Ed Driscoll

Celluloid Heroines

England’s Independent looks at the classic portrait photography of movie starlets of the 1930s by MGM staff photographer George Hurrell, a topic Virginia Postrel previously explored via a photo essay in Slate three years ago. The Independent’s Hannah Duguid writes:

It’s the stuff of fantasy: a photograph of Joan Crawford with liquid eyes and flawless skin, her strong bone structure casting sculptural shadows across her face. There is no context, no setting: it is simply a close-up of her perfectly beautiful face. Crawford’s troubled character is not apparent in these photographs, nor is her battle with alcohol; the ravages of life are painted over with clever lighting and a thick concealer.

The photograph was taken by George Hurrell, head of portrait photography at MGM Studios in 1930. In those days, Hollywood studios employed full-time photographers who were responsible for creating a star’s image. Those were the days of high glamour, when young women became sophisticated princesses, their allure heightened by their unattainability. Hurrell also moulded the images of Jean Harlow, Bette Davis and Rita Hayworth. He spent hours with his subjects, perfecting their look. Their public persona was a creation, a brand, an image on to which people could project their fantasies and desires. They were not meant to reflect reality, or reveal anything about the women’s real character