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Precocious Charms: Stars Performing Girlhood in Classical Hollywood Cinema

Gaylyn Studlar
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Pages: 324
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt24hsr8
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  • Book Info
    Precocious Charms
    Book Description:

    InPrecocious Charms, Gaylyn Studlar examines how Hollywood presented female stars as young girls or girls on the verge of becoming women. Child stars are part of this study but so too are adult actresses who created motion picture masquerades of youthfulness. Studlar details how Mary Pickford, Shirley Temple, Deanna Durbin, Elizabeth Taylor, Jennifer Jones, and Audrey Hepburn performed girlhood in their films. She charts the multifaceted processes that linked their juvenated star personas to a wide variety of cultural influences, ranging from Victorian sentimental art to New Look fashion, from nineteenth-century children's literature to post-World War II sexology, and from grand opera to 1930s radio comedy. By moving beyond the general category of "woman,"Precocious Charmsleads to a new understanding of the complex pleasures Hollywood created for its audience during the half century when film stars were a major influence on America's cultural imagination.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95529-5
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-17)

    This book is about stardom and femininity and how six female stars figured in the inscription of girls and girlhood by Hollywood between the years 1914 and 1967. In this discussion I stress the importance of “juvenation” in the performances of girlhood by Mary Pickford, Shirley Temple, Deanna Durbin, Elizabeth Taylor, Jennifer Jones, and Audrey Hepburn.

    What is juvenation? Referencing contemporary news media, John Hartley defines juvenation as “the creative practice of communicating with a readershipvia the medium ofyouthfulness.”¹ He points to the ambivalent ways in which late twentieth-and early twenty-first-century popular media produce images of the young...

  6. CHAPTER 1 Oh, “Doll Divine”: Mary Pickford, Masquerade, and the Pedophilic Gaze
    (pp. 19-49)

    Mary Pickford was, arguably, the most famous woman of the first quarter of the twentieth century. Inarguably, she was one of the first major stars of the Hollywood film industry and one of the very few—female or male—able to sustain stardom for more than twenty years. Born Gladys Smith in Toronto, Canada, Mary Pickford became a stage actress at age six (published age “5”). She first appeared in motion pictures in one-reelers of American Biograph in the spring of 1909. In the 1910s the actress known as “Our Little Mary” quickly cemented her popularity through numerous films that...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Cosseting the Nation; or, How to Conquer Fear Itself with Shirley Temple
    (pp. 51-89)

    In 1940 the photographer Arthur Rothstein was sent by the U.S. Farm Security Administration to California. His task was to record images of camps set up by the federal government for migrant farm laborers and their families. F.S.A. officials wanted positive images of this controversial program they hoped would ameliorate the deprivation of thousands of dispossessed rural poor. Rothstein took almost two hundred photographs of residents in a camp set up near Visalia in Tulare County. He showed these people in everyday activities and taking advantage of newly built community facilities. In an unusual approach for an F.S.A. photographer, Rothstein...

  8. CHAPTER 3 “The Little Girl with the Big Voice”: Deanna Durbin and Sonic Womanliness
    (pp. 91-131)

    Fourteen-year-old Deanna Durbin rocketed to stardom with December 1936 release ofThree Smart Girls(dir. Henry Koster). Universal cast Durbin as “Penny,” one of three pampered sisters trying to save their estranged father from the clutches of a gold digger.¹ The studio revamped the script of what started out as a B picture to showcase Durbin’s talents in a high-quality A-level production.² The plan worked. On its release the film became box-office dynamite.Film Dailyrepresented the critical consensus: “Only on rare occasions any newcomer scored so powerfully and decisively in an initial vehicle. . . . [Durbin’s voice] finds...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Velvet’s Cherry: Elizabeth Taylor and Virginal English Girlhood
    (pp. 133-157)

    The child actress was a staple of the Hollywood studio system by the 1940s. In the previous decade Shirley Temple had set a gold standard for child stars. Naturally, other studios tried to emulate Fox’s success with Temple, but as I noted in chapter 3, the popularity of a juvenile female star was not replicated on a comparable scale until lyric soprano Durbin became a financial boon to Universal for a dozen years, starting in 1936.¹ In 1942, attempting to follow up on its success with Durbin, Universal offered a six-month contract to nine-year-old Elizabeth Taylor, whose parents had returned...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Perilous Transition: Jennifer Jones as Melodrama’s Hysterical Adolescent
    (pp. 159-201)

    In July of 1941, twenty-two-year-old Phylis Walker was studying acting in New York City with her husband, Robert, when super producer David O. Selznick agreed to give her a screen test. At the end of the try out Selznick signed the young actress from Tulsa, Oklahoma, to an exclusive, seven-year contract. In keeping with Hollywood practice, he soon gave her a new name, “Jennifer Jones.” Jones was joining Selznick International’s impressive roster of established stars, which included Joan Fontaine, Ingrid Bergman, Vivien Leigh, Gregory Peck, and Joseph Cotten.¹ Walker/Jones’s thespian training consisted largely of work in her parents’ regional “tent...

  11. CHAPTER 6 “Chi-Chi Cinderella”: Audrey Hepburn as Couture Countermodel
    (pp. 203-234)

    Although the “mammary madness” of the 1950s represented by stars such as Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, Jane Russell, Brigitte Bardot, and the adult Elizabeth Taylor has been much discussed, Hollywood’s promotion of another, contrasting model of film femininity during the same period remains less examined. This “countermodel” to a voluptuous, hypersexualized femininity is found in the star image of Audrey Hepburn, who was described in 1955 as “flatchested, slim hipped and altogether un-Marilyn Monroeish.”¹ Hepburn’s stardom reveals the complex negotiation of age, gender, and star construction in mid-twentieth-century mass culture that the dominant model of screen femininity often suppressed. My...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 235-248)

    In 1922 Mary Pickford declared, “I play only one role, Mary Pickford. I believe that is the secret of my art—of all art.”¹ This statement may seem slightly strange, coming from a motion picture actor of long experience and unquestionable success. It seems contrary to everything we want to think about what film, at least as “art,” should be. Although it undermines the idea that audiences want something new and different in their filmgoing experiences, it also raises the question of what constitutes art in relation to acting—and stardom: what is the pleasure of seeing an actor perform...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 249-288)
  14. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 289-298)
  15. Index
    (pp. 299-305)