Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Only the public can make a star. It's the studios who make a system out of it.                  Marilyn Monroe                                        
Some stars are made by the public and some are the creations of, as Norma Desmond called them, "the masterminds." The Hollywood moguls of old liked to think that they had the power to create a star. Like Professor Henry Higgins, they imagined they could take the most improbable subject and transform him or her into someone the public would embrace.
By George, I really did it!
Once they hit upon a winning formula, their instinct was to mass-produce like a factory. It usually didn't work. Copycat stars rarely step out of the shadows of the originals, but once in a while, one is individual enough to stake a claim of their very own.

Here a just a few of the originals and their imitators:

The Original: Charlie Chaplin
Chaplin's enormous popularity spawned quite a few imitators, including:
The Copies: Billy West
West's greatest fame lied in his uncanny impersonations of Charlie.  Other than that, the rest of his career is merely a footnote.

Harold Lloyd
Yes, even the great Harold Lloyd started out as a copycat as "Lonesome Luke", a clear Chaplin rip-off. This always made Lloyd uncomfortable, and it wasn't until he hit upon his "glasses" character that his own genius was allowed to flourish (thank goodness!).

The Original: Rudolph Valentino
Valentino's popularity spawned a slew of exotic lovers, but none could touch the original.

The Copies: Ricardo Cortez

Ricardo (born Jacob Krantz) was totally manufactured star who managed to survive the Valentino craze and go on to have a respectable career in films before ditching them for a lucrative career on Wall Street.

Antonio Moreno
Best remembered as having "it" alongside Clara Bow, Moreno had a long, if unspectacular career. 
Ramon Novarro
A copy with real staying power and star quality, Novarro inherited the mantel of "Latin Lover" after the death of Valentino. He had a long career and a legion of fans.

The Original: Mary Pickford
Mary Pickford was the most popular woman in the world during the peak of her stardom. While many tried to copy her, no one could come close.

The Copy: Mary Miles Minter
Mary Miles Minter gave Pickford a run for her money for a short while, but a lack of fire, real talent and her role in the William Desmond Taylor murder mystery put an end to her career.

The Original: Pola Negri
Pola was the original foreign exotic.

The Copy: Greta Garbo

Although Garbo was originally placed in Pola-like roles, she proved to be too much of an original. Before long, stars and studios were emulating Garbo, but by then she had established herself as beyond duplication.

The Original: Marlene Dietrich
They should have known better - you don't copy this!

The Copy: Anna Sten
Known as "Goldwyn's Folly," the beautiful Miss Sten was brought by Goldwyn to Hollywood as his studio version of the foreign exotic. Unfortunately for both, Miss Sten did not click with the public.

The Original: Ronald Colman

The perfect, cultured and romantic Englishman. This was such a popular "type" that many were needed to fill the role!

The Copy: Brian Aherne

Brian Aherne was a very respectable "second choice" Colman (he was awarded the starring role in "A Tale of Two Cities," but it was taken away from him when his friend Colman became available). 

The Original: Errol Flynn

Looks alone did not define his appeal. Although others tried, Flynn's looks, talent, charisma and charm were a hard package to duplicate.

The Copy: Patric Knowles
Signed because of his resemblance to Errol, Patric never made it into the leading man category. Really, a passing resemblance, at best.

The Original: Freddie Bartholomew
This precocious little British boy was a huge star for a time.

The Copy: Roddy McDowell
Another case where the copy had more staying power than the original. While Freddie was usually an upper-crust kind of  kid, Roddy was blue collar. And when Freddie grew up and went on to other things, Roddy stayed with us forever.

The Originals: Hope & Crosby
This stellar crooner and comic combination was a hit with the public. 

The Copies: Morgan & Carson
Warner Bothers tried to duplicate the success of the "Road" pictures with the "Two Guys" series featuring crooner Morgan and comic Carson ("Two Guys From Texas," "Two Guys From Milwaukee," - you get the picture), but the chemistry between Bob and Bing could not be manufactured.

The Original: Marilyn Monroe
The one, the only. To this day, she is copied endlessly, but never duplicated.

The Copies: Jayne Mansfield

Mamie Van Doren
Sheree North
All three ladies were blonde, beautiful and talented. Some were more successful than others, but none came close to MM.

The Original: Grace Kelly

Cool, blonde, beautiful, talented, but with a warmth that set her apart.
The Copies: Dina Merrill
Talented and beautiful, for sure, but so cool she was chilly.

Tippi Hedren
Cool and lovely, but no Grace (sorry, Hitch).

The Original: Sophia Loren
This Italian sex-goddess inspired many copies, but Sophia had more than sexy going for her.

The Copy: Gina Lollobrigida
Turns out, Gina had more to offer than the Italian sex-bomb roles she was offered and turned to photojournalism for a second and rewarding career.

