and Gary Cooper- Glamour in a Golden Age presents original essays from eminent film scholars that analyze movie stars of the 1930s against the background of contemporary American cultural history.

Stardom is approached as an effect of, and influence on, the particular historical and industrial contexts that enabled these actors and actresses to be discovered, featured in films, publicized, and to become recognized and admired-sometimes even notorious-parts of the cultural landscape. Using archival and popular material, including fan and mass market magazines, other promotional and publicity material, and of course films themselves, contributors also discuss other artists who were incredibly popular at the time, among them Ann Harding, Ruth Chatterton, Nancy Carroll, Kay Francis, and Constance Bennett.


Adrienne L. McLean

Glamour might be defined as, first and most important, sex appeal (though
that phrase is banned by the Hays office, you have to say “it” or “oomph”),
plus luxury, plus elegance, plus romance. Glamour is at present an accepted
stock, and a very important stock in trade in the movie business. But is it
on the wane? Is the era of glamour over? Does glamour no longer pay?

—Margaret Farrand Thorp, America at the Movies, 1939

I am hardly the first to call the 1930s a golden age for Hollywood (see Schatz, Genius of the System part 3), nor am I alone in wanting to characterize the decade, despite its glow, as one marked conspicuously by opposition and change. Robert Sklar, for example, divides the era into a “golden Age of Turbulence” (1930–1934) and a “golden age of order” (1935–1941) (Movie-Made America); others name the parts differently, although the dates stay roughly the same: a “grim thirties” and a “New Deal” (Griffith and Mayer), or simply “part one” and “part two” (Bergman). Some acknowledge the period’s bifurcation more broadly: “In perhaps no other decade did the Hollywood film industry and its product look so different at its conclusion as compared to its beginning” (Hark, American Cinema of the 1930s 1). As for the first term in this volume’s title, Margaret Thorp’s remarks suggest that even in 1939 it was clear that glamour, and the movie stars who embodied and literalized it, also looked different than it, and they, had but a few years before.

Financially speaking, for Hollywood the 1930s were actually given much more to grimness and turbulence than order and prosperity. Bracketed on one end by the stock market crash of 1929 and on the other by the beginnings of World War ii in Europe, the ups and downs that Hollywood experienced during the decade mirrored the “reality of film audiences,” who were living lives “characterized particularly by sudden and unexpected shifts of fortune” (Hark, American Cinema of the 1930s 1–2). the completion of the transition to sound in 1930, and the profits that accrued as audiences flocked to the new talking films and the genres that sound either enabled . . .

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