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EL2055 Literature, Print and Society in Comparative Contexts Guide: Essay

A guide to library and learning resources for student of Literature, Print and Society in Comparative Contexts.

Example student essay

Glamour and Prestige: The Portrayal of Film Stars and Famous Authors in the Australian Women’s Weekly

       The 1920s and 1930s brought about an age of modernity, heralding in new technology and mass consumer culture. This consumer culture extended not only to the new exciting technologies such as film and cinema, but also to older forms of storytelling including the novel and short fiction. While consuming written and motion picture storylines, this rise of consumer culture also resulted in an interest in the actors and writers of this time. The celebrity became a new point of interest, whether a film star or a famous author, and this can be seen in the magazines of the day, especially the Australian Women’s Weekly. This essay will examine the glamorous portrayal of film celebrities, the use of film stars in advertising, the portrayal of glamour for short fiction authors, and the portrayal of prestige for famous authors. In the Australian Women’s Weekly from 1933 to 1938, film stars are portrayed in a very glamorous perspective that is highly based around physical beauty, whereas the authors are given a different kind of intellectual glamour and fame based on their written work.

       For this project I have chosen to focus on the Australian Women’s Weekly as it dedicates a number of pages to film stars, movies, books, short stories and famous authors. The Australian Women’s Weekly, edited by George Warnecke during this period (Auslit, Australian Women’s Weekly), is largely an entertainment and fashion magazine. All issues contain pieces on film celebrities and authors, so I chose to narrow my focus onto one September issue of the magazine in the years 1933, 1936 and 1938 to get a general perspective on any trends that recur throughout the magazine’s timeline. As suggested by the title of the magazine, the Australian Women’s Weekly is a magazine for Australian women, given by the Australian focus in the magazine, and fashion and entertainment articles are predominantly aimed for a female audience. During these years, the Australian Women’s Weekly was a popular weekly periodical selling “[o]ver 320,000 copies a week” (Australian Women’s Weekly, September 5, 1936. Cover), at the cheap price of 2 pence in 1933 and 3 pence in later years. From the pricing it can be assumed that its readership was that of a lower economic class, but the content within the magazines suggests a readership aspiring to be as glamorous as the wonderful celebrities in the pages. Most likely housewives or young women would be the magazine’s target audience as the majority of the magazine’s contents are aimed towards the interests and aspirations of these women. Each magazine contains pieces on fashion, current events, short fiction, celebrity news, and book chat. While each issue contains a combination of these, the later issues of the Australian Women’s Weekly created a segment specifically for movie stars and celebrities called ‘The Movie World’. This segment contains articles that relate to film celebrities and a multitude of glamorous celebrity photographs. As such, I drew upon this segment, but I also used the celebrity endorsed advertisements, the short fiction author introductions and book chat to investigate the representations of film stars and authors in relation to glamour and prestige.

1 "Claire Trevor".  Australian Women's Weekly. September 5, 1936: 34.  Web.

       In the Australian Women’s Weekly, film stars are portrayed in a highly glamorous way. This is consistent throughout the whole magazine; however, it is most notable in ‘The Movie World’ segment, which focuses specifically on film stars. The collection of articles about movie celebrities in the issues I looked at does not show any negative associations with these celebrities or the world of Hollywood, and instead draws attention onto their glamour. ‘The Movie World’ section of the magazine has a fairly even ratio of text to images, although the photographs can outweigh the text on the pages. The celebrities in these photographs look impeccable; there are no flaws on their skin, they’re dressed nicely and they’re posed elegantly, sometimes with a sexy smile to top it off. The composition of these photographs makes the celebrity appear to be a perfect embodiment of glamour, and they’re never portrayed as anything less. The more casual images are still artfully composed so that they show an elegant version of even the most casual of situations. Dyhouse states that the composition of the photographs in these magazines, the way “light plays across skin, satin, the surface of fur and hair… along with careful posing and retouching” is what gives the “well-known stills of screen goddesses their extraordinary seductiveness” (30). This can be seen in image 1. This is an example of how the images used in these magazines have been carefully modelled to make movie stars appear as glamorous as possible. The articles in ‘The Movie World’ are predominantly gossip pieces or articles about film celebrities. Here the focus is on recent events, such as what has been happening on the sets of recent movies, what film an actor has been in recently, where celebrities go for lunch; but what really blatantly suggests the glamour of the film star are articles directly about the lasting popularity and glamour of film stars. One example includes an article titled “Time stands still for these stars” which is about how “ten years in film have not marred [the actors’] beauty or dimmed their popularity with the fans” (McCleod, Australian Women’s Weekly September 3, 1938, 34). Another issue (September 5, 1936) has an article about what males think of male film stars, and in which one of the first lines of the article is “Great lovers of the screen, idolised by women. Heart-throb heroes adored the world over by the opposite sex” (Olivier 31). The staging of the photographs in these magazines, coupled with the near adoration from the magazine’s articles portrays these film stars in a highly glamorous light. Perhaps this is because the people reading this magazine wanted a part of this glamour and were able to do so by reading these articles, looking at these pictures, and using the products that the film celebrities used. This was encouraged in the magazine by the use of film stars in advertising.


