I am here today to join Rick from Classic Movie and TV Cafe in celebration of National Classic Movie Day on May 16. This year Rick is hosting the Five Stars Blogathon, the third installment of the event in hopes of encouraging people to #PayClassicsForward in any way they can. Check out this terrific video he put together to commemorate the special day.
The task at hand is to name five favorite movie stars. I’m sure you can imagine how difficult a task this is for anyone who has loved stars and movies for his/her entire life. Now, before I name names I think it’s important to note that I take these challenges seriously and they never fail to reveal something about me – even to me. For instance, I always go back to my childhood and think of connections I made to movies and the people in them. Those connections are alive in me today and shaped my movie-watching life irrevocably. I remember clearly the first time I saw certain movies or certain people, how I was fascinated by them and the fact that they didn’t look or sound like anyone else I saw or heard in life. Despite having a loving home and great friends, I loved to escape into the movies and still do. So there are many movie stars I feel a connection to for various reasons, but the five I chose to spotlight here are special to me. I’ll try to explain why for each, but first let me explain how I came to choose them.
Last year Rick asked participating blogs to put together a list of the five movies they’d take to a deserted island. That caused a traffic jam in my head for many days, but I was able to pull it together just in time. This year a similar conundrum surfaced right off the bat, but I narrowed my list considerably thanks to Rick’s including the following sentence in his blogathon introduction, “we will shine the spotlight on those actors and actresses that made the Golden Days of Hollywood glitter brightly.” Why did that clear things up for me? Well, because in my fevered head there is an actual cabinet wherein the memories of golden age stars reside in specific, categorized folders. And I came to that realization without therapy, mind you.
The folders are arranged by major category like actor and director with sub-categories in each. As I contemplated the five stars from the actors folder I realized that there is a sub folder for movie stars in which not all actors are placed. In other words, all movie stars are actors, but not all actors are movie stars. Now all I had to do was look in the movie star sub-folder and spotlight the names of those placed there, which are the ones that glittered brightest. Does any of this make sense? Anyway, these movie stars were not necessarily the most talented although they certainly could be. What they had that the actors didn’t necessarily possess were names and images that unto themselves evoke Hollywood – to me. And they are – a supremely talented girl next door, the everyman working-class guy that warms your heart, the icon who could do farce, the ultimate movie star and the pin-up queen.
A supremely talented girl next door:
The girl next door who in song after song, movie after movie, year after year wowed me with her talent. At the height of Judy Garland’s amazing career you can find an endless array of genius performances each more affecting than the last – regardless of the movie. Most people recognize the extraordinary gift of her voice, which came from heaven knows where, but the voice was only part of it. It was her interpretation of the songs that make them pockets of brilliance as part of her characterization. Judy was a wonderful actress, which she doesn’t get much credit for. I am lucky to have recognized this talent at an early age and now know that Judy Garland was the greatest entertainer of the 20th Century. On stage and in the movies. I still imagine – on occasion – she lives next door to me.
The everyman working-class guy that warms your heart:
This choice is my meat and potatoes star. In my mind James Stewart is a working actor to be admired for the numerous characters many of us want to spend time with. People like George Bailey, Jefferson Smith, Mr. Hobbs, Macauley Connor, Elwood P. Dowd, Paul Biegler and even L. B. Jeffries. I’ve never associated James Stewart with the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, but for dependability and honesty I’d turn to no one else. This choice for the work ethic my father instilled in me, for the belief that regular folks can achieve greatness and that quirkiness is a trait to be admired. All of that I got from watching Jimmy Stewart in movies.
The icon who do farce:
I’ve blogged about Cary Grant so much that it feels obsessive to include him on this list , but how could I not?
Cary Grant possessed all of the qualities needed to cause a severe elevation in heat in any red-blooded human. The fact that he was so varied a performer, so gifted in various aspects and genres of entertainment is icing. Mr. Grant could do it all and he could do it all believably and with style. He parodied himself and became an icon doing it. There simply is no Hollywood for me without him. This choice is for all the possibilities in just one man.
The ultimate movie star:
What you get when you watch Joan Crawford is glamour and grit. I think Joan’s reputation of being “the ultimate movie star” comes from her absolute drive to reach the top at any cost. That’s admirable in a world where people are all too often cast aside to be replaced by the latest, prettiest thing. The recent series, Feud: Bette and Joan highlighted Joan’s later years in Hollywood as she struggled to remain a working actress well past when most women disappeared from the public eye. Although I enjoyed the series it bothered me that people who might not know Joan Crawford’s entire career would think only of a troubled ex-star when her name is mentioned when in truth Joan Crawford means movie star. From engenue to Queen of Hollywood to fashion influencer to serious actress – all with the grace and fortitude of a true survivor – that’s Joan Crawford, the one who exemplifies why I adore those letters on a hill in Hollywood.
The pin-up queen:
When I was a kid Judy, Cary, Jimmy and Joan were just regular people who I saw in movies. What they portrayed, I mean. They were people I connected with in stories I understood and sometimes wanted to be a part of. But, Betty Grable…well, she was something else altogether. I mean, only the biggest star in the world could wear dresses and sport hairstyles that looked like cake!
I was later to learn that (by all accounts) Betty Grable was as down to Earth as movie stars could be. She was generous and never took the movie thing quite so seriously. A lot of that comes across in her movies, which are pieces of fluffy delight. Grable movies don’t teach lessons overtly, yet I learned valuable things from this pin-up queen who you just can’t help but admire. Of those the most important thing I took away is a belief in songs with invisible orchestras. That’s the musical version of suspension of disbelief, which is critical to the enjoyment of movies and how they evoke beloved memories. It’s a truly wonderful gift Grable gave me and I love her for it – not to mention the fact that the mere mention of her name evokes my favorite era in media history.