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« 'Crimes of the Heart': The Other 'Steel Magnolias' | Main | First and Last, Walk Away »

When Did Stars Start Posing As Other Stars?

Remember these photos of Julianne Moore as Bette Davis, Ann-Margret and Marlene Dietrich? I can't remember when they were taken exactly. I want to say 1999?

When did all this start? It's a question for the pop culture historians out there. It's been going on for as long as I can remember. And one of the funniest things about is it people get excited each time like it's a new concept. Remember the hoopla over that Vanity Fair Alfred Hitchcock shoot a couple years back when Jodie Foster did The Birds, Javier Bardem and ScarJo did Rear Window and Marion Cotillard did Psycho and so on and so on and so on?

Often this star-on-star mimicry involves Marilyn Monroe. One might have an easier time listing the people who haven't posed as her than listing the people who have. I'm not even talking about the people who have actually played Her (or thinly veiled interpretations of her) in the movies or on television or stage and that list is even longer.

Here's just a small sampling or Marilyn tributes from Madonna, Lindsay Lohan, Angelina Jolie and Scarlett Johansson.


Yes this has a lot to do with iconic imagery and nostalgia but both iconography and nostalgia predate the birth of Marilyn Monroe. Unless the scientists and the zealots are both wrong and the world began on June 1st, 1926. And if it did why the hell was Marilyn Monroe pretending to be Theda Bara?

But anyway... by the time I was born, Marilyn was already well established as Hollywood's most present ghost and she's never stopped haunting popular culture. [Tangent: The first star that I actually remember the death of was Natalie Wood on November 29th, 1981 since West Side Story, which I watched religiously every time I could find it on tv, was my gateway drug into movie freakdom. Rapid onset Oscar mania was just a few years round the corner. Was I trying to fill the hole that Natalie left by discovering Streep, Close, Hurt & Turner, Bridges & Pfeiffer and all the rest?  I was... distraught...  to say the least.]

This subject is on my brain since I unpacked that "Life at the Movies" book and saw this photo of Tony Curtis and Natalie Wood doing a silent film Rudolph Valentino & Vilma Bánky thing.

Isn't that cute? But wait there's more. How about Paul Newman as a swashbuckler a la Fairbanks / Power

It's Cary Grant as Charlie Chaplin's Little Tramp and Paul Newman as a swashbuckler. How about that?

Or Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin doing Ben Hur (although I guess that's an instant nostalgia thing... unless they were referencing the silent feature)

{(sorry about the quality of that image. my scanner is busted. must replace)

So let's see...

if the stars of the 50s and 60s (or at least their photographers) were all nostalgic about the silents through the 1930s and the stars of the past few decades have been all nostalgic about the 50s through the 80s... (it does seem to be speeding up. Didn't 80s nostalgia start on January 1st, 1990?). What's next?

When we're all 20 years older in 2031 what are the future movie star portraits going to be referencing. Who and what will people be nostalgic about from this past decade in film? Are people going to posing as Nicole Kidman, Johnny Depp, Michelle Williams & Ryan Gosling, Tilda Swinton or Christian Bale or who exactly? I'm just throwing names out there. Being remembered isn't just about doing strong work. You've got to establish some sense of mythos around your stardom, perfectly embody a type or create a new one, or have enough suitable iconography to live on in distorted visual ways after their stardom recedes.

Jump in those time machines and place your bets.

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Reader Comments (23)

It's hard to imagine any of today's stars being as iconic as past ones (though perhaps that's always been the case, that the distance of time is needed); I think one of the difficulties is that there is an emphasis for today's stars on being "versatile" and "chameleons". (Although please correct me if I'm wrong.) But it also helps to have been either very beautiful or very unique in physical appearance, (both in real life and onscreen.) The sort of stars from the 1980's to today who seem most visually iconic to me are genre stars, esp action heros, ie Arnold Schwartzengger, maybe Sylvester Stallone, Clint Eastwood; John Travolta. I'm having a hard time imaging female stars of the 1970's being individually iconic other than Diane Keaton, moreso for her Annie Hall costume than anything. The 1980's? Debra Winger was too "ordinary" in her looks; the most iconic actresses of that decade were probably Kathleen Turner (who was already drawing from 1940's noir glamour, so it would be referencing to the 2nd power); and maybe Sigourney Weaver and Glenn Close (for her handsome but unclassical patrician looks - and the role in Fatal Attraction).

I actually giggled a bit when I read your reference to Nicole Kidman - "Satine" is already referenced in live fanshows and drag shows (appropriate, since a lot of that characters look seemed to have been borrowed from drag, so it's sort of a positive-feedback loop there) and that is certainly a character who is always instantly quotable visually. But Kidman herself? Oh not so much, except as a joking reference (and I say that as a fan, btw.)

March 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJanice

I actually really enjoyed the photos of Jennifer Aniston as Barba Stresiand!! Did you guys get to see them?

