Arts & Entertainment

Our fascination with old Hollywood stars

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Black-and-white portrait photo Louise Brooks (no credit needed).
Hollywood star Louise Brooks won fame for her dark-haired beauty during the eras of the silent screen and the talkies
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Imagination is a plus when watching classic stars of screen and stage

She moves in slow motion down the wide marble staircase. Every man in the room senses her fashionably late arrival. Couples on the dance floor turn toward the glow. She's a sultry hot-babe wrapped in a swath of white satin and a fragrant cloud of expensive perfume. Jean Harlow? Carole Lombard? Silent-screen star Clara Bow or Louise Brooks, whose petulance matched her dark beauty?


Our fascination with old Hollywood stars — male and female — is something that fuels an unending curiosity about those whose lives are spent in the spotlight. What are they wearing? What do they eat? Where do they live? The grand nostalgic movies of days gone by provided an opportunity for fantasy that coincided with an increase in discretionary funds available to the working public. Business boomed at the theater box office.


Popularity peaked with increased leisure time


Friday night was date night. It capped the work week and marked the pocketing of another pay check. Families with kids trooped into the aisles. Lovers in search of entertainment and a shield from prying eyes headed for the balcony. Saturday afternoon matinees were celluloid revels of hot buttered popcorn and licorice chunks coated with tiny multicolored beads of pure sugar.


All the greats—Garbo, Grant, Brando and kin— were on duty on the screen and on stage, too, at venues where heavy red velvet curtains were parted by stagehands pulling on thick, braided gold cords. Folks in the audience knew the names of every star in the cast. They knew who divorced whom and who was having an affair with you-know-who. These fans were afflicted with idol worship and they wanted no cure. Their idols lived in Hollywood in mansions made of marble and dreams come true.


Biographical information remains easy to access


Nevertheless, the old Hollywood stars live on in reruns and indelible ink. Entertainment biographies are hot reading material for fans of Hollywood greats. Many fine books featuring old Hollywood stars explore the likes of Agnes Moorehead, Ann Southern, Christopher Lee, Frank Sinatra and Guy Williams—the man behind the mask who was known as Zorro.



Psychological explanations relating to fan-aticism are many


Those who need to find a psychological basis for movie fans' fascination with old Hollywood stars cite various explanations. Some experts claim fans live vicariously through the antics of their beloved Hollywood stars. Others propose that fans emulate their heroes—especially manly men and sexy sirens—in an effort to enrich their own lifestyles. Fashions and fads come and go. But Hollywood stars who served as role models seem to live forever.


A genre could be found for anyone's tastes


All that glitters is not gold, so the old adage proclaims. That may be true but when it comes to the stars of old Hollywood a second look is needed. What is it that makes an actor or actress great? Is it the way they instill emotions in the audience? Laughter, tears, compassion and hate fill the palette of performances offered by old Hollywood stars. Some performances are landmarks filled with romance, comedy, suspense, etc. Others are pink but memorable fluff whose only legacy is a warm feeling. Does your list of favorite stars include any on the following cast of characters?


My Man Godfrey (1936): William Powell and Carole Lombard

Road to Singapore (1940): Dorothy Lamour, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope

The Wolf Man (1941): Lon Chaney, Jr., Claude Rains, Bela Lugosi

Some Like it Hot (1959): Billy Wilder, Jack Lemmon, Marilyn Monroe

The Apartment (1960): Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray

The Hustler (1961): Paul Newman, Piper Laurie, Jackie Gleason

Bonnie and Clyde (1967): Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Estelle Parsons

Rosemary's Baby (1968): Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon

The Producers (1968): Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder, Estelle Winwood

Apocalypse Now (1979): Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Martin Sheen


Don't touch that remote if you value your hand


Ask those who love old movies—and the stars that made them—if it's okay to change channels just as the hero sweeps into his arms a damsel in distress. Interrupt these movie buffs as the damsel's half-closed, long-lashed eyes plead for salvation—and a tender kiss. Ask any Hollywood movie fan if it's okay to flip over to some vulgar reality show or inane sit-com. Chances are it is not okay to change that channel.


Don't touch that remote—unless you want to lose a hand—for you will never-never-never ever hear anyone who loves old Hollywood stars say, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn…if you turn off my old movie.

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