The early days of Hollywood stars, gossip and damage control.
Blogger and first-time author Petersen (Film and Media Studies/Whitman Coll.) revisits several of Hollywood's well-known celebrity scandals and tells how the movie studios manufactured both stars' images and the public's desires. She opens with the obvious truism that a star's "actions, behavior, or lifestyle choices are never de facto scandalous; rather, they become scandalous when they violate the status quo in some way”—which is true for everyone. The author follows with an examination of the old-school "studio system," which created actors' names and biographies, as well as a host of "management strategies" (i.e., coverups) for actors' off-screen improprieties that entertainment publicists still use today to protect their investments—though the public at midcentury was far more gullible and easily manipulated. After this slow start, Petersen keenly analyzes the roles celebrities played—and still play—in our lives. She examines how the public allows “stars to take on our personal anxieties and shun[s] them when they fail to embody them in ways that please us." Chapters serve as case studies exploring and supporting the book's dual themes: that stars' images are "pliable…to our whims, hopes and fears" (particularly about class, female desire and gender roles) and how actresses were often presented and celebrated for appealing to men's sexual desires, then castigated for their brazen, unconventional behavior. In sections recounting the careers of stars who flamed out disastrously, including Dorothy Dandridge and Montgomery Clift, she incisively remarks on, especially, how Judy Garland's life—her studio controlled not only her public persona, but her romantic relationships and even her physical size during her teen years—"suggested hope and despair in equal measures," served up for the public's consumption. Not merely a rehash of salacious old Hollywood gossip, Petersen revivifies flattened images of Hollywood icons, including Fatty Arbuckle, Mae West, Humphrey Bogart and Marlon Brando, among others.
Wide-ranging and surprisingly thoughtful.