Let's look at these publicity-related movies. Curiously, most of them are from the earlier part of the last century.
114 CREATIVE CAREERS IN HOLLYWOOD Hollywood Speaks (Columbia, 1932)
Gertrude Smith (Genevieve Tobin) is depressed. She has just attended a Hollywood premiere at the Chinese Theater. While standing outside of the theater, she fantasizes while placing her feet in the cement prints. In despair, she realizes that she'll never be a star. She is just about to poison herself when newspaperman Jimmy Reed (Pat O'Brien) stops her. Reed is a red-blooded, all-American guy-next-door type. Honest and trustworthy, out to get the truth. He learns of her depression and agrees to help her climb to fame.
Working in the media of the day, Reed is able to put Gertrude, now renamed Greta Swan, in touch with the right people. (He also falls in love with her along the way.) Her star rises fast. She is the talk of the town, embraced by directors and producers. Her first film is a success, but along with that success comes a scandal when the director's wife commits suicide and leaves a note stating that she killed herself because of Greta. Greta is blackmailed. At this point, the press takes control of Greta's all too short and tragic career and essentially kills it. Greta's star has fallen but she is saved when Jimmy marries her, having never stopped loving her.
Hollywood Speaks is obviously a product of the thirties. This is an example of how much power the press had. The press ruled as the audiences trusted its source and believed its stories outright. Although it is obvious to any contemporary viewer that Greta could have found ways to fight back, the screenwriters of Hollywood Speaks didn't give her many options. Here, the Hollywood publicity machine effectively kills her career to expunge a scandal; in later years, of course, the machine learned a much more sophisticated version of spin control.
Bombshell (MGM, 1933)
Sex goddess Jean Harlow blazes in this classic Hollywood movie. She is 100 percent movie star. Lola Burns (Harlow) is tired of all her sexy films and constant publicity. She strives to make a change in her life. She attempts to marry an individual who is later arrested by her press agent Space Hanlon (Lee Tracy). Her husband-to-be turns out to be an illegal alien. She then
Chapter 6: Press 115 wants to adopt a baby, but that scheme is thwarted when her father and brother come for a visit, and the adoption agency finds her crazy household unfit for a baby. She leaves for Palm Springs and falls in love with Gifford Middleton (Franchot Tone), a snob whose family doesn't like her. She returns to the studio only to learn that Middleton's family was hired by Hanlon to force Lola to return to Hollywood and get to work. She is furious but soon discovers that she is actually in love with Hanlon.
Although the plot seems muddled, there are moments of glamour and glitz in this film. Harlow's satin sheets and luxurious makeup fill the screen, making all of us nostalgic for an earlier, more innocent time in Hollywood history. The theme of having a man rescue the star from further unfortunate publicity is repeated as it was in Hollywood Speaks.
That makes two films from the thirties wherein the female leads are saved from the evil press by marriage.
Hollywood Hotel (Warner Bros., 1938) The famed director Busby Berkeley and star Dick Powell teamed together for the last of their eleven musicals. The story features saxophonist Henry Bowers (Powell), who plays with the Benny Goodman Orchestra. Bowers accompanies demanding star Mona Marshall (Lola Lane) to a Hollywood premiere after winning a talent contest and a contract with fictional All Star Pictures. Once he arrives in Tinseltown, he learns of a popular radio program titled Hollywood Hotel, which is hosted by columnist Louella Parsons. This movie is primarily a musical, as Bowers is thrown into madcap musical mischief. The show is just one big promotional piece for the town of Hollywood.
The famous song Hooray for Hollywood is played to death. The show within the movies is promoted as "The Rodeo of Radio, the Mardi Gras of Movieland." "It will turn Hollywood thrill side out, funny side up." Filmland will never be the same as Hollywood toots its own horn (quite literally) in this thirties musical classic. All these years later, it seems a little corny, but you have to hand it to them, they knew how to promote themselves. This end-of-an-era musical surely provides the last hurrah, as the entire film is
merely a vehicle to promote the Benny Goodman Orchestra, the hotel the film takes place in, and Hollywood itself. The lack of storyline and character development assures that the promotional aspect of the film is in the forefront. Busby just wanted to make sure the rest of the world knew Hollywood was alive and flourishing.
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