Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Fickle Finger of Fame

For movie moguls, one of the most infuriating things about their work must have been that the raw material of their industrial-line product was so mercurial. Stardom, despite the best efforts of all concerned, simply couldn't be manufactured.

All the money in the world couldn't turn Anna Sten into Garbo. These ladies, to one extent or another, suffered from the same sad problem: they lacked, on screen, at least as they were packaged at the time, that Little Something Extra.

Maris Wrixon held on in Hollywood for more than 25 years, but never went far beyond Poverty Row; she's remembered, if at all, for playing opposite Bela Lugosi in The Ape.

A capable enough leading lady, Virginia Bruce married falling star John Gilbert, but it didn't turn her into Mrs. Norman Maine.

The effervescent archetype of the 30s chorus girl, Toby Wing got publicity out of all proportion to her mostly fleeting film appearances. Afficionados still treasure brief glimpses of her in pictures like 42nd Street and Murder at the Vanities, but in 1938 she married a dashing aviator and retired.

Italian Isa Miranda was a star in Europe for several decades, but her American foray was a fizzle; in 1939, Paramount discovered that it took more than laying on the full Von Sternberg (feathers, ruffles, lingerie, and pin-spot lighting) to make a Dietrich.

These days, stars have to create themselves, but the process is still anything but certain. Remember when Julia Ormand was the next Julia Roberts?

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