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The Star Machine

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  • Posted January 21, 2009

    more from this reviewer


    As the author writes "`Movie star' in the old Hollywood was a concept. The person who became one juggled opposing forces: studio domination and ownership versus personal ambition and self-assertion." <BR/><BR/>Basinger explores each of these forces in fascinating detail as they relate to a myriad of actors and actresses. Part One is a dissection of actors/actresses and the factory system - the lengths that studios would go to and the money spent to develop a star astounds. Of course, more often than not the "star" had little to do with the real person but as long as movie-goers voiced their approval it didn't matter. Appearances, personalities, private lives could be manufactured as long as the person had that certain something on screen. The ones who had "it" easily come to mind - Lana Turner, Clark Gable, Errol Flynn, Rita Hayworth, etc. They were, one might say, commodities, bought and sold. <BR/><BR/>At times, in order for that "it" to become apparent a perfect on-screen mate was needed. Think Walter Pidgeon and Greer Garson, Abbott and Costello. Or, as Katharine Hepburn said about Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, "He gives her class and she gives him sex." <BR/><BR/>Part Two deals largely with individuals - the human factor in the star system and, as Alice Faye said, "The deck was stacked against us." Once many reached the top they disliked, resented the price they had paid. It was hard work, six days a week, and their lives were not their own. Ann Rutherford put it succinctly, "We were really like slaves. You were chattels of the studios." The actors were forced to do whatever the studios told them to do or they were suspended. Thus, one saw Jimmy Stewart and Joan Crawford trying to teeter around in ice skates in an ice follies movie. <BR/><BR/>Some like Deanna Durbin turned their backs on Hollywood - she fled to a farmhouse in France and evidently lived quite happily there. Others remained to fight, among the best battlers were Bette Davis, James Cagney and Olivia de Havilland. <BR/><BR/>All the stars from then and now are included, their ups and downs comprehensively chronicled by Jeanine Basinger who turns in-depth research into fascinating reading. The Star Machine is more than worth the price of admission. <BR/><BR/>Enjoy. <BR/><BR/>- Gail Cooke

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 16, 2009

    The best book on "old Hollywood" that you'll find!

    This is truly an exceptional book about old Hollywood. It is filled with interesting information about the studio system and about the people who were part of it. The writing is terrific and the research is thorough. Ms. Basinger is obviously an expert in her field and one of her other books, "Silent Stars," is also great. Her portraits of such stars as Errol Flynn, Lana Turner, Tyrone Power are wonderful and her use of the studio system as a framework works very well. The bottom line: if you like reading about old Hollywood, this is THE book to get!

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 16, 2008

    Intriguing Look at Old Hollywood

    Jeanine Basinger takes much of the mystique out of movie stardom in the 1930s and 1940s in her well-reseached analysis of how it really worked in that glamorous era. Don't be put off by the weight of this hefty tome - the pages fly by! She details the way studios created a star step by step, transforming a perfectly ordinary individual who managed to have an indefinable 'something', into an object of beauty and desire on the big screen. The emphasis is on how movie studios understood themselves as a business and each star was regarded as a 'product'. The author presents case studies of Tyrone Power, Loretta Young, Errol Flynn, Lana Turner, and many others. All of it is fascinating, and a great read. P.S. Ms. Basinger appears to have a bit of a crush on Tyrone Power, evidenced by constant references to him throughout the book. The lushly beautiful cover photo of Mr. Powers romancing Loretta Young makes it easy to understand why.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 15, 2008

    'Scintillating and Informative History of Stardom.'

    Although often compared to Pauline Kael, Jeanine Basinger is superior to that much-missed doyenne of film criticism in one respect. She does not share Kael's acerbic dislike of the 'grand lady' stars of the 'thirties and 'forties. Among the many gems in Basinger's 'The Star Machine' are generous tributes to the chic eroticism of Norma Shearer, the comic grace and style of Irene Dunne, and even the 'tart, fairly saucy' quality of the usually regal Greer Garson. Encyclopaedic in scope, yet epigrammatic in style, 'The Star Machine' offers a comprehensive analysis of that paradoxical marriage of exploitation and homage that was the Studio System. On the one hand, 'Old Hollywood' tyrannically insisted on imposing 'the shared common knowledge' of typecasting. On the other hand, the studios delighted in possessing the talents of 'utterly distinctive' stars, like James Cagney, who could shatter any imprisoning mould. 'The Star Machine' focuses on the tragedies (Tyrone Power unable to free himself from his swashbuckling 'pretty boy' stereotype),the malfunctions(the gifted and lovely Anna Sten mistakenly promoted as a 'new Garbo'), and the successful bids for independence. It certainly makes the reader look at Deanna Durbin and the 'supreme careerist', Loretta Young, with newly respectful eyes. Crammed with quotable snippets (did you know that pin-up shots of Betty Grable were used to assist US navigators to identify target areas?)and insightful contemporary analogies (although I don't agree that Colin Farrell 'really looks like Tyrone Power'), 'The Star Machine' is essential reading, not simply for movie-buffs, but for anyone who is intrigued by talent and business, and the often weird union of the two.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 8, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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