Arletty and Jean Harlow : a comparative analysis of two film stars of the 1930s
Pullar, Ellen Maree
Stardom is an important mechanism through which both national identity and gender norms are articulated. By adopting a comparative approach, this thesis investigates the intersections between film stardom, femininity and nationality in two different national contexts: 1930s France and 1930s America. Focusing on two particular case studies, Arletty (1898-1992) and Jean Harlow (1911-1937), I aim to explore the ways in which these two stars were cast in relation to the contemporaneous modem woman type. These two case studies reinforce the argument put forward by The Modem Girl Around the World Research Group that the modem woman cultural trope of the interwar era was not a purely American phenomenon but, rather, a type that appeared prominently and simultaneously in many different cultures and which had common features globally. Arletty and Harlow were both aligned with attributes associated with the modem woman type in their films and promotional texts. The star texts produced for both stars tended to locate their "modernness" in terms of their sexualities and their relationship to fashion and consumer culture. In Arletty's case, however, her status as a modem woman was also intertwined with intellectual curiosity and an independent lifestyle. Taking into consideration the representations of Harlow and Arletty across a range of texts (including films, promotional portraits, film stills, fan magazine features, newspaper articles and press kits), this project teases out the complexities of the modem woman trope in both the American and French contexts. The modem woman, a figure which called into question previously accepted gender norms, had tremendous potential to inspire, excite, scandalize and titillate. I investigate the ways in which Arletty and Harlow's personae incited all of these reactions by exploring the attempts of the French and Hollywood classical film industries to both celebrate and contain these two modem women. As well as being cast as modem women, the personae of both stars were also shaped in relation to specific ideals of nationality. As I shall explain, their embodiments of national ideals of femininity both support and contradict their status as modern women. In focusing upon two stars who emerged out of two different cultural and industry contexts, while also taking into account the specificity of the historical moment as a significant factor in shaping star personae, I hope to present a nuanced description of the functions and meaning of film stardom.
Advisor: Moine, Raphaelle; Radner, Hilary; Cooper, Annabel
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Film, Media and Communication
Publisher: University of Otago
Research Type: Thesis