Abstracts ‘Stars’

We have broadly split the papers into those dealing with magazines, and those addressing stars.

The Stars papers LIVE Q and A will take place on Wednesday the 10th of February from 5-6pm GMT.

Please see our conference schedule for more details of our events: Conference Schedule – NoRMMA (normmanetwork.com)

To register for the conference, please email us on normma.network@gmail.com


Panel 5: Female classic stars in fan magazines

Lies Lanckman

Finding Norma: Contradiction and Compromise in Photoplay, August 1930

When conducting fan magazine research on a single star, we often tend to focus on the bigger picture; my own previous work on Norma Shearer, which has relied particularly on the offerings available via the Media History Digital Library, has incorporated a wide range of magazines, including key publications such as Photoplay, Picture Play, Screenland, Silver Screen, Motion Picture, The New Movie Magazine and others, across the almost two decades (1923-1942) spanning Shearer’s Hollywood career. This methodology has enabled me to investigate the creation of Shearer’s star persona in these magazines over the course of her public life.

This research strategy is a useful one for the star researcher, attempting to untangle the various threads through which Hollywood studios weaved a coherent star persona around a star’s life, her public biography, her films. At the same time, however, it is in essence an unnatural one; it is unlikely, after all, that a single fan (aside, perhaps, from the likes of the legendary Constance McCormick!) would have consumed these magazines in this manner – both broad in its scope and yet extremely targeted in terms of the star focused on.

While we cannot know for certain how individual fans chose to engage with fan magazines at this time, this paper will nonetheless investigate a slightly more credible reading strategy; focusing on one single issue of one single fan magazine, dating from a key year within Norma Shearer’s career (1930, the year she won her only Oscar and also gave birth to her first child), I will attempt to highlight how this issue essentially presented fans with a “star trail” for Shearer (Jeffers McDonald, 2013: 39), sketching a surprisingly complete yet also succinct image of her star persona as it would exist throughout the late 1920s and early 1930s. While the issue focuses not only on Shearer, and also contains a large number of items focusing on, for example, cover star Greta Garbo, I argue that the complexity and nuance connected to the items on Shearer nonetheless make this issue a seminal one specifically for the consolidation and reinforcement of her complex star persona.

Biographical note

Lies Lanckman is a Lecturer in Film at the University of Hertfordshire. She is the co-founder of NoRMMA, the Network of Research: Movies, Magazines, Audiences, and recently co-edited Star Attractions, an edited collection on methodologies for the study of movie fan magazines of the classic era. The main focus of her research is Hollywood history of the 1920s-1940s; particular research interests include stardom and fandom, fan magazines, issues of censorship, and the career of Norma Shearer.

Belinda Glynn

Introducing the Beautiful Girl from North Carolina: The Disruptive Development of the Stardom of Ava Gardner

At the age of 18, armed with a $50-a-week MGM contract, Ava Livinia Gardner moved from Smithfield, North Carolina to Los Angeles. Like many other starlets, she immediately began her studio’s development program, taking dancing, singing and acting classes as well as working on her elocution and as a glamour model in promotional cheesecake pin-ups. Within a year, she was regularly featured in fan magazines but, unlike other starlets, this was not because of her film performances. Instead, her rise to fame was due to her marriage to and divorce from Hollywood’s biggest star, Mickey Rooney, which was followed by a series of relationships with other high-profile men. Gardner’s rise to prominence through methods unrelated to film success disrupted Hollywood’s regular star-making process, particularly in relation to her fan magazine discourse.

Fan magazines played a vital role in the development of star personae. Situated at the intersection of industry and audience, fan magazines were part of the promotional artillery used by studios to introduce new actors to the public and build a presence for the actor outside of their film performances. This publicity was carefully calibrated to align the actors’ “real” life with their “reel” one, attempting to create a seamlessness between the actor and the roles they played. But, what happens to this coverage when there is no “reel” life with which to align the “real”? In this paper, I examine the fan magazine coverage of Ava Gardner leading up to her star-making role in The Killers (Robert Siodmak, 1946). I identify how, in the absence of a defined on-screen persona, the images of Gardner included in the fan magazine articles that mentioned her worked to align her with existing gendered Hollywood tropes, in particular the cheesecake glamour model and the movie-struck girl. I then look at how this alignment affected Gardner’s fan magazine discourse once she did become a star by exposing the process through which fan magazines contributed to the development of star personae. This resulted in an uneasy depiction of the agency of female stars in the development of their own stardom.

Biographical note

Belinda Glynn is a doctoral candidate a Monash University, Australia. Her research examines the agency and practices of negotiation of female stars from classical Hollywood.

Cathy Lomax

The Invisible Star: Dorothy Dandridge and Fan Magazines.

