Noir Nook: Noir Femmes in the Fan Mags
At last year’s Turner Classic Movies Film Festival, one of the special presentations was entitled “Celebrity Culture and Hollywood Love Stories.” Hosted by David Pierce, Assistant Chief of the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center at the Library of Congress, and featuring actress Diane Baker, the event focused on the movie magazines that were so popular and influential during Hollywood’s Golden Age. According to Pierce, there were more than 20 national fan magazines during the 1930s alone.
I was especially interested in this presentation because I’ve always loved fan magazines and I’ve collected them for years. I also have a book entitled Hollywood and the Great Fan Magazines, which reprints numerous articles that appeared in the fan magazines of the 1930s. Even though the classic film noir period had not yet started, this book serves up a number of stories about the noir veterans who were about to step into the shadows in the coming decade. The information in the fan magazines had to be taken with a huge grain of salt (sometimes a few cupfuls!), but the articles were nonetheless both entertaining and fascinating – especially in retrospect! This month’s Noir Nook takes a look at some of my favorite fan magazine stories on the future stars of noir.
Noir Pedigree: Although she’s probably best known for her Oscar-winning turn in The Farmer’s Daughter (1947), Young starred in three film noir features during the 1940s and 1950s: The Stranger (1946), where she plays a small-town wife who discovers that her husband (Orson Welles) is a Nazi war criminal; The Accused (1949), as a schoolteacher who accidentally kills a student who tries to molest her; and Cause For Alarm! (1951), where she’s once again a housewife, this time one who frantically tries to track down a letter written by her delusional spouse in which he accuses her of trying to kill him.
Fan Magazine Feature: Young is featured in a Motion Picture magazine article, “Career Comes First with Loretta,” which actually doesn’t talk about her choosing her career over her private life. Instead, it muses about her certain marriage to director Eddie Sutherland (they never married) and her unique personality traits – including the fact that she’s a “homey gal” who doesn’t even have a personal maid and makes her own bed! Author Dan Camp also shares that Young’s dominant trait is her penchant for kindness (“She cannot bear to hear of anyone’s hurt”) – and that she’s also highly disciplined, mentally acquisitive, and a huge movie fan – her favorites included Greta Garbo and Katharine Hepburn.
Noir Pedigree: Stanwyck, of course, starred in my favorite film noir, Double Indemnity (1944), as the ruthlessly murderous Phyllis Dietrichson, who teams with her lover to murder her spouse and collect a sizable insurance payout. She was also in at least eight other noirs; my favorites are The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946), where she plays the title role; and Crime of Passion (1956), in which she stars as a newspaper reporter-turned-bored housewife, whose effort to further her husband’s career leads to murder.
Fan Magazine Feature: In Motion Picture magazine’s “The Truth Behind the Stanwyck Court Case,” author Joan Bonner gives some pretty juicy tidbits about Stanwyck’s fight for custody of her son, Dion, whom she adopted in 1932 with then-husband Frank Fay. According to the article, she stopped allowing Dion to see Fay because each time she did, the little boy would come home “so ill that a doctor had to be called.” (With hanky-wringing pathos, the article quotes Stanwyck: “I can’t let him be a little emotional football tossed about this way and that. I can’t!”) Stanwyck wound up gaining custody of Dion but, ironically, the two were estranged when her son grew up and Dion never had anything good to say about his famous mother.
Noir Pedigree: Born into a famous acting family (her older sister was MGM star Constance Bennett), Joan Bennett started her film career as a coquettish blonde, but when she became a brunette, she was transformed into the perfect noir femme. She starred in one of the first-rate Scarlet Street (1945), as a duplicitous dame who encourages the affections of an unhappily married man, leading to a none-too-happy end for them both. She’s also memorable in Woman in the Window (1944), where she’s seen with her Scarlet Street co-stars Edward G. Robinson and Dan Duryea; Hollow Triumph (1948), where her disillusioned doctor’s secretary delivers this memorable line: “It’s a bitter little world full of sad surprises, and you don’t go around letting people hurt you.” And before taking on the role of Elizabeth Taylor’s mother in Father of the Bride and Father’s Little Dividend, she starred in The Reckless Moment (1949), as a woman who will do anything to protect her daughter.
Fan Magazine Feature: In “Joan Denounces Hollywood Gossip,” Screen Book writer Muriel Babcock spends an entire article reporting that Bennett is happily married to husband Gene Markey, in an attempt to, in Bennett’s words, “stop malicious and spiteful rumors that are disseminated by people who apparently enjoy scurrilous gossip and untruths.” The article was accompanied by an effusive retraction by the magazine which, in an earlier issue, had suggested that both Joan and her sister could be facing divorce. The retraction noted the magazine’s “exceeding regrets” and “spirit of repentance,” and goes on to gush: “We have never meant to inure of harm the great Bennetts. We have always and now have great affection and admiration for them, and wish them well in all their undertakings.” Ironically, Bennett and Markey did wind up divorcing – Markey went on to marry actress Hedy Lamarr, and Bennett married producer Walter Wanger (who was jailed after he shot Bennett’s agent, with whom she was reportedly having an affair . . . but that’s another story for another day).
If you haven’t picked up a movie magazine lately, do yourself a favor and track one down. They’re a scream!
– Karen Burroughs Hannsberry for Classic Movie Hub
Karen Burroughs Hannsberry is the author of the Shadows and Satin blog, which focuses on movies and performers from the film noir and pre-Code eras, and the editor-in-chief of The Dark Pages, a bimonthly newsletter devoted to all things film noir. Karen is also the author of two books on film noir – Femme Noir: The Bad Girls of Film and Bad Boys: The Actors of Film Noir. You can follow Karen on Twitter at @TheDarkPages.
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