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Larger Than Life

Larger Than Life: Movie Stars of the 1950s

Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Larger Than Life
    Book Description:

    The constellation of Hollywood stars burned brightly in the 1950s, even as the industry fell on hard economic times. Major artists of the 1940s--James Stewart, Jerry Lewis, and Gregory Peck--continued to exert a magical appeal but the younger generation of moviegoers was soon enthralled by an emerging cast, led by James Dean and Marlon Brando. They, among others, ushered in a provocative acting style, "the Method," bringing hard-edged, realistic performances to the screen. Adult-oriented small-budget dramas were ideal showcases for Method actors, startlingly realized when Brando seized the screen in On the Waterfront. But, with competition from television looming, Hollywood also featured film-making of epic proportion--Ben-Hur and other cinema wonders rode onto the screen with amazing spectacle, making stars of physically impressive performers such as Charlton Heston.Larger Than Lifeoffers a comprehensive view of the star system in 1950s Hollywood and also in-depth discussions of the decade's major stars, including Montgomery Clift, Judy Holliday, Jerry Lewis, James Mason, Marilyn Monroe, Kim Novak, Bing Crosby, Gene Kelly, Jayne Mansfield, and Audrey Hepburn.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4994-1
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION: Stardom in the 1950s
    (pp. 1-17)

    By the end of the 1940s, the Hollywood film industry had established itself as an integral part of American popular culture through the production, distribution, and exhibition of celluloid entertainment for general national (and international) audiences. Because the value of such releases depended, for obvious reasons, on filmgoers seeing films as unique or innovative, marketing campaigns often emphasized the supposedly pleasurable differences that each ʺcoming attractionʺ somehow embodied. But Hollywoodʹs business model also depended heavily on sameness and predictability, qualities as necessary for producers (who needed to be sensitive to economies of scale) as they were for exhibitors (who required...

  5. 1 Montgomery Clift: Hollywood Pseudohomosexual
    (pp. 18-36)

    One of the silver screenʹs foremost leading men in the 1950s, Montgomery Clift inspired devotion from his female fans, the vast majority of whom little suspected his homosexuality. Surprisingly, during an era that seemed to exult in conformity and repression, he made little effort to conceal it within the intimate confines of the Hollywood community. Cliftʹs close friends and family knew of his queer sexuality, though some were quick to modify it. In an interview with biographer Patricia Bosworth, Cliftʹs brother Brooks describes his brotherʹs sexuality: ʺMonty was a bisexual … I met two girls he got pregnant. He was...

  6. 2 Charlton Heston and Gregory Peck: Organization Men
    (pp. 37-60)

    Consider the following two stories about film acting that involve two of 1950s Hollywoodʹs most popular male stars: Charlton Heston and Gregory Peck. Working with veteran director George Marshall on one of his first westerns,The Savage(1952), Heston was uncertain about how to play a short scene. According to the script, he was to ride his horse close to the camera, dismount, and utter a single, and apparently simple, line of dialogue. The young actor, so Heston reported years later, worried that the line did not suit his character, and he proposed a substantial revision. Marshall listened with apparent...

  7. 3 James Stewart and James Dean: The Darkness Within
    (pp. 61-85)

    By Wednesday, 4 May 1955, when at 8:30 in the morning he left home to shootThe Man Who Knew Too Muchfor Alfred Hitchcock in Marrakech, James Stewart, by his wifeʹs account the ʺhardest-working actor in Hollywoodʺ (Gloria McLean Stewart, ʺIʹm in Love with a Wonderful Guy,ʺPhotoplay, February 1951, 99), was the sort of personality who merited gilded treatment from studios, associates, and colleagues, not to say fans. The Paramount car, waiting outside his home at 918 North Roxbury Drive in Beverly Hills,¹ had him at the airport in time for a 10:00 a.m. departure to Chicago, where...

  8. 4 James Mason: A Star Is Born Bigger Than Life
    (pp. 86-106)

    The traditional reading of melodrama posits that as a genre it works on two levels—creating pathos by drawing ʺthe audience into the characterʹs dilemma in an act of recognition and empathyʺ while at the same time ʺdistanc[ing] the audienceʺ who, knowing more than the characters, understand the circumstances in which the characters are caught up (Gledhill 226). In melodrama, large-scale ʺsocial and economic contradictionsʺ are ʺinternalized as the dilemmas of … victims,ʺ then ʺexternalizedʺ (made readable for an audience) through matters of performance and style, that is, ʺas inarticulate gesture, overdetermined declamation, and expressionistmise en scèneʺ (225). Citing...

