America's Corporate Art: The Studio Authorship of Hollywood Motion Pictures

By Jerome Christensen | Go to book overview

3 “‘Til the Stars Go Cold”
Singin’ in the Rain, The Band Wagon, and Executive Suite
(1952-1954)

i. Star Deterrence

The Freed unit was a studio within a studio. If I fell a half-day behind
schedule, Joe Cohn would be on my back. If Freed fell behind two
weeks—nothing. For one thing, nobody knew how he did what he did.
Armand Deutsch, producer at MGM1

A penitential episode in the life cycle of a handful of major stars at the major studios, most of them women, was enduring the star-punishment picture, in which real-world bad behavior or, worse, superannuation was penalized onscreen. As the vehicle of Katherine Hepburn’s rehabilitation, The Philadelphia Story required her character, Tracy Lord, to acknowledge the justice of all the humiliating criticisms that had been leveled at her by her father and her husband, which were virtually the same criticisms—for example, “prig and perennial spinster”—that had been heaped on the aristocratic Hepburn in the press and in the executive offices of RKO and MGM.2 In When Ladies Meet (MGM, 1941) the judgment of Paris becomes the judgment of MGM mainstay Robert Taylor, who, as Jimmy Lee, confers the prize of his and his studio’s golden affection not on Mary “Minnie” Howard, played by Joan Crawford, the dowager queen at Metro, but on Mrs. Claire Woodruff, played by her heiress apparent, the classy import from the breeding ground of royalty, Greer Garson. In No Highway in the Sky (Fox, 1951), Marlene Dietrich, an aging movie star whose popularity has declined, plays Monica Teasdale, an aging movie star whose popularity has declined and whose glamour is eclipsed by the cheerful domesticity of the flight attendant Marjorie Corder, played by the perky Glynis Johns. Bette Davis had the best claim to dominate the genre: as the brutally chastened Julie in Jezebel (Warners, 1938), Davis vicariously pays for her upstart attempts to dictate contract terms to Jack Warner; in All About Eve (Fox, 1950), as Margo Channing, Davis is compelled to adjust to a future of diminished stature; in The Star (Fox, 1952) she plays Margaret Elliott, an alcoholic, spoiled actress, well past her prime, who cultivates delusions and resentments and undergoes humilia-

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