The Essence of Old-School Female Stars

Pretty faces.

Kay Francis as a platinum blonde!

Some of my faves there. Sylvia Sidney, too. They’re all so individual, aren’t they? You would never mistake Clara Bow for Barbara Stanwyck. It would be impossible.

There can be a sameness to the up-and-coming starlets today – because creating a specific persona is not what is in vogue now. What is in vogue now is versatility: I’m a gorgeous young starlet, yet watch me play a limping Inuit from the 15th century! Now watch me play a rumpled itinerant fruit-picker from 1935! Now watch me play a jacked-up crack addict in Seattle!

Awesome! Great! But WHO exactly ARE you?

No reason to be angry at the trend of today (more on this theme here) … it’s just a trend. Like any other trend, it will pass. I find it more interesting that that is what is in vogue now, as annoying as I sometimes find it. The thought seems to be: If you are an actress, then you should be able to play everything. A silly-putty nose and CGI can fill in the gaps in your work. But you can see in the results of this kind of work (phone call for Cate Blanchett) – not everyone can play everything, nor SHOULD everyone. There is something to be said for knowing what your essence is – and playing THAT. Those actors still exist. Mickey Rourke. Gene Hackman. Ewan McGregor (when he’s used well). Gena Rowlands. Susan Sarandon. Jeff Bridges. Actually, I’d put Angelina Jolie on that list. Kurt Russell. Anyone can learn a dialect. There are tutors for that. But there are no tutors to help you understand and bring out your own essence. You either have it or you don’t.

So looking at compilation of pretty faces from the past, what I am most struck by is each woman’s individual essence. You would never mistake one for the other. It’s like a fingerprint. Wholly itself, a snowflake unlike any of its sisters. A mark made by one particular hand in indelible ink.

This entry was posted in Actors and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The Essence of Old-School Female Stars

  1. De says:

    I love this. I absolutely love this.
    There was something about those faces back then, so delicate, so lovely but with that plucky spirit you equate with movies of that era.
    I guess what those movies stars of that time had was mystery.
    We didn’t see candid shots of them taking out the trash or leaving a nightclub drunk/high.
    No sex tapes or ugly divorces.
    I miss that.

  2. De says:

    LOL I have to laugh at myself. I said “I miss that” but I wasn’t even ALIVE then! How could I miss it?
    I didn’t see candid photos of them leaving nightclubs or taking out the trash because I WASN’T even born!!
    I don’t know how I can miss something I never knew….but somehow I do!

  3. red says:

    De – hahahahaha

    i want to come back to this – really busy right now – but your comment makes me laugh, I totally get it – and it reminds me of a favorite quote from the novel The Fiery Pantheon:

    “She had a nostalgia for a life she had never led.”

    THAT’S ME. I DO TOO!!!

  4. george says:


    Would recognize Kay Francis in any movie but that picture, as a platinum blonde, in a month of guessing I’d never have guessed that was Kay Francis. They were indeed all so unique. I remember, some time ago, hearing about her personality and how she brought it to the screen. In this case it was her sense of propriety and how you could see it even in her acting – and sure enough it was true. I believe the movie was “One Way Passage” in which, at a certain point, she faints. She is picked up and carried to a lounge or bed, still in a faint – and there it was – Ms. Francis had her ankles crossed. A lady always keeps her ankles crossed no matter what the situation.

  5. Catherine says:

    Wonderful. Joan C is, as usual, cracking me up. And Barbara Stanwyck – love her, love her, love her!

    Also, I’m loving the comments by that Huck Caton guy about working with Babs, et al. Great tidbits.

  6. red says:

    George – hahahaha!!! I love that! Even a faint wouldn’t affect her ladylike nature! Brill!

Comments are closed.