  9. 5 Reflexivity and Metaperformance: Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, and Kim Novak
    (pp. 107-129)

    After several years of modeling and a few bit parts during the late 1940s, Marilyn Monroe came to the attention of moviegoers through a number of smaller dramatic and comedic parts in films likeThe Asphalt Jungle(1950),All About Eve(1950),Clash by Night(1952), andMonkey Business(1952). In 1952, Monroe was named ʺFastest Rising Starʺ byPhotoplaymagazine and publicly identified as the nude model in the pinup calendar photograph ʺGolden Dreams.ʺ The concurrence of these two media events highlights Monroeʹs status as a woman who was equated with sexuality and whose name ʺbecame virtually a household...

  10. 6 Audrey Hepburn: The Film Star as Event
    (pp. 130-146)

    Roland Barthes famously wrote that Audrey Hepburnʹs face is an event (while that of Greta Garbo is an idea) (56–57). This chapter expands on Barthesʹs perception in order to construct a theory of how Hepburn (the performer and the face) can be understood from the perspective of contemporary philosophies of the virtual. For, strange and perhaps unexpected though it may seem in a book about film stars, it appears that, particularly in the case of Hepburn, ideas of virtuality can enrich our understanding of this star—and vice versa.

    First, however, we must understand how this ʺeventʺ came about;...

  11. 7 Doris Day and Rock Hudson: The Girl Next Door and the Brawny He-Man
    (pp. 147-164)

    ʺDoris Dayʺ and ʺRock Hudsonʺ are movie star monikers from another era that sound glossy and superficial. Could actors with such silly manufactured labels ever have expected to be taken seriously? In addition, their thunderous popularity places them under suspicion, artistically speaking: in the 1950s the two stars were box office champions with millions of fans for whom they could do no wrong. Over a half-century after the peak of their fame, Day and Hudson are still widely regarded less as genuine actors than as appealing personalities. Day is the wholesome, upbeat girl next door, Hudson the stoic, brawny all-American...

  12. 8 Marlon Brando: Actor, Star, Liar
    (pp. 165-183)

    It is one of Hollywoodʹs deep ironies that a man who hated stardom, and professed himself to be in it for the money on most pictures, became one of the most admired star personae to emerge from the last days of the studio system. But Brandoʹs perceived failures as an actor were also regarded as a violation of the contract made with his audience. His insistence on describing acting as fakery and as ʺsicklyʺ (Manso 116), as well as his disrespect for his own talent and for those fooled by the artifice of Hollywood (Manso 633–34), gave him the...

  13. 9 Jerry Lewis: From Hamlet to Clown
    (pp. 184-204)

    A star for six decades, Jerry Lewis has enjoyed phenomenal success in cabaret, in cinema, on television, and on Broadway. In the United States, he maintains a place in the national consciousness, courtesy of his activities as chairman, presenter, and symbolic figurehead of the annual Labor Day telethon for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, an organization he has fervently supported since the 1950s. Apart from his connection with the MDA, Lewis has also become part of the texture of everyday life because of his association with ʺthe French,ʺ a long-established and pervasive truism of popular cultural mythology. Hardly a week goes...

  14. 10 Judy Holliday: The Hungry Star
    (pp. 205-219)

    When Columbia pictures chief Harry Cohn purchased the rights to the Garson Kanin playBorn Yesterday—for an almost unheard-of $2 million—he resisted casting the Broadway star, Judy Holliday. Initially hired as a last-minute replacement for Jean Arthur, Holliday had become an instant smash in the role of Billie Dawn and the focal point of the stage production for nearly four years. ʺThat fat Jewish broad?ʺ Cohn declaimed, and went on instead to consider such diverse—and slim—actresses as Rita Hayworth, Lucille Ball, Alice Faye, Barbara Stanwyck, and Gloria Grahame for the role. Cohn was finally persuaded to...

  15. 11 What a Swell Party This Was: Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Bing Crosby, and Frank Sinatra
    (pp. 220-244)

    By the end of World War II, the Hollywood musical had become one of the industryʹs most enduring and enduringly popular genres, its films and stars landing frequently on lists of top box-office performers especially in the depths of the Depression and during the war itself. More of the films were being accorded critical acclaim as well, with the praise directed usually at the technical innovations of a particular number—Gene Kellyʹs ʺalter egoʺ dance with himself inCover Girl(1944), for example—or on the lavish ballets that appeared with greater regularity in the postwar era. Fred Astaire had...

  16. In the Wings
    (pp. 245-252)

    What was the heritage of 1950s cinema, especially in terms of the long-established institution of star performers, in the next decade? To understand what (and who) was waiting in the wings as the 1950s drew to a close, it is useful to begin by recalling some points about postwar Hollywood made throughout this book.

    The 1950s was a period of rapid change for Hollywoodʹs filmmakers, as the model of vertical integration that had sustained the business for more than three decades was gradually dismantled following a series of Supreme Court consent decrees that forced the studios to divest themselves of...

    (pp. 253-262)
    (pp. 263-266)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 267-282)