Hollywood Hits and Film Stars, 1935-38

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SOME CONTEXT

Hollywood and the film industry as a whole underwent some big changes during the 1930’s. The new phenomenon of “talking pictures” was emerging, while the popular art form the 20’s, silent movies, became a lost and dying art. Audiences could now focus on what was actually happening on screen as opposed to having to read a marathon of dialogue. The transition from silent movies to talking pictures revolutionized the film industry and marks an important milestone within cinema and its history.

While Hollywood was buzzing from the “talkies,” the rest of the world was suffering from a gigantic economic depression that had just hit. The stock markets were crumbling, businesses were collapsing, and thousands of workers were being left unemployed. With money in short supply, film studios wondered if moviegoers would still be able to afford going to the cinema (which they had so regularly done during the twenties).

Luckily for the entertainment industry, this problem never matured, and audiences continued to go to the movies. People came to see pictures in hopes of escaping the harsh realities of their daily lives. Movies provided a pleasant getaway; and for a brief period of time audiences could just sit back and forget all of the social and economic problems facing society (Lloyd, Ann and David Robinson 1983).

HOLLYWOOD FILM AND HITS 

Hollywood films of the 1930s came in all types of styles and sizes, yet all of them share a distinct quality. There is a noticeable confidence or “audacity” that can be seen amongst the films. Movies at this time were intended to bring up the spirits of society, and provide hope to a population that was lacking in confidence (Lloyd, Ann and David Robinson 1983).

Audiences’ were thrilled and captivated by films like …

King Kong (1933)– The nail biting fantasy thriller.

Brockman

Stage Coach (1939) – The adventure filled, western romantic classic.

Hollywood's Greatest Year: The Best Picture Nominees of 1939

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Bringing Up Baby (1938)- A screwball comedy.

This film, starring Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant, is often referred to as the definition of a screwball comedy. The screwball comedy was a genre in film that became popular during the Great Depression and is characterized by a female dominating a relationship and challenging her partner’s masculinity. This type of comedy is also well known for the fast pace dialogue. This element could be a useful tool for actors in Stage Door and may serve as an example of quick and snappy interactions that occur between characters (Gehring 1983).

The Women (1939) 

Another noteworthy film is George Cukor’s ‘The Women’.  It is a film that came out in 1939, and was originally adapted from Clare Booth’s play of the same title. The film depicts a group of upper class women living in Manhattan and the power struggles, relationships, and complications they experience. The fast pace witty dialogue nicely captures the endless chatter that occurs in a house full of women who are far removed from their husbands or significant others. The dynamic between women in this movie could be very similar to the female characters in Stage Door and how they interact and engage with one another. The film is literally composed of all women and includes not a single man. It starred women like Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, and many others. For this reason, this movie also serves as good example of women’s progression and prominence in Hollywood at this time (Barsanti, 2010).

CINEMA’S  STARS

The 1930s was an age of STARS

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(Brockman 1987)

SPOTLIGHT ONJean Harlow and Clark Gable   

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Jean Harlow was an American film actress well known for being the original “Blonde Bombshell” before women like Marilyn Monroe or Madonna. Harlow’s career kicked off when movie producer and entrepreneur Howard Hughes became interested in her and cast her in the film Hell’s Angels (1930). Jean’s appearance in the film established her as an American icon and sex symbol. She followed Hell’s Angels with movie Platinum Blonde (1931), and many more hits after that. Harlow’s sexual appeal and strong stage presence landed her many roles and eventually got her contracted with MGM.  Her popularity and charming image was a stark contrast to her rough personal life that was filled with disappointment, tragedy, and eventually, a sudden death at age 26 (The Official Site of Jean Harlow, NNBD).

>> Jean Harlow could serve as another source of inspiration for characters like Jean Maitland or Kaye Hamilton in Stage Door. Harlow’s initial beginnings in film industry might resemble that of Jean Maitland’s.  Her tragic personal life may spark something for Kaye Hamilton’s character, but these are just suggestions!

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Find A Grave, Inc

Gable first came to Hollywood and appeared as an extra in some silent films. However he was not offered any major roles so he returned to the stage. In 1930, Gable was offered a contract with MGM for his impressive performance in a Los Angeles stage production of The Last Mile. Gable first worked in supporting roles, mainly as the villain. Some of his best work is said to have been earlier in his career, because as his popularity grew he often played more sympathetic, softer characters or was miscast. Despite this fact, Gable remains one of the most well known actors of the 1930s (Brockman, 1987).

>> Gable is a nice example of an actor in the 30’s because he exemplifies a performer who worked both on stage and film, and the struggle to find good work between the two. Additionally he reflects how the studio could dictate much of what an actor played and was cast in.

 

THE STUDIO SYSTEM

While there were many stars during thirties, this time was also considered the “studio era.” Each studio had its own set of stars, style, and quality. The top studios were Paramount, Warners, Columbia, Universal, and MGM. MGM boasted that there were “more stars than there are in heaven.” Studios used a powerful system of long-term option contract, which allowed them exploit a star’s image and use their services for seven years. Even though studios had immense control and power, there were a handful of stars that were able to take hold of their careers and become “free agents.” One example of this is Margaret Sullavan –> Look at Stage Door Authors and Production History: Stage to Screen for more information (Brockman, 1987).

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WRAPPING UP…

Overall the 1930s was a remarkable decade for movies and entertainment. Hollywood made the transition of silent films to the “talkies”, while studios turned out a number of stars. The 1930s will always be remembered for its starlets and films filled with action, horror, laughter, and romance. The thirties produced films that we now consider charming and classics!

Works Cited:

Barsanti, Chris. “The Women.” AMC, 2013. Web. 23, February 2013.

Brockman, Alfred. The Movie Book The 1930s. New York: Crescent Books, 1987. Print.

Bringing Up Baby Trailer”. You Tube. n.p., n.d. Web. 21, February 2013.

Carman, Emily. “Independent Film Stars and The Studio System in the 1930s.” Women’s Studies 37: 583-615, 2008. Print.

Clark Gable.” Bio. A+E Television Networks, 2003. Web. 20, February 2013.

“Clark Gable”. Find A Grave, n.d. Web 25, February 2013.

Gehring, Wes D. “Screwball Comedy: Defining A Film Genre.” 1983. Web. 23, February 2013.

Lloyd, Ann and David Robinson. Movies of the Thirties. London: Orbis Publishing Limited, 1983. Print.

Lodge, Jack. Hollywood 1930s. New York: Smith Publishers Inc, 1985. Print.

Lund, Richard. “The Half Coastal Picture Studios,”NNBD. Web. 24, February 2013.

Margaret Sullavan: Biography and Filmography.” Matinee Classics LLC, 2013.

Web. 21, February 2013.

Rodriguez, Kevin. “The Movie Wizard,” 2007. Web. 24, February 2013.

Soylent Communications. “Margaret Sullivan.” NNBD. Web. 23, February 2013.

“The Women,” n.p, n.d. Web. 23, February 2013.

“The Official Site of Jean Harlow.” NNBD. 23, February 2013.

Ware, Susan; Braukman, Stacy, and Lorraine Radcliffe. Institute for Advanced Study 2004. “Notable American Women: A Biographical Dictionary: Completing the Twentieth Century.” Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, pp.227-228. February 21, 2013.

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