       Some of the advertisements in the Australian Women’s Weekly use the glamour associated with celebrities to sell their product. Typically, in the Australian Women’s Weekly, film stars are used to aid with the advertising of beauty products, as they do in the Lux soap advertisement in the September 9, 1933 and September 5, 1936 issue. In the 1933 issue it states that “In Hollywood, the stars must keep youth. That is why nearly all the important screen stars choose Lux toilet soap - they know its supercreaming will guard their youth” (12). As Hollywood and film stars are strongly associated with glamour, beauty and youth, advertisers boast claims that it is their product that allows film stars to be as glamorous as they are. By claiming this association, it is possible the advertised product is endowed with the celebrity glamour, and also becomes more desirable as readers of the Australian Women’s Weekly aspire to share in the glamour of the celebrity. There are also articles in the September 9, 1933 and September 5, 1936 issues advertising teeth care by using celebrities to promote their message. In the 1933 issue it uses an image of smiling film stars and the caption “Note the evenly-placed, perfect teeth of lovely Nancy Carrol, of Paramount… and winsome Jean Parker, of Metro-Golwyn-Mayer - her pearly teeth have meant much to her success” (Australian Dental Association 20). Again they have used the glamour of the film star’s appearance to promote their point. The perfect beauty and the glamour of the film celebrities not only give the product more glamour and prestige, but these pictures also seem to prove that what is being said is actually true. Especially in the use of advertising, the glamour of the film star was highly accentuated. Matthews notes the crossover with celebrity images into other media was highly in line with the rise of mass consumer culture and that celebrities “suffused [advertisements] with romance and glamour” (7). This use of the film celebrity’s glamour to aid with the advertisement of beauty products only reinforced the glamorous perspective that the magazines portrayed of film stars. However, famous authors were displayed in quite a different way to the film celebrity.

       The Australian Women’s Weekly contains a handful of short fiction in every issue; however, the magazine infrequently speaks about the author, and when they do, they only talk of the more famous ones. The famous authors of the short fiction in the Australian Women’s Weekly are given small informative blurbs before their short stories. These information snippets are usually a couple sentences long and tell the reader little other than the level of fame that the author has. In the September 5, 1936 issue, there is a short story written by Alice Duer Miller, and at the start of her story, the Australian Women’s Weekly gives a quick description of the author, stating that she was “that rising star of literature” and a “famous author” (5). There is quite a striking difference between Miller’s description with that of the film celebrities, and it is quite notable that Miler’s description is highly based on her achievements in writing, not with her appearance. There are also no photographs of Miller to accompany the story; instead the magazine merely illustrated the story. The Australian Women’s Weekly does the same with Cosmo Hamilton in the September 9, 1933 issue, describing him as “the senior member of the world’s greatest literary family” (11), again lacking photographs of him and depicting his quality only in relation to writing. One possibility for this is that the editor of the magazine was attempting to promote it by boasting the prestige and prowess of their short fiction writers. However; these small author blurbs only accompanied the short fiction of famous authors, and the short fiction written by those who were not considered as famous were only given a by-line for their story. This portrayal of their short fiction writers seems quite different to the portrayal of film stars in the Australian Women’s Weekly, showing a difference in the portrayal of glamour. The famous authors of short fiction were shown in a more work oriented light and their physical glamour was more downplayed, while their intellectual glamour and talent for writing was emphasised. For famous authors spoken of in book chat in the magazine, this holds up, but the magazine takes a more critical stance on these authors.

