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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

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