Dynamist Blog

Glamorous Activism, Then and Now

This puffy LAT piece on young celebrities' brand-building activism--"Many in Young Hollywood, especially actresses, are aligning themselves to social causes like never before"--just proves there's nothing new in Hollywood. Here's a parallel passage from Margaret Farrand Thorp's 1939 book America at the Movies.

Even further from the original base of glamour are two new qualities: culture and an interest in serious social problems. If a star in the 1920's dressed expensively to suit her type, drove a high-powered car, rode fearlessly, and swam well it was not at all necessary to assure the public that her Hollywood villa had a library or that she knew something of art and music; but just run through a fan magazine today:

"There is little of philosophy, psychology, matters political or sociological that Bob Montgomery has not read and studied. He is Duco-ed with the drawing-room manner. He might, superficially, seem to fit in with the Hemingways, the Noel Cowards, all the Bright Young People. But he can also hold his own with scientists, engineers, medical men, learned professors."...

Deanna Durbin is a pacifist. She showed a reporter her school history book with a paragraph which she had underlined with red pencil. "It was Nicholas Murray Butler's estimate that for the money spent on the World War every family in ten countries could have had a $2,500 house, $1,000 worth of furniture, several acres of land [and so on]. 'Isn't it dreadful?' said Deanna. 'Not so much the money, as the millions of people killed.'" Ten years ago such a statement would not have added to the glamour of a youthful star, but at least it is safely away from present conflicts.

That last line is quite the understated zinger. (Here is Time's 1939 review of the book.)

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