Brigitte Bardot before she became Brigitte Bardot. This photo was taken when she was a 15 year-old model for Elle magazine.
Stars are not born; they are created through a long and tortuous process of trial and error.
When conjuring our favorite star we remember an iconic image that captures that personae. When we think of Jean Harlow we see her glowing platinum hair, a fetching body draped in silk, and a come hither look that melts the soul.
We want to believe that stars were born fully formed. And when that image is challenged we feel disoriented if not slightly betrayed.
In truth, the best kept secret in Hollywood is how hard everyone works to perfect the images that are projected. I can testify from years of experience on location that we spend 80% of our prep time making sure the leading lady looks exactly as she should.
The mane of blond hair, the cat’s eye make-up, and the signature pout bring BB into full bloom. Okay, Bardot never worked in Hollywood and is therefore technically not a Hollywood star. But c’mon, what’s a photo essay in Seraphic Secret without BB.
Early in her career as an MGM ingenue Joan Crawford was sold as a dancing flapper. Notice the delicately drawn lips and fine jaw. This studio publicity photo was probably taken in the mid to late 20′s, still the era of silent films.
By “Letty Lynton,” (1932) one of her best films, Crawford’s image has been refined with her signature all-devouring lips and lantern jaw. Besides make-up, hair and expert photography by Hurrell, Crawford had her teeth capped twice which further exaggerated her granite-hard image.
For much of her career Myrna Loy was cast as an oriental seductress or a half-cast outcast. In fact, she was an upper middle class girl from Helena, Montana.
It was director W.S. Van Dyke who saw Loy’s potential as the sophisticated wise-cracking Nora Charles in “The Thin Man” series, the films for which she is best remembered. Studio chief L.B. Mayer was dead-set against casting Loy but Van Dyke promised to shoot the film in three weeks thereby mitigating against losing money. Of course “The Thin Man” (1934) was a huge hit and Loy became one of the highest paid stars in Hollywood.
The daughter of poor tobacco farmers, Ava Gardner was a church going country girl from Grabtown, North Carolina when she signed her first Hollywood contract in 1941.
In “The Killers,” (1946) the role that catapulted her to fame, Ava’s image has been finely honed to the ultimate femme fatale. The young girl who refused to sleep with Mickey Rooney until they were married no longer existed—on celluloid or real life.
Meet Margarita Carmen Cansino, the eldest child of two Spanish dancers. Her father made Margarita his dancing partner but because she was too young to work legally in America he dragged her over the border to Mexico where they eked out a living. At age 16, Margarita got her first bit role in a Hollywood movie.
In her first few years as a Fox contract player, Cansino’s image was too exotic. She changed her hair color to dark red and her name to Rita Hayworth. She endured painful electrolysis to raise her hairline and broaden the slope of her forehead. In 1946 she stepped into the role of “Gilda” and became the all-American pinup girl.
Karen and I wish all our friends a lovely and inspirational Shabbat.