Twenty-First Century Books A Division of Henry Holt and Company, Inc.
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The Growth of Mass Media and Mass Culture
Movies Become an American Industry
It was between the beginning of World War I and the eve of World War II that modern America was born. American society went through major changes, not only in politics and economics, but also in the way people led their daily lives.
The Americans who elected Woodrow Wilson still thought of themselves as distant from their quarreling neighbors in Europe. And when U.S. soldiers were sent to France to fight in World War I, most Americans saw it merely as a temporary change in foreign policy. The troops would come home when the fighting stopped, many believed, and life would go back to normal.
The country that the soldiers returned to was just reaching the point where more people lived in cities than in rural areas. Statistically, people who lived in the country were just as likely not to have electricity as have it, and indoor plumbing was for many still a luxury. Washing machines and vacuum cleaners had still not appeared in large numbers, even in big cities.
When it came time to relax, Americans were more likely to play ball than go to a ballpark to watch a game. They were also more likely to play an instrument—especially a piano—or sing in groups, than listen to records. The phonograph, however, was rapidly becoming popular. Feature-length movies were new, as was the practice of following the careers and lives of particular “stars.”
Today, famous movie stars are usually in control of their careers. They know that their name on a film can often mean millions of extra tickets sold. The movie companies know it as well. But this wasn’t always the case.
By the mid-1920s, the movies—which were silent then—were wildly popular. Along with cheap newspapers and radio, they were the beginning of what today is called the mass media. The ideas and values expressed in films, even the fashions worn in them, reached into every corner of America and touched the lives of nearly everyone. There was almost no sizeable town that didn’t have at least one movie house. The big cities had many, some of which were called “palaces” because they were so fancy.
The movies were very much a business, with facilities for producing, distributing, advertising, and retailing their product. The movie stars were an important part of this product. Stardom on a national scale was a new thing. Live theater produced some famous names, but almost none got the attention that movie fan magazines paid to movie actors.
These stars were not just professional actors. They were “personalities” and celebrities, such as Mary Pickford (1893-1979), Douglas Fairbanks (1883-1939), and Lillian Gish (1893-1993). People wanted to know every detail of their lives. When few facts were available, fans imagined the rest.
The men who ran the movie studios knew how important this idea of stardom was. If there was not enough interesting information about the private life of a star, they might feel it necessary to “create” something, such as the “scandal” mentioned in the following selection. Scandal led to publicity and publicity meant more sales at the box office. Here were many of the public relations techniques developed by Edward Bernays in action.
The following account describes Lillian Gish’s dealings with MGM executives. At the time, Irving Thalberg (1899-1936) was chief of production at the studio, and “Mr. Mayer” was Louis B. Mayer (1885- 1957), vice-president and head of MGM. David W. Griffith (1875-1948), “Mr. Griffith,” was a movie director and worked with Lillian Gish.
Lillian Gish: A Screen Star Remembers
During my talks with Irving Thalberg over Anna Karenina I was suddenly sent for by Mr. Mayer, who had some papers for me to sign. I explained that I had promised my lawyer not to sign anything without his approval. Mr. Mayer grew angry and said I ought to trust him. He explained that he wanted to take me off salary until they had a story ready for me. I had gone off salary while I was in England, but since then there had been ample time for them to prepare a script for me.
“If you don’t do as I say, I can ruin you,” Mr. Mayer said.
It was the second time I had heard that threat. “I’m sure you can, but I gave my word,” I said. “I can’t break that; else how could you or anyone else ever trust me again?”
Irving spoke to me about renewing my contract. “We would like to have you stay with us,” he said, “but there is something we think would be wise to do.”
I knew Irving was my friend, so I listened.
“You see, you are way up there on a pedestal,” he explained, “and nobody cares. If you were knocked off the pedestal, everyone would care.” He added earnestly, “Let me arrange a scandal for you.”
I was startled. The irony of the suggestion made me want to laugh. What kind of scandal did Irving want to arrange? I wondered. A romantic scandal, I decided—but for what? To sell pictures? Had the public changed so much? All my life I had been taught to keep my name clean. Mr. Griffith had always maintained that one touch of scandal would finish you in pictures. What had happened to change this? And, after the scandal had died down, they would be obliged to dream up another. Could I be on stage constantly—with a prearranged scandal before the release of each new picture?
My answer was a decisive No.
I told Irving my decision, knowing that my days at M.G.M. were numbered.
Gish and Davis: Could the Two Work Together? – By Mike Kaplan (The New York Times – 1993) FILM; Gish and Davis: Could the Two Work Together? By Mike Kaplan The New York Times – April 18, 1993 When “The Whales of August” was filmed in 1986, the story of the relationship between two elderly sisters brought together two of the screen’s most enduring stars, Lillian Gish and Bette Davis. Miss Gish, who died Feb. 27 at the age of 99, will be remembered on Thursday at the Museum of Modern Art with a program called “In Memoriam.” It will include “The Whales of August,” her final film, directed by Lindsay Anderson, as well as her first, D. W. Griffith’s “Unseen Enemy” (1912). Here, Mike Kaplan, who co-produced “The Whales of August,” reflects on the interaction of its two stars. Bette Davis and Lillian Gish – The Whales of August, 1987 In the tributes to Lillian Gish that followed her death, references to her final starring role in “The Whales of August” were always glowing. B
The Movie Magazines and Lillian Gish … The moving Picture World 1914 detail The moving Picture World 1914 The moving Picture World 1914 detail Moving Picture World, November 21, 1914 Her Awakening – Lillian Gish The Angel of Contention Poster The moving Picture World – Mutual Program – A Question of Courage names wrong Lillian Gish And Dorothy The moving Picture World – Mutual Program – The Sisters The Birth of a Nation (David W. Griffith Corp., 1915). Herald2 Sold for Marriage Triangle Plays Program 1916 lillian_gish_photoplay_1917 08 ID Photo Back to Lillian Gish Home page Photoplay, August, 1918 – Dorothy and Lillian Gish in their dressing room Lillian Gish Photoplay August 1918 Lillian Gish Photoplay February 1919 Lillian Gish Photoplay, July, 1919 Back to Lillian Gish Home page Lillian Gish Photoplay October 1920 Orphans of The Storm Prog Herald 1921 Lillian Gish 1921 – The Girl Back Home Motion Picture Classic Magazine (Brewster, 1921) The Lily Maid from Ohio Ph
The War, the West, and the Wilderness – By Kevin Brownlow – 1979 (The Wind) The War, The West and the Wilderness By Kevin Brownlow – 1979 Alfred A. Knopf – New York Manufactured in the United States of America – First Edition THE WIND The wretched conditions of sand, wind, and drought that characterized the Sundown location were brilliantly evoked in bleak, Scandinavian style by Victor Seastrom in MGM’s The Wind (1927, released 1928). Although more of a psychological than a realistic study, and more impressionistic than documentary in its treatment, The Wind is filled with remarkably expressive detail. For an utterly unromantic view of life on the desert, this film is unequaled. The Wind – Lillian Gish (Letty Mason) Lillian Gish plays a delicate Virginia girl who comes to live with her cousin and finds the life intolerable. The wind howls symbolically around the tiny shack, until nerve ends are stretched to the breaking point. Even the children, usually a sentimental high point of a