Who were the big stars of the silver screen 70 years ago?
We thought looking at old newspapers of the day and checking which stars were featured n the advertisements would be a good guide. We consulted The New York Times for August, 1945.
Wouldn’t the adverts for the films of that day give us a good understanding of star power?
Well, we thought so!
OK, on with our research: we asked, which ads featured the stars’ names above the title?
We found a few surprises here. But first the obvious. Tracy and Hepburn. Gregory Peck and Greer Garson. Danny Kaye, Van Johnson, Barbara Stanwyck and Dennis Morgan, John Wayne. Humphrey Bogart. Gary Cooper and Loretta Young.
But a closer reading of the ads showed that the most popular star of that summer in 1945 was — drumroll, please – Fred MacMurray.
He had three films in release: Practically Yours, an inane Norman Krasna comedy for Paramount that costarred Claudette Colbert and included Robert Benchley in a supporting role.
Then there was Where Do We Go From Here?, a musical fantasy about a 4F Joe pining to serve in the military. It was made for Fox (and playing at the Roxy) by director Gregory Ratoff, with the alluring Joan Leslie in a supporting part. The picture is today regarded as a quiet gem buried within the Fox vault.
And movie No. 3, Captain Eddie, the biopic costarring Charles Bickford and Lynn Bari of war hero Eddie Rickenbauer. (MacMurray’s long and prolific career spanned nearly 100 films,TV movies and tube series, notably My Three Sons.)
Another “star” of the era, billed above the title in the August’s ads was Arturo deCordova.
You ask, Arturo who?
Born Arturo Garcia Rodriguez in Mexico City, he became a big action star in Mexico before getting the summons to Hollywood to play Latin Lover roles. If you think of him as a low-rent Fernando Lamas, you wouldn’t be far off.
Anyway, de Cardova costarred with Betty Hutton in Incendiary Blond, a musical biopic of entertainer Texas Guinan, with a solid supporting cast including Charles Ruggles and Barry Fitzgerald. And, opposite Joan Fontaine in Frenchman’s Creek, he played a lusty French pirate to her proper British lady letting loose.
Note how the above photo of Arturo embracing Fontaine nicely conveys the sexual innuendo of the film itself. deCordova appears downright lecherous in this shot, and while Joan’s face has an angelic expression, her shoulder sweat implies something else.
The important point here is that Arturo was featured above the title with his leading ladies in ads for those two films, a longtime definition of star power. (Almost forgotten today, de Cordova had quite a career in the mid-40s Hollywood, and after he returned to Mexico, became a big star in South America and Spain.)
Like today, actors weren’t the only “names” used to woo people into the theaters. Certain producers and directors were known to the public and highlighted in film advertising. In the summer of 1945 moviegoers were invited to see Darryl F. Zanuck’s Wilson, Walt Disney’s animation classic Snow White, and Preston Sturges’ The Great Moment.
It’s fun and informative to read old newspapers. If one relies on books to learn history one has to trust the authors’ objectivity and integrity. If one reads accounts of the day for himself he sees what was happening at the time.