Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Flickers of Desire

Flickers of Desire: Movie Stars of the 1910s

Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 288
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Flickers of Desire
    Book Description:

    Today, we are so accustomed to consuming the amplified lives of film stars that the origins of the phenomenon may seem inevitable in retrospect. But the conjunction of the terms "movie" and "star" was inconceivable prior to the 1910s.Flickers of Desireexplores the emergence of this mass cultural phenomenon, asking how and why a cinema that did not even run screen credits developed so quickly into a venue in which performers became the American film industry's most lucrative mode of product individuation. Contributors chart the rise of American cinema's first galaxy of stars through a variety of archival sources--newspaper columns, popular journals, fan magazines, cartoons, dolls, postcards, scrapbooks, personal letters, limericks, and dances. The iconic status of Charlie Chaplin's little tramp, Mary Pickford's golden curls, Pearl White's daring stunts, or Sessue Hayakawa's expressionless mask reflect the wild diversity of a public's desired ideals, while Theda Bara's seductive turn as the embodiment of feminine evil, George Beban's performance as a sympathetic Italian immigrant, or G. M. Anderson's creation of the heroic cowboy/outlaw character transformed the fantasies that shaped American filmmaking and its vital role in society.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-5072-5
    Subjects: Performing Arts, 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 1910s
    (pp. 1-21)

    There are a number of ways one might go about discussing the origins of American film stardom and the inestimable impact of stars on the growth of a domestic industry through the course of the 1910s. One might feasibly begin by questioning whether or not it is even proper to speak of an origin for film stardom when a theatrical star system, similar in some formal properties although different in tendencies, preceded the invention of motion pictures by at least a century. The answer to this question of origins is both no and yes. No, because before there could be...

  5. 1 G. M. Anderson: “Broncho Billy” among the Early “Picture Personalities”
    (pp. 22-42)

    Among the ʺpicture personalitiesʺ who increasingly assumed a crucial role in promoting motion pictures between 1910 and 1912, G. M. ʺBroncho Billyʺ Anderson certainly was one of the more remarkable. In the fall of 1911, for instance, in the industrial heartland of northeastern Ohio, theCanton News-Democratballyhooed Anderson as ʺthe best known motion picture actor living … his face [as] familiar to the people of this country as that of President Taftʹsʺ (ʺThis Manʹs Photo Seen Every Day by 300,000,ʺ 5 November 1911, 15). By the following spring, Essanay was boasting that Anderson was now famous worldwide for the...

  6. 2 Mary Pickford: Icon of Stardom
    (pp. 43-68)

    ʺDawn, over a daisy-filled meadow: the spirit of spring imprisoned in womanʹs body: the first child in the worldʺ (Photoplay, July 1918, 111). Thus, with Mary Pickford emerged the world’s first experience of full-blownfilmstardom. Others, notably Florence Turner and Florence Lawrence, had marked out the path a few years earlier; and others, for example, Mary Fuller, Mabel Normand, the Gish sisters, and serial queens Pearl White and Helen Holmes, emerged alongside her. But through the 1910s it was around Mary Pickford in particular that star practices were consolidated and star discourses woven. Through Pickford, studio executives and publicists,...

  7. 3 Lillian Gish: Clean, and White, and Pure as the Lily
    (pp. 69-90)

    In the summer of 1912, eighteen-year-old Lillian Gish wrote to her friend, Nell Becker: “We are going … to New York in a few weeks as mother has rooms engaged. I donʹt know what we are going to do when we get there. Dorothy [Lillianʹs younger sister] wants to pose for moving pictures, so watch the billboardsʺ (Gish, letter to Nell Becker, undated, 1912).¹ Once the family reached New York, Lillian and Dorothy renewed their acquaintance with an old friend, Mary Pickford, whom they had met years earlier during their childhoods as itinerant stage actors. Pickford offered them an introduction...

  8. 4 Sessue Hayakawa: The Mirror, the Racialized Body, and Photogénie
    (pp. 91-112)

    Many popular audiences of cinema remember Japanese actor Sessue Hayakawa (1886–1973) for his Oscar-nominated role as a frowning Japanese military officer inThe Bridge on the River Kwai(1957). Yet Hayakawa was a movie star in the United States as early as 1915, and the only Asian matinee idol of the silent era (see Miyao). His astounding performance as a sexy villain in Cecil B. DeMilleʹsThe Cheat(1915) propelled him to superstardom during a time when the general public supported segregation and when mixed marriages were illegal in many states.

    InThe Cheat, Hayakawa played the role of...

  9. 5 Theda Bara: Orientalism, Sexual Anarchy, and the Jewish Star
    (pp. 113-136)

    In referring to unmarried females in the period of transition to twentieth-century modernity, Elaine Showalter says: ʺSexual anarchy began with the odd womanʺ (Showalter 19). I would like to direct her statement to the exploration of Theda Bara, one of the earliest and, by some accounts, oddest manifestations of female stardom to emerge from American film culture in the 1910s. Bara, like her Victorian predecessors in odd femininity, undermined gender and sexual norms, but through more spectacular means—by being inextricably linked to filmʹs predatory ʺvampireʺ or ʺvamp,ʺ an unmarried woman who became the screen embodiment of seductive feminine evil....

