Historical figures, political figures and sports figures are often the subject of film biographies. But occasionally Hollywood makes films about film stars. And it started long before Mommy Dearest.
You can go all the way back to early silents to discover that filmmakers were always fascinated by the story of STARS. In 1914 the Brits made Grimaldi, a silent film (based on an 19th century play no less) about the famous Italian actor Joseph Grimaldi. The Americans made David Garrick in 1916, starring Dustin Farnum, directed by Frank Lloyd, about the famous British actor.
The list goes on, but let’s skip to 1940 when Warner Brothers released Lady With Red Hair. It starred Miriam Hopkins as the 19th century stage star, Mrs. Leslie Carter and Claude Rains as theatre impresario, David Belasco. It’s not a great film, but worth seeing for Rains’ performance.
The first really commercial movie about a famous movie star was probably The Perils of Pauline, a Betty Hutton hit in 1947 which costarred her with John Lund. It was a very fictionalized account of the life of silent screen superstar Pearl White.
Each week from 1914 to the early 20’s Pearl White’s serials lit up the screens of the world. White starred in dozens of serials, but the one most remembered was The Perils of Pauline. Paramount insured the Hutton film’s success by capitalizing not only on the stars’ names, but with the film’s title. Remember it had only been 25 years since film fans had seen the original serials. Again, this 1947 musical is not a great film, but fun to watch.
Remember too that we said it’s a very fictionalized account. We’re going to discover that every film about a movie star shares that trait. If you’re looking for the truth you might have to read a biography. But if you’re looking for entertainment, stay tuned. Later this week we’ll look at the hits (and misses) of the 1950s Movie Star Movies.