In 1954 Dorothy Dandridge’s career and her stardom were approaching their peak. After many years playing small roles on screen and performing on the nightclub circuit she was cast as the lead in Otto Preminger’s all-black musical Carmen Jones, a role that won her an Academy Award nomination. But while she was a familiar face to readers of the black targeted magazines such as Ebony and Jet, and appeared on the cover of the leading photo magazine, Life, in November 1954, she was ignored by the US fan magazines. In his biography of the star, Donald Bogle notes that with the release of Carmen Jones, Dandridge was featured in major mainstream publications like Cosmopolitan, Esquire and Look, however,

‘the movie magazines like Photoplay, Modern Screen and Motion Picture chose not to do features on her. Photoplay reviewed Carmen Jones and also included Dandridge and [Harry] Belafonte in its list to poll America’s favourite stars, but there were no glamorous photo layouts. No visits to the star’s home. No features detailing the star’s love life’ (313).

In this presentation I will focus on one issue of Photoplay from February 1955, which amongst the usual colourful content; a profile of Virginia Mayo, film stars in trousers and articles about Elizabeth Taylor’s marriage, Rory Calhoun’s handyman skills and Doris Day’s charm; has a one-page sponsored feature in black and white about Carmen Jones. Using a detailed analysis of the content of this issue I will outline the way that the US fan magazines of the mid-1950s, in an effort to maintain the status quo, screened their mostly female audience from any political issues, which by the very nature of her race Dandridge epitomised. The result of this invisibility for Dandridge was that the progress of her career was impeded and unhappily after only five further film appearances she prematurely faded away.

Biographical note

Cathy Lomax is a PhD student at Queen Mary University of London. Her research investigates the role of makeup and artifice in the creation of the Hollywood female star image. Publications include ‘Ghostly threads: Painting Marilyn Monroe’s white dresses’, Film, Fashion and Consumption, 2015 and ‘Inverted Reflections in a Silver Spoon: confused sexuality in Reflections in a Golden Eye’, Feast, 2016. Lomax is a practising artist, director of Transition Gallery, London and edits art and culture magazines Arty and Garageland. She won the Contemporary British Painting Prize, 2016 and was Abbey Painting Fellow at the British School at Rome, 2014.

Panel 6: Male classic stars in fan magazines

Gillian Kelly

Tyrone Power: International ‘Cover Boy’

Although the terms ‘cover girl’ and ‘poster boy’ have been used extensively in the media for several decades, Hollywood leading man Tyrone Power, celebrated for his exquisite male beauty, is the perfect candidate for film fan magazines’ quintessential ‘cover boy’. Power adorned the cover of numerous publications globally for over twenty years, starting as early as his first leading role in Lloyds of London in 1936 and extending until his untimely death in 1958, while his career was still active and thriving and his good looks remained evident. Power appeared either alone or with a female co-star on a vast number of US publications, including Photoplay, Motion Picture, Silver Screen, Screenland, Screen Romances, Movie Story and Hollywood. In Britain, he often featured on the cover of Picture Show and Picturegoer as well as other European and global publications, such as Confidenze, Ciné Revue, Tempo and Cine Illustrato.

On this cover images, Power is dressed either casually, in a more formal suit or a tuxedo, often in the romantic embrace of his current leading lady. Moreover, Power also appeared frequently within these magazines, with early articles focusing almost exclusively on his love life, especially rumoured romances with actresses Janet Gaynor, Loretta Young and Sonja Henie. After he married French actress Annabella, fan magazines began exploring the Powers’ domesticity before reporting on Power’s active war duty during World War II. Power divorced Annabella shortly after returning from war, and when he started dating again, fan magazines reverted to stories about his bachelorhood, with detailed coverage of his highest-profile romance, with actress Lana Turner, before he married Mexican actress Linda Christian. When their daughters were born, magazine articles again changed in order to reflect Power’s new role as breadwinner before his early death in 1958, aged just 44 years old.

This paper explores Power’s continued presence in fan magazines across his career, and the somewhat surprising abundance of magazine covers that he graced at a time when most cover stars were women or depicted romantic on-screen couples, thereby making Tyrone Power the ultimate ‘cover boy’ of his generation.

Biographical note

Gillian Kelly earned a PhD from the University of Glasgow in 2015, and her areas of academic interests include classical Hollywood cinema and stardom with a strong focus on American masculinity. Her second monograph, Tyrone Power: Gender, Genre and Image in Classical Hollywood Cinema (Edinburgh University Press, 2021) will shortly be released as part of EUP’s International Film Stars series, while her first book, Robert Taylor: Male Beauty, Masculinity and Stardom in Hollywood (University Press of Mississippi, 2019) was shortlisted for the prestigious BAFTSS (British Association of Film, Television and Screen Studies) Award for Best Monograph in 2020. She has contributed to several journals including Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Celebrity Studies and Alphaville: Journal of Film and Screen Media and has chapters in the edited collections Lasting Screen Stars (Palgrave McMillan, 2016) and Exploring the Spiritual in Popular Music (Bloomsbury, 2021).