       The famous authors that the Australian Women’s Weekly discusses in book-chat segments generally seems to show them in a different way to film celebrities and the short fiction writers. In book-chat, the Australian Women’s Weekly still endows famous authors with a form of intellectual, sophisticated prestige as opposed to glamour. Like the short fiction writers, the authors in book-chat are boasted in terms of the popularity of their writing, and not in relation to their appearance. However, unlike the short fiction writers, the writers in book-chat occasionally have their photograph included in the magazine and are more likely to be examined under a more critical light. Frank Dalby Davison for instance, is discussed in the book reviews in the September 5, 1936 issue. The review states, “sometimes an author can have too much success with a first book” criticising his book Caribbean Interlude as a step down from his first book Man-Shy; however, despite this criticism the review concludes with “Still, Davison is such a fine writer that the story is well worth while” (14). This shows directly the conflict between the glamour of the successful writer, and the critical opinion of the work he produces. Davison is judged quite directly on the success of his work; however, he still maintains an intellectual distinction as the writer of Man-Shy. There is a picture of Davison to accompany this review, but it does not accentuate a ‘film star’ style of glamour, instead presenting him in a sophisticated and classy way, despite the fact that Davison was struggling financially in the Depression and only using writing as a means of survival at this time (Samuels). In the September 9, 1933 issue there is a short article about a writer called Vicki Baum, describing her as “the greatest woman writer today” and stating that her books have “sold in hundreds the world over” (Cover). Here the magazine expressly links her success with the popularity of her stories, linking her fame and prestige with her books’ popularity. However; Nile discusses the struggle between what he calls ‘proper’ literary writers and popular writers during this period, stating that "Australians were over ten times more likely to produce a novel for popular reading than they were to produce books of literary merit” (145). This suggests that while Baum might have been a popular and successful writer, there is doubt over whether she is a ‘proper’ writer. However; as an entertainment magazine, the Australian Women’s Weekly’s readership would be more likely to enjoy popular fiction over ‘proper’ fiction, and as such, the magazine recognises the author’s popularity as a reflection on the author’s fame. As such, it can be seen here that in book chat and review sections of the Australian Women’s Weekly the fame of the authors is contingent on the success of the author’s books. The glamour of the author has less to do with their physical beauty and more to do with their success as a writer, but they can be viewed quite critically if their work does not match or exceed expectations. The perspective on famous authors in book chat is quite different to that on film celebrities.

       The Australian Women’s Weekly shows a strong celebrity focus, and it is clearly evident in the issues I was investigating, that over this period the film star was seen in a physcially glamorous light, whereas the authors were given a more intellectually based prestige. In all issues I investigated, the film star was depicted as an image of perfection and beauty that could be translated across into advertising, the famous authors of the magazine’s short fiction were up-played for their literary success and the fame of their works, and finally the famous authors in book chat were given the same kind of intellectual glamour, but were looked at more critically, though still in conjunction with their written work.  

Works Cited

The Australian Dental Association. “Good Teeth-- a priceless aid to beauty and charm”. Australian Women’s Weekly. September 9, 1933: 20. Web.

Australian Women’s Weekly, September 9, 1933.

Australian Women’s Weekly, September 5, 1936.

Australian Women’s Weekly, September 3, 1938. "Australian Women’s Weekly” AusLit, 2015. Web. 9 September 2015.

Cover. Australian Women’s Weekly. September 9, 1933: 1. Web.

Cover. Australian Women’s Weekly. September 5, 1936: 1. Web.

"Claire Trevor". Australian Women's Weekly. September 5, 1936: 34. Web.

Dyhouse, Carol. Glamour: Women, History, Feminism. London: Zed Books, 2010.

Lux advertisement. Australian Women’s Weekly. September 9, 1933: 12. Web.

Matthews, Jill Julius. “Introduction.” Dance Hall and Picture Palace: Sydney’s romance with modernity. Sydney: Currency Press, 2005. (3-17).

McCleod, Joan. “Time stands still for these stars”. Australian Women’s Weekly. September 3, 1938: 34. Web.

Nile, Richard. ‘Literary Democracy and the Politics of Reputation.’ The Oxford Literary History of Australia. eds. Bruce Bennett and Jennifer Strauss. Melbourne: Oxford University Press. 1998: 130-46.

Olivier, Mary. “Women adore them… But what about other men?”. Australian Women’s Weekly. September 5, 1936: 31. Web.

Samuels, Selina (ed.) Australian Writers, 1915-1950. Detroit: Gale, 2002.

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