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The Star Machine [Kindle Edition]

Jeanine Basinger
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $18.95
Kindle Price: $12.79
You Save: $6.16 (33%)
Sold by: Random House LLC


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Book Description

From one of our most distinguished film scholars, comes a rich, penetrating, amusing book about the golden age of movies and how the studios worked to manufacture stars.

With revelatory insights and delightful asides, Jeanine Basinger shows us how the studio “star machine” worked when it worked, how it failed when it didn't, and how irrelevant it could sometimes be. She gives us case studies focusing on big stars groomed into the system: the “awesomely beautiful” (and disillusioned) Tyrone Power; the seductive, disobedient Lana Turner; and a dazzling cast of others. She anatomizes their careers, showing how their fame happened, and what happened to them as a result. Deeply engrossing, full of energy, wit, and wisdom, The Star Machine is destined to become an classic of the film canon.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews


“Startling. . . . An enormous new book of star lore . . . Basinger nestles with almost delicious comfort into the intimate procedures of star manufacture.”
The New Yorker

“Luxurious, often delicious. . . . Ms. Basinger tells her story with her customary verve and sass-she's the Rosalind Russell of film historians.”
The New York Observer

“Entertaining and informative. . . . [Basinger], whose enthusiasm for movies is reflected on every page, has a deft way of encapsulating the kernel of an actor's attraction.”
Chicago Sun-Times

“Engaging. . . . Smart, deeply researched but also chatty and fast-flowing. . . . Basinger's study of the studios' relentless spin control makes an instructive prism through which to view long skeins of Hollywood film history.”
Los Angeles Times

From the Trade Paperback edition.

About the Author

Jeanine Basinger is the chair of film studies at Wesleyan University and the curator of the cinema archives there. She has written nine other books on film, including A Woman's View: How Hollywood Spoke to Women 1930–1960; Silent Stars, winner of the William K. Everson Award for Film History; The World War II Combat Film: Anatomy of a Genre; and American Cinema: 100 Years of Filmmaking, the companion book for a ten-part PBS series. She lives with her husband in Middletown, Connecticut.

Product Details

  • File Size: 9827 KB
  • Print Length: 586 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1 edition (December 10, 2008)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #528,458 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
77 of 92 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A great disappointment March 19, 2008
I purchased this book because it billed itself as a a look at how "the studios worked to manufacture star actors and actresses" and the description said it would "become an invaluable part of the film canon."

Wrong, and wrong again. It is a collection of biographies, based on information that appears to come from other books and fan magazines, plus a liberal serving of the author's own opinions. She seems to have had no access to unpublished information. The biographies are mostly long lists of the films in which the stars appear, punctuated with commentary from the author's viewings of these films, but very little insider knowledge of how the human beings who became those stars were "remade" by the studio or "made" themselves. Here's an example in her section on Loretta Young:

"She studied every aspect of filmmaking, asking serious questions about lighting and camera angles, making herself the master of her own makeup and costuming."

That's very general information I probably could have found on Wikipedia or in any biography of Young. How, exactly, did she influence her makeup and costuming - could we have some examples? Aren't there any details available about how she worked with the lighting and camera crews to get a certain effect? I wanted the author to show, not tell, how Young used her demands to manage her performance or the film as a whole, and how the studio reacted.