Lisa Hood

“One of the most controversial figures in Hollywood”: Victor Mature

Victor Mature had a film career which spanned from 1939 to 1984, covering roles in a wide range of genres, from hard-boiled films noirs such as Kiss Of Death (1947), to westerns like My Darling Clementine (1946), musicals including Million Dollar Mermaid (1952) and lavish Biblical epics such as Samson and Delilah (1949). Despite this versatility and an employability that saw him making 49 films in the twenty years between 1939 and 1959, by 1961 he had ceased consistent output. 

Even during the mid-1950s when his work still seemed to be flourishing, a Photoplay article cast doubt on Mature’s potential for career longevity. In ‘Tough Softie’ from January 1955, Beverly Ott took stock of the star’s career to date, intimating that it was all over for the actor, at the grand old age of 42. Ott ostensibly attempted to consider both sides of Mature’s purported reputation as either a ‘publicity hound’ or a ‘recluse’, using the publicity surrounding his divorce as evidence. The tone was set in the opening paragraph wherein Ott noted that he ‘was again making the front page. This time he wasn’t trying’. Ott’s slightly contemptuous manner is emphasised by the placement of the article at page 85, versus the front page Mature allegedly craved.

This paper will consider how the article’s layout and placement within the magazine supports Ott’s thesis. It will interrogate whether the article’s situation within the magazine, the selection of pictures, and whether they are colour or black and white, relates to Mature’s status in Hollywood. Comparisons will be drawn with other stars appearing in this issue including Rock Hudson and Marlon Brando, and also with issues of Photoplay from 1942, the point at which Mature’s magazine mentions peaked, according to the Media History Digital Library’s Arclight function. As this paper will show, Mature’s peaking seemed to come only three years into his career and was boosted by the star power of his female leads, in particular Betty Grable and Rita Hayworth. Even at the pinnacle of his career, then, Mature’s fame was perhaps only partial or by association.

Biographical note

Lisa Hood recently received her MA Film with Distinction from the University of Kent. She is currently preparing to commence her PhD research with a focus on film magazines.

Panel 3: Stars outside the Hollywood norm

Natalie Ngai

The Aesthetics of Cuteness in Fan Magazines during the Child Stars Era, 1925-1945

Who had the most cover art in fan magazines between the 1930s and the 1950s? Surprisingly, a little girl. Her name was Shirley Temple, the legendary child star who rose to stardom at six in 1934. As recorded in Anthony Slide’s Inside the Hollywood Fan Magazine, Shirley Temple graced about 140 covers during that period, including 15 from Modern Screen and 12 from Photoplay (Slide, p. 131). Shirley also beat out Clark Gable to become the star to whom the fan magazines had given the most space in 1935, as Variety reported (Slide, p.131). Child performers often play peripheral roles or serve as merely props in contemporary movies. Indeed, child stars were once box-office draws in silent films and talkies during “the child star era” (1925-1945), as termed by film historian Diana Serra Cary, who was also known as the former child star Baby Peggy. Child stars such as Baby Peggy, Jackie Coogan, and Shirley Temple played leading roles in the movies and became a widespread source of merchandising. The mainstream press, including fan magazines, widely covered these idols of both adults and children in that period.

As film historian Gaylyn Studlar put it, the fan magazine carefully balanced “the appeals of intimacy, sensationalism, and specularity, and protected the delicate sensibility of its female readership.” (Studlar, p. 28). Studlar argues that the fan magazine, which was accessible to many women and aimed at influencing their reception of Hollywood movies, was a neglected source for examining how women were positioned as viewers/readers/consumers.

Based on the understanding of the fan magazine as a site that encourages female reading, this presentation draws on cute theories and feminist film theories to examine the representation of child stars in fan magazines during the child star era. As literary theorist Sianne Ngai suggests, unlike beauty that celebrates the sublime, rare experience of art, cuteness as a “minor aesthetic category” foregrounds the everydayness of our aesthetic relation to the highly calculated advertising merchandise that is readily available to us (Ngai, pp. 53-109). Moreover, for the spectator of cute, their desire (“wanting to have”) for the cute was often conflated with identification (“wanting to be like”) with the cute, which is in line with Mary Ann Doane’s understanding of the experience of the female spectator. This presentation seeks to re-discover the prominence of cute aesthetics in the fan magazine, which was in part carefully crafted by the movie studio, and how it mobilized the female spectatorship through cuteness in the examples of child stars.

