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Everybody Wants to Be Cary Grant

April 30th, 2013 - 1:40 pm

Or at least that’s the way it used to be. Ed Driscoll has a great post on just that, which includes a little something from Frederica Mathewes-Green that hit me like a big, heavy brick-like thing:

I’m a fan of old movies, the black-and-whites from the 1930s and 1940s, in part because of what they reveal about how American culture has changed. The adults in these films carry themselves differently. They don’t walk and speak the way we do. It’s often hard to figure out how old the characters are supposed to be—as though they were portraying a phase of the human life-cycle that we don’t have any more.Take the 1934 film Imitation of Life. Here Claudette Colbert portrays a young widow who builds a successful business. (Selling pancakes, actually. Well, it’s more believable if you see the whole movie.) She’s poised and elegant, with the lustrous voice and magnificent cheekbones that made her a star. But how old is she supposed to be? In terms of the story, she can’t be much more than thirty, but she moves like a queen. Today even people much older don’t have that kind of presence—and Colbert was thirty-one when the movie came out.

How about Clark Gable and Jean Harlow, smoldering away in Red Dust? They projected the kind of sexiness that used to be called “knowing,” a quality that suggested experienced confidence. When the film came out Gable was thirty-one and Harlow ten years younger. Or picture the leads of The Philadelphia Story. When it was released in 1940, Katharine Hepburn was thirty-three, Cary Grant thirty-six, and Jimmy Stewart thirty-two. Yet don’t they all look more grownup than actors do nowadays?

I wondered this myself, but had thought the solution was something more superficial. I grew up on old movies, too, and so of course everybody looked ten days older than God to me. Anybody over the age of 15 could drive a car and was positively ancient. Today, I thought, they still carried that aura of grown-up-ed-ness I’d assigned to them while watching Channel 11 as a kid. And if today’s stars look like spoiled children, maybe it’s because half of them are about half my age.

And maybe all that is a part of it. But it’s not the whole story, is it?

The culture is now in a permanent state of adolescence — or even pre-pubescence — and nowhere is that better crystalized than in today’s celebrities. For the very most part, they’re no longer glamorous, grown up stars for us to emulate. More likely, they’re stumbling train wrecks, famous for being famous.

Octo-Mom has litters of children, makes porn. What would Cary Grant make of that? Let’s go to the man himself, who said, “It’s important to know where you’ve come from so that you can know where you’re going. I probably chose my profession because I was seeking approval, adulation, admiration and affection.”

Approval. Adulation. Admiration. Affection. There’s more to life, of course, but all of those things require respect from your fans. They have to be earned.

It’s much cheaper — and much easier — just to be gawked at. So it’s probably no coincidence that one of the most popular celebrity sites is called “Gawker.”

It’s about all we have left.

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All Comments   (6)
All Comments   (6)
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I hadn't thought about this before, but you're right. While we tend to remember the quality works that stand the test of time, It seems there was a higher quality of stories being made into movies along with more mature stars. Too many movies today are filled with nothing more than toilet humor and the required boob shot to get an R rating. That seems to also cover TV sitcoms too.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
To some degree, you are right--these are the people who beat Hitler and Hirohito. Our volunteer army could still pull that off, but could the pool of draftees do their part? Our actors today come from the part of the culture that would have to be drafted.

But we need to consider that many of the personal lives of those old stars were a trainwreck too but it was easier to manage the public persona, to control what we find out about. And a lot of what you see onscreen today is the result of bad writing and focus groups--the stars don't have as much to work with.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I suspect a lot of it is casting - they went much more for the mature and classy folks back then, and much more for young and flashy today.

(Also, why is PJM's comment system so bad at remembering me? I have to sign in every single time)
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Young and flashy would not have sold back then. I'm very old-fashioned. There were standards and social customs. Everyone aspired to be a gentleman or lady, to be self-possessed. One acted with dignity. Crassness got you shunned... politely, of course.

A good contrast was in the movie, "King Ralph". John Goodman acted the usual American goofball, until things got serious. Suddenly, he had a most kingly demeanor. Sharp contrast. Great acting.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
It's been messed up like that for months, ever since the last "upgrade" at least.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
In the Movie "To Have and Have Not" I was shocked to find out Lauren Bacall was only 19 years old.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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