Happy Birthday to Classic Movie Legend, Claudette Colbert, born on September 13th, 1903!
The realm of Classic Hollywood sometimes gets a bad rap for being a place rife with misogyny. And, of course, these criticisms are not without merit. I think we can all agree that the seats of power in all of America at the time were pretty much boys clubs. Despite the trend, however, no one can deny the number of powerful, strong women that graced the silver screen in Classic era of cinema. From Bette Davis to Katharine Hepburn, from Marlene Dietrich to Olivia de Havilland, Classic Hollywood is full of women who took control of their careers, doing it their way even if cost them their lucrative contracts or public adoration. And today, I would like to focus on one such woman: birthday girl Claudette Colbert.
What I have always admired about Colbert was how she was able to maintain such control over her image. From the way she put herself together in the morning to how she dictated the strands of illumination that fell on her face, every single part of her image was carefully controlled and artfully crafted by no one other than Miss Colbert herself. Her keen sense of aesthetic awareness came from her childhood love of the arts. In fact, before catching the acting bug sometime in her late teens, Colbert’s aspirations were in the visual arts and not in performing. Trained primarily in painting, Colbert understood how light, shadow, and composition has an overall affect on the mood of a frame, the tone of a scene and how those together help craft an actor’s performance. So when Colbert entered the Hollywood stage, she made sure everyone around her knew exactly how she wanted to be portrayed.
Colbert would spend years working her way up the Hollywood hierarchy, learning the subtle nuisances of acting and cinematography along the way. By the time she became one of Hollywood’s top stars in the mid-1930s, she wanted, and more importantly GOT, complete control of her own image. While most starlets were more than happy to let the elites of Hollywood create their physical image via hair and make-up, Colbert would dictate exactly how she wanted to appear on camera, never letting go of her trademark bangs that would become so monumental to her now iconic image. She would also show up to the set and analyze the lights, often refusing to let the cameras start rolling until she was sure everything was lit to her advantage. Heck, she even had sets built around the fact that she would only be photographed from her left side! She also had the power to hire her own camera and lighting men for her projects, ensuring she would maintain a constant and familiar image of excellence in all her films.
So, let us raise of glasses and enjoy a birthday toast to one of Hollywood’s most willful and strong women: Miss Claudette Colbert.
Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub