Posted by vp19 on 2012.11.15 at 08:45
Current mood: nostalgic
This sleek Otto Dyar portrait of Carole Lombard ran on page 33 of the March 1932 issue of Picture Play, some 13 pages after the beginning of an article in which she was one of 40 Hollywood players (“representative stars, chosen from every studio,” author Ben Maddox noted) polled regarding who was the industry’s best actor and actress.
It’s a fascinating snapshot of the Hollywood mindset in early 1932, when it was still trying to sort itself out from the upheaval talking pictures had caused several years back. If you know what moviemaking was like at this point of time, some of the results should come as no surprise, while others may throw you for a loop.
That Greta Garbo was selected top actress, with nearly twice as many as runnerup Norma Shearer, should come as no surprise; her recent triumphs laid to rest any fears that her transcendent qualities wouldn’t translate to talkies. What is surprising is that, according to Maddox, all her votes came from women — and it wasn’t studio bias, either, as Joan Crawford was the only MGM player polled to mention her. There was a four-way tie for third among Ruth Chatterton, Crawford, Marie Dressler and Ann Harding.
The voting for top actor is a bit confounding to our eyes, as honors were shared by George Arliss and Emil Jannings, both of whom in retrospect had seen better days. But their earlier performances were so well-received that each was considered a “distinguished actor,” an aura that endured in the early months of 1932. Six men, all whose stars were in the ascendant, tied for third — John Barrymore, Ronald Colman, Gary Cooper, Jackie Cooper, Fredric March and William Powell.
Lombard selected Powell, her husband at the time…but so did Constance Bennett, who had never acted with him. While Connie compliments Colman — “The audience feels and is swayed by his shadow presence to a greater degree than by any other male star” — she called Powell “possessor of the greatest real histrionic ability.” Such comments didn’t help Bennett some four years later, when he insisted to Universal officials that ex-wife Carole, not the flighty Constance, be his female lead in “My Man Godfrey.” (Powell and Richard Barthelmess, close friends, named each other in this survey.)
Lombard’s top female star was none other than Mary Pickford, whom she had worked with in 1927 in “My Best Girl,” where Carole had a small, uncredited part. (Pickford and co-star Buddy Rogers are shown above.) Some years later, Lombard publicly expressed admiration for Mary, not just for her acting ability, but her success as a businesswoman (http://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/488815.html).
What’s interesting about this survey is not only who was chosen, but who wasn’t. Gloria Swanson received no votes, even though she had made a successful transition to talkies; ’20s mainstays Lillian Gish and Norma Talmadge were also blanked. Marlene Dietrich had all of one vote. And while Arliss and Jannings led the actors, and newcomer Jackie Cooper tied for third, two other men who had come to the fore in 1931, each signaling a new, more realistic acting style, were not named — Clark Gable and James Cagney. (This March ’32 issue of Picture Play ran a laudatory feature on Cagney.) Heck, Maddox didn’t even list them among actors not receiving votes, though he did name Lew Ayres, Charles Farrell, William Haines and Buddy Rogers, among others.
Lombard, still an up-and-coming star, received no votes, either…though one might wonder why in light of the caption for the photo of her we ran at the top:
Lombard was initially announced as the leading lady in “Sky Bride,” a tale of barnstorming pilots starring Richard Arlen and Jack Oakie; when it hit theaters in late April 1932, the role was played by Carole’s cohort in “Safety In Numbers,” Virginia Bruce.