Another irritant is that Basinger has a huge crush on matinee idol Tyrone Power, who died in 1958, and in addition to a long section about his career, she compares everyone else to him. A few sample quotes (there were many more): "Robert Taylor, Metro's most beautiful hero (was) their answer to Fox's Tyrone Power.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
The Star Machine by Jeanine Basinger tells the story of how Hollywood movie studios produced stars from the 1930s through the 1950s by running them through a machine of sorts. Stars were assigned a type: star, character, or supporting, and then placed in movies that fit their type. Names were changed, teeth capped, hair cut, bodies shaped, biographies written, articles planted in the papers, and stars were born. I cannot gush enough about this book. Basinger fills it with over 200 photos of the stars that capture the era with their soft lighting and fabulous fashions. She picks specific stars and follows their journey through the star machine to show how it succeeded and how it just as often failed. She also uses stories of stars who broke the mold and made the machine unnecessary. The book feels decadent, like a box of good chocolate or fluffy slippers. But the way Basinger talks about movies is anything but fluffy. She's the chair of film studies at Wesleyan University, and reading the way she describes films, I would absolutely pay money to hear her teach a class on the subject. She gives even the flimsy, frothy comedies of the 1930s depth by discussing how a character is developed before they even walk onscreen. This is a book that demands a class or TV special filled with clips. I discovered stars I'd never heard of and fell back in love with long time favorites. My too see list has expanded exponentially.Two small notes: Johnny Depp's singing was dubbed in CryBaby, but he's proven he can sing since in Sweeney Todd. And, why the hatred toward Abbot and Costello? They are two of my family's favorites! Those points aside, if you are a fan of old movies, this is a must read. Charmingly written with insight and witty asides, Basinger's love for film shines on every page.
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26 of 30 people found the following review helpful
The Star Machine operated in Hollywood during the Golden Age of American Cinema for a little over 30 years. With the introduction of sound
recording, technological wizadry and a focus on the "star" among the public the major studios carefully groomed men and women for stardom.
The process took raw talent as well as theatre professionals through the wringer of a seven year contract; appearing in B films and moving through the hoops to appear in major roles in important movies. Not everyone, of course, made it or were happy when they were on the top of the motion picture ladder. Nevertheless, MGM, RKO, 20th Century-Fox, Columbia, Warner Brothers, Paramount, Universal and the minor studies continued to produce about 450 movies per year at the height of the golden age. MGM was the best studio with excellent cameramen, directors, producers, makeup artists and set designers to produce lavish entertainment for the millions who made movie attendance a two or three trip event during the 30s and 40s.
Basinger delves into detail on how the stars were selected, groomed and functioned within the system. Some people like Joan Blondell and Norma Shearer who married Irving Thalberg the MGM boy boss-wizard did well.
Others became disillusioned as did the good actor Tyrone Power who was typecast as a romantic/adventure hero. Deanna Durbin the musical teen walked away forever in 1948 disgusted by the business as did the reclusive Jean Arthur. Errol Flynn and the wild Lana Turner were disobedient and raised all kinds of hell without the approval of studio bosses. One of the most fascinating tales she spins is that of Eleanor Powell an average looking girl who was a great dancer.
Basinger tells these people's interesting stories while we learn about how and why movies succeed.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
A great read....I love all kinds of history about the cinema.
Published 8 days ago by Michael F. Fleming
4.0 out of 5 stars lively, fun & informative
like all Basinger books, positively stuffed with info, this one on the old Hollywood studio system and how it sucked in, chewed up and spit out the "stars" it... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Zangiku
5.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting and engaging
Gift for my son for Christmas. He studies film and film history. From the very beginning of the book, he was engaged and found it very interesting. Read more
Published 5 months ago by #!!(!31191
4.0 out of 5 stars insightful
It is insightful into the personal lives of the stars and movie backgrounds; however, the writing style is a bit bland.
Published 8 months ago by William
3.0 out of 5 stars Rather dry.
The impression mainly from this book is the author has a crush on Tyrone Power. Everything else seems to be dealt with superficially. I skip read this book. Read more
Published 14 months ago by lovehollywood
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book!
If you are a fan of Hollywood history and enjoy well written biographical pieces, this is a wonderful book. Ms. Read more
Published 16 months ago by L. C. Lewis
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
I agree with reviewer Copenhagen Girl--check out her very perceptive review! This book is an easy read about a very interesting topic but I have some knowledge in Hollywood history... Read more
Published 19 months ago by SLK
1.0 out of 5 stars A waste of time and effort
I found this at a rummage sale for $1.00 and since I love stories about the old Hollywood I picked it up with much anticipation, boy was I wrong. Read more
Published 19 months ago by J. Carey
5.0 out of 5 stars "Geef Me Dat Cobra Jool!"
Jeanine Basinger's hilarious and affectionate sketch of Maria Montez, star of Cobra Woman, is alone worth the price of this book: "It's one thing to become a popular movie star... Read more
Published 19 months ago by D.J. Stroud
4.0 out of 5 stars A good book, well-written...with some flaws...
At least, flaws for my personal taste...
I think JB does an excellent job showing how the system worked, grooming actors from the very start thru minor roles, then moving them... Read more
Published on May 5, 2012 by Cbryce
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