Eric Hoyt, the developer of the Media History Digital Library’s search engine Lantern, suggests that previous fan magazine studies have concentrated on a small number of canonical titles such as Photoplay and neglected many other publications (Hoyt, pp. 146-168). This presentation, therefore, will focus on the stardom of Baby Peggy, Jackie Coogan, and Shirley Temple and sample the relevant covers and articles across multiple fan magazines through Lantern.


Cary, Diana Serra. Hollywood’s children: An inside account of the child star era. Southern Methodist University Press, 1997.

Cary, Diana Serra. What Ever Happened to Baby Peggy?: The Autobiography of Hollywood’s Pioneer Child Star. St. Martin’s Press, 1996.

Doane, Mary Ann. “Film and the masquerade: Theorising the female spectator.” Screen 23.3-4 (1982): 74-88.

Doane, Mary Ann. The desire to desire. Vol. 27. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987.

Hoyt, Eric. “Lenses for lantern: Data mining, visualization, and excavating film history’s neglected sources.” Film History: An International Journal 26.2 (2014): 146-168.

Ngai, Sianne. “Our aesthetic categories: Zany, cute, interesting.” (2012).

Slide, Anthony. Inside the Hollywood Fan Magazine: A History of Star Makers, Fabricators, and Gossip Mongers. Univ. Press of Mississippi, 2010.

Studlar, Gaylyn.  “The Perils of Pleasure? Fan Magazine Discourse as Woman’s Commodified Culture in the 1920s.” Wide Angle 13.1 (1991): 6-33.

Biographical note

Tsz Lam Ngai, also known as Natalie Ngai, is a doctoral student in Communication and Media at the University of Michigan. Ngai obtained a Master of Philosophy in Multi-disciplinary Gender Studies from St. Edmund’s College, the University of Cambridge, where she held a full scholarship. Ngai’s research interests include feminist media studies and media history. She is working on her dissertation that examines the aesthetics and affects of cuteness of child stars in cinema and pet influencers on social media. Ngai’s reviews of books revolving around cuteness appear in Cultural Studies and Critical Studies in Media Communication. Her essay, “The Mother of a Famous Child: The Media Representation of Shirley Temple’s ‘Mother’ in Hollywood, 1934-1940,” will be published by Routledge in 2020 in the edited collection Media Work, Mothers and Motherhood: Negotiating the International Audio-Visual Industry.  

Dominic Topp

A Star Is Drawn: The Passion of Dora and Popular Cinephilia in Postwar French Movie Magazines

In April 1948, readers of the popular French movie magazine Ciné-Miroir were introduced to Dora Grey (née Denise Gillard), a 19-year-old fashion-house model who, following her discovery by producer Sokowksi and director Thomasset, was cast in their latest film, Murder at the Music-Hall, to be shot in the Paris studios of Osiris Films and on location in Cannes. Unlike other actresses who graced the pages of Ciné-Miroir, however, Dora Grey never actually existed. Or rather, she was the fictional protagonist of the comic strip (or “novel in images”) The Passion of Dora, Audacious Starlet, written by Gérard Héliotte and illustrated by “Gal”, which ran in the magazine for fifteen issues, alongside articles about the professional and private lives of (real?) movie stars, film reviews, illustrated short story adaptations of new releases and answers to readers’ questions.

This paper analyses the words and images of The Passion of Dora from several angles: as a genre-bending narrative that combines elements of backstage drama, workplace romance, adventure story and gangster film while incorporating some of the visual conventions of the cinema (close-ups, low-key lighting); as a pedagogical tool that takes readers behind the scenes to teach them about the mechanics of filmmaking (screen tests, tracking shots, dailies, actors hitting their marks and singing to playback); and as a self-reflexive explication of the apparatus of promotion and publicity by which film stars are manufactured and marketed, in which Ciné-Miroir itself is seen to play an active role (with the magazine’s pseudonymous columnist “Micky” appearing “as herself” in one episode). In line with recent scholarship on postwar French movie magazines, I argue that The Passion of Dora is an example of these mass-market publications’ cultivation of a “popular cinephilia” (or “ordinary connoisseurship”) among film fans prior to the advent of the “erudite cinephilia” associated with more highbrow magazines such as Cahiers du cinéma.

Biographical note

Dominic Topp is a Lecturer in Film at the University of Kent. He previously taught at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago. His current research focuses on the aesthetics of postwar French cinema. His writing on film has been published in Projections: The Journal for Movies and Mind and Significação: Revista de Cultura Audiovisual, and he has a chapter in the collection Mapping Movie Magazines: Digitization, Periodicals and Cinema History (2020). He received his PhD from the University of Kent in 2015 with a thesis on the political cinema of Jean-Luc Godard and the Dziga Vertov Group.  

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