Oh, to be a movie fan in January 1931! I admit it - I love Hollywood gossip. It would be nice to say I'm above all that and I love the movies for their artistic merit, but I'm not. I love the dish, the dirt, the spectacle, the drama and those little, juicy tidbits about how the west coast glamorous set lived (and lives). Admittedly, today's celebrity gossip runs to trash, but, boy, back in the "golden age," if you plunked down 25 cents for a Photoplay Magazine, you sure got a lot for your money and your dreams.
The movie magazine and gossip industry, an arm of the studios, was running on all 12 cylinders back then. Just look at this gorgeous cover of Clara Bow! The cover art of Photoplay and other movie publications were works of art in themselves.
This particular issue is interesting because, in 1931, the silent stars were still a force in Hollywood, but were swiftly being overtaken in the hearts of the fans by those upstart talkie stars. May I take you on a little tour of this issue?
First Stop: Letters to the Editor (called "Brickbats & Bouquets")
Touting the philosophy that "you fans are the real critics," Photoplay gave $25, $10 and $5 for the best letters. However, they caution that "just plain spiteful letters won't be printed." How refreshing.
Here are the winning letters:
For $5: "There is too much talk in the talkies." W. Dolen
For $10: "What is wrong with the fans, always complaining about the talkies? The talkies are only three years old and they're improving all the time. Prohibition is thirteen years old and it hasn't improved a particle. Think it over." - Catherine Finn
For the top prize of $25: "To whomever is concerned with censorship, I beg to suggest that it is the press that needs constraint, and not the pictures. Our American audiences are essentially the only censors needed as far as morals are concerned. They respond consistently to the best and most worthy productions. Not even lurid box-office titles can do much for vulgar or insipid pictures.
Newspapers, however, delight to frontpage any unfortunate sequence in the life of any movie star - the brighter, the quicker! Daily instances of generosity, loyalty, and decency among the movie colony are passed up by the yellow sheet. But let some actor who has worked hard and won a place in popular favor make one error in judgment and it is hot news. We can always 'see by the papers.'
Let us judge men and women of the screen by their performance on the screen and not by their private lives." - E.D. Russell
Some things never change, do they?
Next Stop: Brief Reviews of Current Pictures
Each month Photoplay gave a 2 or 3 line review of the films currently paying at local theaters. In January 1931, movie goers had 231 choices! Isn't that amazing? Some of Photoplay's top picks for January 1931 were Abraham Lincoln (Directed by D.W. Griffith), Feet First (Harold Lloyd), Floradora Girl (Marion Davies), Holiday (Ann Harding), Laughter (Nancy Carroll, Fredric March), Morocco (Marlene Dietrich, Gary Cooper), Our Bushing Brides (Joan Crawford), Raffles (Ronald Colman), Just Imagine (life in 1980!) and Romance (Greta Garbo). An intriguing combination of silent and sound stars.
Some of the films that got good reviews but did not make Photplay's preferred list were: Animal Crackers, Little Caesar, Redemption ("John Gilbert's first talkie, made before His Glorious Night, but shelved and now largely remade. A tragic story by Tolstoi proves John can act") and Hell's Angels ("Three years and $4,000,000 were invested in this. Worth seeing, but $4,000,000 worth?").
Most films were praised, very few outright panned. After all, the magazines were a cog in the wheel of the movie industry.
Next Up: Gorgeous Portraits
Wonder where all of those gorgeous portraits of the stars ended up? Mainly in the movie magazines. These artful photos helped the public worship a star in all their beauty and style. Photoplay's January 1931 issue gave the public full page portraits of Marilyn Miller, Dorothy Jordan, Constance Bennett, Adolphe Menju, and Claudette Colbert.
Gossip! Gossip! Gossip!
Charles Farrel and Virginia Valli to marry! Francis X. Bushman is flat broke! (but, oh, he had a swell time!), 42 weeks of hard labor in vaudeville changes Esther Ralston from a little blonde ingenue to a pungent personality and a sure-footed star! Gloria Swanson's ex-husband, the Marquis de la Falaise, heads straight for Connie Bennett! Pola Negri threatens to "tell all" in her memoirs! Mary Pickford's miniature golf course was robbed (of $75)! William Powell and Carole Lombard are "that way" about each other! Greta Garbo seen on the M-G-M lot wearing a pair of dark blue sailor trousers, a little blue jacket and a white sailor hat! Walter Houston and Gilda Gray have been seen dining and dancing places together! Joan Crawford and hubby Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. sell their home, "El Jodo."
