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H'wood naked without star shield.

HOLLYWOOD On June 15, the American Film Institute unveiled its "100 Years ... 100 Stars" list of top movie luminaries, as voted by 1,800 industryites. Humphrey Bogart was crowned America's greatest male screen legend, and Katharine Hepburn deemed the all-time top female star.

Predictably, the AFI turned the list into a TV special, featuring such current stars as Goldie Hawn, Kevin Costner, Sylvester Stallone and Sharon Stone as presenters.

Words like decency, honesty, integrity and professionalism were used most frequently to describe the glittering constellation of the past.

Today, though it's common practice to tubthump an up-and-comer as the new Jimmy Stewart or Audrey Hepburn, none has made the same kind of cultural impact.

While today's stars are prominent in causes ranging from AIDS research to environmental protection, the particular values embodied by the stars of Hollywood's golden era come to light as a leaderless industry finds itself the whipping boy for contemporary social ills. And in that may lie the subtle difference between stardom yesterday and today.

Controlled by the studio system of the 1930s and '40s, when they were contract players, the stars' images were carefully preserved both on-screen and off: They promoted their movies and personalities with tours and appearances, attended the right parties and premieres and submitted to magazine profiles that often had as much relevance to reality as their scripted celluloid roles.

Stars used to stand for defensible values--Jimmy Stewart embodied patriotism, John Wayne silent stoicism, Bette Davis determination--and their controlling studio bosses made sure that America saw Hollywood as a glamorous place in which stars worked hard and played hard--but in a clean-cut way.

Despite the hypocrisy, it worked.

The stars did what the studios wanted, but they also took up arms, causes and candidates. During World War II, stars were mustered by studio bosses into Bond Tours and USO shows. Despite studio pressure, a group that included Bogie and Bacall and Danny Kaye went to Washington, D.C. as the Committee for the First Amendment in support of the so-called Hollywood 10.

Tarnished mirror

Some maintain that actors began to lose the public trust once the studios lost control of the stars' offscreen images, following the breakup of the studio system in the 1950s. As press scrutiny revealed the widening gap between real life and screen persona, confidence in movie heroes rapidly eroded.

Many stars were apolitical, and those that were not were perceived as left-wing weirdos by the public: Jane Fonda was dubbed "Hanoi Jane" for her stance during the Vietnam war, and Vanessa Redgrave pleaded for a Palestinian homeland to a worldwide audience when she accepted her Oscar.

"I think that the level or absence of political activism in Hollywood reflects the mood of the country," a leading actor says. "There aren't those galvanizing factors like the Depression, the war, the Cold Win, Civil Rights or Vietnam. Which is not to say that poverty, unemployment, crime, health care and drug addiction aren't important--they're very important. It's just that you can't mobilize the country to get behind those issues. And those who speak out are branded as lunatics."

The loss of faith by the public is something the bygone studio chiefs would never have allowed. They understood that movie stars have the power to dazzle the political honchos who can often be reduced to awestruck fans in their glittering presence.

A story told by MPAA prexy Jack Valenti illustrates the point: Valenti once received a call from a disgruntled state department officer in Eastern Europe who wanted to know how Valenti breezed into Yugoslavia and met with President Tito, when his office had been unable to arrange a trade meeting for months. "Well," drawled Valenti, "I just called up his office and said I'd be dropping by on Tuesday with Kirk Douglas."

But despite Valenti's lobbying efforts and countless fundraisers, the Hollywood of today has been taken by surprise at the lack of political clout it has in Washington.

Pointing fingers

"After Littleton, Clinton promised his film friends that he wouldn't point the finger at the entertainment industry," a Washington insider says. "Now who are the chief culprits for what happened in Colorado? ... Hollywood may be politically generous, but so is the NRA, and they have a real Washington lobbyist. And you know the representatives here aren't going to go after education or the police, because that would destroy societal confidence. So, who does that leave as scapegoat?"

In 1993, 500 film industry guests at a Democratic fundraiser held at the Creative Artists Agency were told by Clinton that they held an enormous responsibility, because "few things are more powerful at any time or place than culture."

Hollywood applauded Clinton's words, but putting that sentiment into action was never in evidence.

While celebs are quick to join the latest politically correct causes--who can argue against taking a stand against AIDS or drug abuse--many of today's stars exhibit a reluctance to speak out in the current siege.

A publicist who encouraged clients to become politically involved admits standing up can backfire for the celebrity.

"It's a given, certainly among the media, that a movie star starts out with no credibility when they take up a social issue," the publicist says. "Now some earn it over time. But I understand those who simply don't want to humiliate themselves by going out on a limb for a cause."
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Title Annotation:top 100 motion picture stars
Author:KLADY, LEONARD
Publication:Variety
Date:Jun 21, 1999
Words:893
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