  10. 6 Geraldine Farrar: A Star from Another Medium
    (pp. 137-154)

    Despite the brevity of her screen career, the experiences of soprano Geraldine Farrar (1882–1967) in Hollywood and Fort Lee, New Jersey, define many of the most significant trends in stardom of the mid-teens to the early 1920s. Her entrance into filmdom in 1915 and her exit from it in early 1920 similarly bracket a period of major transition for American film as a whole, marking the moment when directors came to rely less on stage talent and more on talent created within the film industry (Koszarski 228). Farrarʹs career marks the peak of the importance of stardom derived from...

  11. 7 George Beban: Character of the Picturesque
    (pp. 155-173)

    George Beban was arguably the only Anglo American film star of his time never to have played the role of an Anglo American character. Beginning in 1915, his feature-length cinematic impersonations of charming but ill-fated Italian immigrants catapulted him to stardom. Yet both the form and significance of his characterizations may be perplexing unless placed within the wider context of how American culture as a whole aestheticized racial diversity. Furthermore, without Bebanʹs popular and sympathetic characterizations, one of the next decadeʹs superstars, Rudolph Valentino, might never have emerged.

    Born in San Francisco in 1873 of an Italophilic father, Rocco Beban,...

  12. 8 Pearl White and Grace Cunard: The Serial Queen’s Volatile Present
    (pp. 174-195)

    After her 1914 appearance inThe Perils of Pauline, Pearl Whiteʹs tremendous celebrity established her as the definitive serial queen. There were numerous other examples of the type, but none so widely associated with the title or with the risk-taking antics demanded by serial adventures. Week after week, the serial heroine narrowly escaped one fiendish plot only to end up facing another. Through repetition, this structure defined peril as persistent but punctual, omnipresent but extraordinary, inevitable yet unexpected. The dangerous moment ended only to be renewed. As Whiteʹs fans surely felt, to be enthralled by a serial queen means inhabiting...

  13. 9 Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle: Comedy’s Starring Scapegoat
    (pp. 196-217)

    During the period of his greatest popularity in the mid- to late 1910s, few stardoms could have seemed more obvious, less in need of interpretation, than that of Roscoe ʺFattyʺ Arbuckle, whose nickname encompassed his meaning. ʺFattyʺ was, it seemed, the sole signifier of his stardom, a repeated fixing of Arbuckleʹs identity that called for no supplement or explanation. One four-page fan magazine ʺprofileʺ of the star,PhotoplayʹsʺHeavyweight Athleticsʺ in August 1915, offered little more than a tongue-in-cheek list of his daily diet, describing, for example, Arbuckleʹs ʺvery light luncheonʺ of ʺclam chowder; several seidels of beer; cold asparagus...

  14. 10 Douglas Fairbanks: Icon of Americanism
    (pp. 218-241)

    The rise of Douglas Fairbanks (1883–1939) in the late 1910s was nothing short of spectacular. In a variety of films for Triangle, Artcraft, and United Artists, Fairbanks played cheery, athletic young men who bounded their way over obstacles and rivals to get the girl and the prize. His first film debuted in September 1915, but in a fan survey three years later, Fairbanks already ranked third in a long list of popular stars behind Mary Pickford and Marguerite Clark (Motion Picture Magazine, September 1918, 6). By the end of the decade, after only four years in the industry, Fairbanks...

  15. 11 Charles Chaplin: The Object Life of Mass Culture
    (pp. 242-263)

    If the state of being ʺknownʺ determines the scale of stardom, then Charles Chaplinʹs superlative status emerged early. In 1916, a mere two years after his first appearance before the Keystone camera, a reporter for theChicago Daily Tribuneknown only as Mae Tinnee sighed to her readers: ʺIt is not much use to try to tell you anything about Charles Chaplin. You know all about him … enough has been printed to start a Chaplin encyclopedia well on its wayʺ (ʺRight Off the Reel,ʺ 28 May 1916, D3). By now, that comprehensive compendium of information has been written several...

  16. In the Wings
    (pp. 264-268)

    Even a cursory glance at the shifting constellation of stars in the decade to come means grappling with the historical formation of a place we now call ʺHollywood.ʺ It bears mention that the initial glimmers of a nascent star system in the ʺpicture personalityʺ era between 1910 and 1912 coincided with the gradual relocation of filmmaking companies and acting troupes from the industryʹs predominant base in New York, New Jersey, and Chicago to the sunnier climes of Florida and New Mexico, among others, and ultimately to the settling of ʺfilm coloniesʺ in areas around Los Angeles, often called ʺmovie landʺ...

    (pp. 269-278)
    (pp. 279-282)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 283-297)