We gave it a B
Gossip mags like Us Weekly like to pretend stars are just like you and me, but, of course, they’re not. They may pump gas in flip-flops or hold a pumpkin latte in one hand while precariously balancing their baby in the other, but even that is a performance. Plus, if stars didn’t exist, someone would have to invent them. Which is exactly what they did in the 1930s and ’40s.
According to Jeanine Basinger’s history of Hollywood’s golden age, The Star Machine, studios used to be alchemists, spinning ordinary men and women into silver-screen gods. They were given fake noses, fake teeth, fake bios, and fake names. Almost nothing about them was real, which was exactly the point: Hollywood was peddling fantasy. Basinger describes how dowdy Brooklynite Constance Ockelman was remodeled into platinum sexpot Veronica Lake and how feminine-sounding Marion Morrison became butch John Wayne. She dishes how Rita Hayworth (née Margarita Cansino) dyed her hair and electrolyzed her hairline to look less Latin, and how Clark Gable lacked his onscreen wit. (Ava Gardner once quipped, ”If you say ‘Hi ya Clark,’ he’s stuck for an answer.”)
If there’s a bone to pick with Basinger, it’s that she claims the star-minting machine is now as dead as Dietrich. I don’t buy it for a second. Not as long as Disney confections like Hannah Montana and Zac and Vanessa are rolling off the assembly line like shiny new Buicks. B