Kay Francis and her latest Fashions! (photos by Hurrell)
Here are a few of my favorite tidbits:
"I believe that future ages will resurrect Chaplin's tattered comedies and study them as reverently as they now study Italian primitives. He will be spoken of as people now speak of Grimaldi, only his fame will be greater than Grimaldi's because the film audience is universal" - Frederick Lonsdasle, English playwright. Bingo!
From James R. Quirk's column: "Clara Bow doesn't seem to have any more luck with her secretaries than some big business men. The first one married Clara's pappy, and the second one is yelling Clara ain't done right by her. The days after secretarial rumpus number two started in the newspapers, Clara received an application for the position. It read: 'I am a capable stenographer, intelligent and refined, but am now working as a librarian. This work is dull and sedentary and I would like a change.' Young lady, I am no fortune teller, but I can tell you that if you get the job, you are going to get your wish." January 1931 was the beginning of the Daisy Devoe trial and the end of Clara Bow's career.
And buried on page 43: "The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has made its annual awards for the best pictures work done in the year ending in July. They are:
The Best Picture - All Quiet on the Western Front
The Best Director - Lewis Milestone, who made all Quiet on the Western Front
Best Actor - George Arliss, for Disraeli
Best Actress - Norma Shearer for The Divorcee
Best Screenwriting - Frances Marion for The Big House
Best Art Direction - King of Jazz
Best Photography - the two boys who sent into the Antarctic with Admiral Byrd
All the winners get little statues as their visible prizes. But what publicity!" What??? No Red Carpet????
Meat and Potatoes: Feature Articles
"Willy to his Mother" - all about William Powell's ma an pa, how they run his finances and fetch his orange juice!
Paging Nora Charles!
"Mary Pickford Denies All!" America's Es-Sweetheart smacks down reports that she's to divorce Doug, retire or go on the stage.
Of course, Mary and Doug did divorce, she did try a stage play and she did retire. Oh well!
"Hell's Angel" Aged psychoanalyst now focuses his inspired spyglass on Jean Harlow.
Her hair and her body are arousing, but she's also "forthright, earnest, sincere and handy with her dukes." We knew that!
"Chatterton and Barrymore Lead the Screen in 1930."
1930's most popular stars based upon their performances. Barrymore and Chatteron lead the pack. Lewis Stone and Beryl Mercer bring up the rear.
"John Boles Confesses" Universal's Great Lover discloses the technique of amour that made him famous on the screen.
(it has something to do with Einstein's theory).
"By Time and Tears" Not sorrow alone, but growth of mind and spirit, gave Mary Astor the rich womanliness that is hers today.
Mary's success on the stage (after Hollywood thought she wouldn't make it in talkies) and the death of her husband made her a woman.
"'Quit Pickin' on Me!' Says Clara Bow" It seems the public and the fan mags just couldn't stop picking on Clara.
While filming No Limit, Clara is taken to task for her gambling troubles, past loves and even her weight. Amazingly, she is described as "pathetic."
The fact that this article felt free to be unkind to Clara surely signaled Paramount's (and Hollywood's) decision to wash their hands of her, although she remained popular with the public. It would only be a short time before Clara Bow left Hollywood for good.
Last Stop: Advertisements
And just in case you needed to know these things:
k Lucky Strike cigarettes are toasted.
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k In all the world, there is no cigarette so fragrant, so delicate, so delightful as Camel.
k English and American beauties entrust their flower-like skin to Ponds.
k Lux Toilet Soap is the complexion secret of 98% of the stars (and it only costs 10 cents).
k Sal Hepatica saline treatment gives a gal a radiant bloom on her cheeks. Saline treatment = laxative, by the way.
k Nerves? don't use pills - send 25 cents for a book that teaches you how to gain confidence, vigor and calmness!
kkk and, my favorite: The Anita Nose Adjuster
I'm sending for one!!!!
Sorry, but in the interest of space I left out quite a few features and tidbits, not to mention film reviews and glorious photos. Oh to be a movie fan in January 1931! Wasn't that fun?