A long time ago, in a universe far, far away, in a place called Hollywood, the movie studios and the actors who flourished in the dream factories, celebrated their love of America and enthusiastically indulged in overt displays of patriotism.
I like this photo of Ava Garden framed against the American flag. At the dawn of her career Gardner posed for scores of July 4th cheesecake photos. But this pic shows a more mature and confident actress as an American icon.
Is Bette Davis examining the stitching in the flag? The very mystery of her expression give the pose a terrific theatricality.
L.B. Mayer (b. Lazar Meir) of MGM, a pioneer of the motion-picture industry, and the man who invented the star system, adopted July 4th as his birthday. Scores of Hollywood historians get all snarky about Mayer’s birthday, claiming that he conveniently changed his birthday in order to cash in on a public identification with America.
What these historians fail to recognize is that Mayer probably did not know the date of his birth.
Mayer was from Minsk, in the Pale of Settlement, where the exact birth dates of most Jews were rarely recorded. My paternal grandfather, Rabbi Shmuel Avrech, also came from the Pale. If anyone asked his birthdate he would shrug and tell us in Yiddish—he barely spoke English—that it was sometime around Chanukah. Naturally, Reb Shmuel had no idea when his parents were born, nor did he care. But he knew their yahrtzeit , the anniversary of their deaths. He had to. For on that day an observant Jew is obligated to recite kaddish .
Anyhoo… back to Hollywood and patriotism.
These days, the Hollywood elite lecture us—tediously and endlessly—that dissent is the highest form of patriotism. Unless the dissent is directed at Barack Obama, in which case, dissent is labeled racism.
Rita Hayworth celebrates July 4 with some fireworks wrapped in, I assume, war bonds.
But during Hollywood’s golden age, dissent was considered the province of seditious malcontents.
Thus, studio photographers shot thousands of publicity stills featuring contract players celebrating American values with creative displays of good, old-fashioned patriotism.
Madge Evans (1914-1971) posing as a revolutionary heroine, 1935. She is holding one of the earliest American flags with the stars in a circular pattern. Of course, Madge is carrying a rifle. In those days, the right to bear arms was a common-sense norm in America and Hollywood. Evans started acting in silent films as a child. Under contract to MGM, she was featured in Dinner at Eight (1933), Hell Below (1933), and David Copperfield (1935). In 1939, she married playwright Sidney Kingsley, retired from films, and moved to an estate in New Jersey.
Leila Hyams (1905-1977) waves two flags in honor of July 4th. Hyams is best known for her roles in two early horror films: as a sweet, wise-cracking circus performer in the cult classic Freaks (1932) and the heroine in Island of Lost Souls (1932). Hymas retired in 1936 to marry and raise a family with legendary agent Phil Berg.
Before she was a star, Joan Crawford, (born Lucille Fay LeSueur, 1904-1977) was an ambitious starlet at MGM clawing her way to the top. Unlike most actors, Crawford relished the long sessions with studio photographers. Here, in a rather elaborate photo from the early 1930’s, young Joan appears to ignite July 4 fireworks with… um… star power.
Lana Turner is about to ignite July 4 fireworks wearing a slinky gown, 1938. Do not try this at home.
Norma Jeane Baker, better known as Marilyn Monroe (1925-1962), probably loved the camera as much as the camera loved her. I don’t think there was a Hollywood star who posed for more photos than MM. Monroe was an authentic American patriot who claimed Abraham Lincoln as a father figure. Her tragic private life too often overshadows the brilliance of her best performances. As Sugar Kane in Some Like it Hot (1959), Monroe gives one of the greatest comic performances in movie history.
This July 4th photo seems to be referencing Taylor’s classic role in National Velvet (’44). Unfortunately, the stuffed horse comes across as deeply strange.
In 1953 Debbie Reynolds was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. My daughters and now my granddaughters adore her in Hollywood’s greatest musical, “Singin’ in the Rain,” (’52).
Silent film star Colleen Moore as Uncle Sam, 1923. F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said that Colleen Moore represented the Flapper of the Roaring 20s..
Here’s Helen Twelvetrees on a July 4th firecracker. This photo, circa 1930s, let’s face it, lacks the polish of most Hollywood cheesecake. The picture also serves as an apt metaphor for Helen’s career which took off like a rocket and plunged to earth just as quickly.
Jean Harlow exploded onscreen as the first blond bombshell. This is one of the few July 4th photos I’ve come across that utilizes a double exposure.
A few years ago, Karen and I came across this comforter designed by Timothy Oulton. “I want it,” I said. Karen looked at the price tag and said, “We’ll just have to settle for a photo.”
Seraphic Secret wishes all our friends and relatives a wonderful and patriotic July4, Independence/Declaration Day, celebration.