27 Photos - Aug 24, 2014
Photo: A typical Hollywood glamour portrait. The surface of the skin is immaculately powdered, while still showing pores for the sake of realism.

Lustrous hair, jewelry and satiny fabric promote visual fascination.

The direct gaze engages the viewer in a way that's bold and frankly seductive.Photo: Here the skin is similarly treated.

And the artifice of the eyebrows is even more apparent.

Lighting of the hair emphasizes its luster. And again the fabric fascinates by catching light.

A background element is similarly visually engaging, but thrown out of focus to maintain emphasis on the star.

The star's gaze does not address the viewer directly; rather, the actress (Marlene Dietrich) allows herself to be gazed upon.Photo: Elaborate fabric demonstrates the photograph's sharpness, while also promoting the same visual fascination as in other photos.

The fabrics (the ruffles, the hair ribbon) also connote luxury.

The caption of the photo as posted: "1934: American actress Loretta Young (1913 - 2000) wearing a frothy costume designed for her role in the Fox film 'Caravan', directed by Erik Charell."Photo: The sheen of the hair and the glow of the satiny fabric should now be familiar.

The gaze is direct, but the pose of the hands suggests something more demure: a balancing act of boldness and reticence.Photo: The artifice of the brows is magnified by the elaborate eyelashes.

Here the sheen of the hair almost reaches a point of absurdity.

Glamorous female stars seem almost to glow from within: an elaborately-constructed effect that jibes with the term "star."Photo: Even production stills can emphasize the female star's lustrous hair.

That's odd here, as the star is in a hospital bed, which is not exactly glamorous. Hence there can be a conflict between the codes of realism and of glamour.Photo: This is more a production still than a star portrait: Marlene Dietrich wears her costume from SHANGHAI EXPRESS and stands in what seems to be one of the sets (a train car).

The luxury and texture of the veil, the feathers, the leather gloves are by now familiar to students of this photographic genre.

Dietrich's films with Von Sternberg (who directed SHANGHAI EXPRESS) represent extremes of this visual style--but they are extremes which typify a norm.Photo: Similar visual complexity sometimes played directly into Hollywood's blatant Orientalism.

Here an anglo actress (Myrna Loy) plays a Eurasian character. This is a portrait of an actress in a role, rather than a portrait of the star 'herself.'Photo: Chiaroscuro lighting was prominent in Von Sternberg's films (like SHANGHAI EXPRESS, for which this is a publicity still).

This borders between a 'production still' and a glamour portrait: a production still is an artificial reconstruction of a moment from the film, often taken on the set of the film, but not an actual piece of 35mm film from the film.

(8x10 glossy portraits of this type were generally shot using a camera that captured an 8x10 negative, so the prints could be made directly from the negative, which was typically heavily retouched.)Photo: Hollywood in the 1930's was still fascinated by Art Deco. That style heightens the aestheticism of the glamour portrait genre.

In this case, photographer George Hurrell photographs MGM leading lady Norma Shearer using extravagant lighting, decor, and jewelry. The circular patterns of the table and the couch's arm add a strong visual pattern.

Hurrell boldly uses a much dimmer 'key light' on the actress's face and 'exposes' the use of a light on the hair to bring out its sheen (and to separate the figure from the background in black-and-white photography).

The reflected light from the table and the flower petals softens the light on the face.Photo: A relatively simple star photo uses Art Deco lamps to again underscore the aestheticism of the image.Photo: Hurrell often used statues and flowers to underline the aestheticism of the glamour portrait.

In this case, Lana Turner's face is matched and offset by the statute.Photo: Male stars such as Rudolph Valentino were treated in a similar way, their hair and faces shiny and glowing.

Male stars, however, tended to be lit in these photographs in such a way as to emphasize the 3D modeling of the head.

In retrospect, this makes us realize how women's face were reduced to a flat surface: as if men act and move in space, whereas women become images to be gazed upon.Photo: Cary Grant: shiny hair and skin. The skin is a bit shinier, less matte than was the norm for female stars.

There is less texture to focus away from the star's face. The sweater is finely detailed, but it's not crinoline or satin.Photo: Johnny Weissmuller was a swimming star whom Hollywood called to play Tarzan (many, many times).

He gets the full start treatment, but with more emphasis on his physique. He is perhaps even shinier than Grant.Photo: Cary Grant, in profile. The suit is exquisite. Unlike female stars, there is no jewelry in sight, save a glimpse of a (very fine) watch.

The lighting again emphasizes the 3D modeling of the subject.Photo: 1920's star Ramon Navarro gets the full beefcake treatment.

There is less modeling, less sheen. The rowing pose provides the excuse for displaying his body rather frankly. Nothing distracts from the body, which by process of elimination becomes emphasized.Photo: A comedy star like Donald O'Connor was treated in a quite different visual manner.

The emphasis is on 'character': through facial expression, props, and costume.

The hair is still shiny, but the implication is not: glamour.Photo: A more neutral portrait of O'Connor downplays the hair to focus on his light eyes. 

The exquisite suit is the only nod to luxury. Note how toned-down this image is compared to those of female stars.Photo: Even comedy star Buster Keaton is shiny, beautifully lit, his head modeled with highlights and shadows, his eyes directly engaging us.

Only the presence of shiny skin and the absence of satin, jewelry and overtly 'aesthetic' references prevent this image from representing a female star.Photo: John Payne was a good-looking romantic lead.

His physique could be showed off in casual ways--e.g., by suggesting we have caught him casually about to play tennis. 

The clothes emphasize his v-shaped torso and long legs.Photo: John Payne got the full sex symbol treatment by lighting his body with a single high, bright lamp.

Note that his face is softly lit, as if the focus is meant to be on the body.

The frank sexuality of this publicity shot (promoting a film in which he plays a boxer) is rather extraordinary. One has to ask oneself how the visual codes both promote and deny the sexuality--e.g., by aestheticizing the body through lighting.Photo: Erroll Flynn was noted for his athleticism, and that provides the excuse for presenting him cheerfully half-naked. The rapier becomes an excuse for the bare chest, as if he's exercising--although I am not aware of any benefit to fencing while shirtless.Photo: Even Buster Keaton could be roped into being presented half-dressed.

Here Keaton regards a publicity photo of Lon Chaney Sr., a great horror star who was the antithesis of glamour: Chaney transformed himself ruthlessly into various monstrous characters.

This is a kind of meta-portrait, in which one not-very-glamorous star regards another even-less-glamorous star, wearing similar attire.

But Keaton's body is presented to us for delectation in a way that Chaney's never was.

It's hard to imagine a woman being photographed in a similar way in this period.Photo: Sometimes male stars were photographed with pets, especially small dogs.

Here Ramon Navarro is 'humanized' in this way.Photo: Buster Keaton's 'puppy photo' at least makes sense for his stature as a comic.

Glamour is downplayed, even as Keaton's pose allows us to admire his torso.Photo: A later star, Marlon Brando, gets the 'pet treatment,' this time with a cat.

Several such photos exist, all seemingly from the same session.

One hypothesis would be: the animal helps define the star's masculinity in terms of gentleness, rather than force.