The Democratic Fame of Silent Movie Stars

Fredric March and Clara Bow in "The Wild Party," 1929. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

The period known as “Classic Hollywood” began in the late ‘20s/early ‘30s, with the gradual consolidation of the studios, and ends at a nebulous point in the 1950s. In the earliest days of the so-called “movie colony,” you could get a job in the moving pictures if you a) had a great face (Clara Bow); b) did an effective job of using exaggerated face and hand motions to make up for the lack of sound (Theda Bara); c) had a special vaudevillian talent, like slapstick comedy or dancing (Buster Keaton); or d) were in the right place at the right time (Loretta Young).

You could have a thick accent, you could barely speak English, you could have classic British elocution — it didn’t matter, because with silent film, the audiences would never hear your voice. Most stars came from nothing or next-to; very few had anything that we’d consider an education. In many ways, it was fame at its most democratic.

Anne Helen Petersen writing for Buzzfeed about the actor Mark Wahlberg, and how his career  has borrowed from the old Hollywood playbook.

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