The Original: Robert Redford
This male blonde beauty look was all the rage in the '60s, but try as they might, Redford had that certain something that could not be duplicated.

The Copy: Nick Nolte
Hard to believe now, isn't it?

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then these originals should be blushing! As for those "masterminds" who think you can mass-produce a star - back to the drawing board. 

For more fun movie facts and fantasy, check out "Flesh and Fantasy" by Penny Stallings and Howard Mandelbaum (I confess to being a bit of a copycat myself!). It's a very fun book!


Valarie said...

Great article - my favorite so far!

Anonymous said...

Great! I really enjoyed this. I had never heard of Mary Miles Minter. You could even gamble to say that MM was an imitation of Harlow and then that the rest of the blonde bomb shells were copying both MM and Harlow! haha but that gets complicated.

Aubyn said...

Wonderfully fun post. I love your comparisons of the originals to the copies. Jnpickens' mention of Harlow reminded me that Alice Faye was originally intended as knock-off Harlow until Fox changed her image.

In addition to the blatant copies, there were also the "threats," the second-stringers that studios hired to keep on standby if the top stars became difficult and refused parts. Hard to believe now that Rosalind Rusell was the threat behind Myrna Loy and Ida Lupino was the threat behind Bette Davis; I mean, they weren't exactly interchangeable.

Jan Miner said...

Your vast knowledge of movies and "stars" never ceases to impress and amaze me. You go, girl!

FlickChick said...

Thanks, ladies! As far as the Harlow knock-offs, there were a bunch. Practically every actress in Hollywood - including Crawford and Davis - had to dye their hair platinum blonde and pluck their eyebrows. It was a must!

Classic Film and TV Cafe said...

A great idea for a post and some very interesting comparisons. I would also categorize Martin & Lewis as a copy of Hope & Crosby.

Meredith said...

I never would have thought of Garbo as a copy! Even for a short span. It's amazing how much the other second (and third! and fourth!) attempts pale in comparison.

The Lady Eve said...

Excellent...I learned a thing or two (hadn't heard of Billy West or Antonio Moreno at all), which is always a good thing.

I think that Gina was making Hollywood movies ("Beat the Devil," "Trapeze") before Sophia, though Sophia's star rose much higher (and others, like Claudia Cardinale, followed in her wake).

Here's one to consider - Joan Collins as an Elizabeth Taylor copy in the '50s. She had a similar beauty then, plus was English...what do you think?

As always, very interesting and enjoyable!

FlickChick said...

Thank you. Yes- Martin & Lewis were definitely a latter part of the Crosby & Hope craze and Joan Collins was indeed a Liz copy. The list is really endless!

Diane said...

I only heard of a few of the "copies". That was very interesting. Your comparison were just fabulous.

Page said...

What a fun post topic! Seeing Lloyd dressed like Chaplin is a riot...so glad he found those glasses and his own identity, success.
I can't imagine Gina struggling to out do or out shine Sophia. The both had curves for days but there really is no way anyone could top Sophia.

I agree with Rachel regarding Alice Faye. I have a few photo's of her where you have to do a double take thinking she looked a lot like Harlow.

I would have never thought of Dietrich then Sten but they do resemble one another then the comparison of Negri and Garbo is interesting as well.
Great post as always,

FlickChick said...

Thanks, Page. I saw those pictures of Alice Faye, too (poor thing). I think Garbo was viewed as a foreign exotic at first, but she sure showed them, didn't she? Pola never really broke out of that mode in Hollywood.

ClassicBecky said...

This was a lot of fun, FlickChick! All of your originals and copies were fascinating, and I have two that really stuck out for me. Of course, the first one is Errol Flynn. NOBODY could copy him, especially Patrick Knowles. I mean, Knowles was OK, but not even close. The other is Ricardo Cortez. Valentino was wonderful and handsome, but I have a special love for gorgeous Ricardo with his special accent that I can't identify. LOL! I thought he was wonderful!

Your Monroe copies were the funniest. I know her studio had great hopes that Sheree North would be the next Monroe, and though North is certainly pretty, she never had that overt sexuality.

Great post!

FlickChick said...

Thank you, Becky! Sometimes, the copy starts out as a copy and becomes their own person. Ricardo really wasn't Valentino-like, but that's how he got started!

ClassicBecky said...

Boy, I'll tell you -- Ricardo could have been the guy who swept up the set at night and I would have fallen for him!

FlickChick said...

And, you'd have had him all to yourself!

Dawn said...

What an Awesome article. The biggest surprise for me was the Robert Redford and Nick Nolte, comparison. But, after thinking about... it I totally agree..

FlickChick said...

@ Dawn - hard to believe that was once Nick Nolte, isn't it?