March 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMia

Mia -- i forgot about those but i was actually trying to remember them because i knew someone had done something really recently and i just couldn't recall.

Janice -- but isn't begin referenced in a negative way still proof that there's something unique and instant-recall abotu the person? I think Kidman -- even or maybe partially because of the GINORMOUS FOREHEAD jokes is not that far from assuring her place, you know? while i was typing i was thinking about Amanda Seyfried. She's a perfect example fo the opposite type of problem. She's very very beautiful and people like her a whole lot (i.e. she's far more bankable than the others her age) but what about her is distinctive enough for anyone to remember her 30 years from now? And it's not that that she's a generic beauty either. Just that her beauty is typical (if not generic).

i think people who can be easily caricatured have an easier go at being remembered. so more people should probably work with the extermities of their performance / look.

March 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel Rogers

Ledger's Joker, DiCaprio & Winslet in Titanic, Pfeiffer's Catwoman (not Batman whose franchise will continue to be rebooted 50 years from now), Bardem's Chigurh (not so sure - maybe it's only a Halloween costume), Ford's Indiana Jones, Portman's black swan (too early to know), Jolie's Lara Croft, Depp as Sparrow, Weaver's Ripley (in underwear)... I don't know, I'm just trying to recall iconic movie images from the last 30 years.

March 18, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteriggy

Characters these days are iconic not the actors -- Hollywood is too busy chasing trends instead of buliding actual stars.

March 18, 2011 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtfu11

I was going to say Nat you missed my faves...Kidman as Marilyn and Aniston as Streisand. I don't mind them as long as they are well done. But no one can top Kevyn Aucoin's portraits.

March 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCity_Of_Lights

my mother has that exact same book! "life at the movies"! when i was younger, probably around 10 or 11, i would take that book out at least once a week and just look at the pictures. i wasn't sure who everyone was, but it made me want to know. (i would also have the spoken part of madonna's "vogue" playing in my head as i read it. 'greta garbo and monroe, dietrich and'...oh, so these are the people she was singing about.) that book is what made me start watching old movies and gave me a love for the history of cinema. i can still recall exact pictures: audrey hepburn feeding hay to a picture of a horse on a wall, vivien leigh placing her oscar on the mantel, grace kelly in that mint green dress.
that book holds a great deal of memories and has a special place in my heart. i'm so excited that you've been mentioning it and have a copy of your own now.

March 18, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterabstew

Black Swan seems to stick out for future movie reenactment photography. Probably Brokeback, Moulin Rouge, Day Lewis with his mustache from There Will Be Blood...basically any movie that has been parodied on SNL and the like will probably have instant recognition 20-30 years from now.

March 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJames

I agree with Janice. I don't see any stars of today being as iconic as the ones of yester year. I can't even think of any iconic photos the stars of today have taken, that may mainly be from the fact that they are constantly being photographed whether it be by the paps or in magazines. I'm guessing that for the average person way back when, seeing a new photo of your favorite star was exciting because there were not photos being released of them constantly.
Anyway, may I just say WOW to the photos of Marilyn as Theda Bara. I was very hesitant to click the link because I was expecting a disaster, but WOW!!
I also like the photos of Julianne as Ann Margret and Marlene Dietrich, the Joan Crawford one seems a bit off though.

March 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJayJ

It's easier to tribute a contemporary character, than an contemporary actor. For the latter, it must be an actor with a static style, in his real life and movies. Right now I think of Diane Keaton. The same hairstyle, her gloves, her masculine suits...

March 18, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterloveantinoo

Julia Roberts is the perfect example of the last of the classic but modern icons -- I froget no one has her energy or facial charactoristics.

March 18, 2011 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtfu11

I don't even like the movie, but we know Black Swan was going to be an icon from day 1. I can see now Suri Cruise in her mid 20's with that instant classic make-up.

March 18, 2011 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

*we knew

March 18, 2011 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

Jay J -- i think part of the problem is that magazines are dying. It used to be a lot easier to get a famous photograph taken because if it was on the cover of the top selling magazines EVERYONE would see it. Whereas now, you might have a wave of people looking at your images one day but on the next they're gone. and you can't usually do it with one image either. you gotta have 12 and post the whole photoshoot as a click through gallery to increase page views.

loevantinoo -- agreed on Keaton. This is one reason i HATE seeing Ellen Page dressed up for awards shows. She's always saying she hates wearing dresses and there she is in a gown like a dutiful starlet (when she goes). Why not say fuck it and have your own personal style be what you follow? Then more people worship your style ( see also: helena bonham-carter recently)

March 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

I can't stop laughing from seeing those pictures of Tony and Paul. I mean, they're legends in their own sense, but Tony ain't no Valentino and Paul ain't no Errol Flynn (though I do love that crazy look in their eyes).

March 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAnna

abstew -- wow. your memory is good. I was JUST looking at that Vivien Leigh picture today.

March 18, 2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Anna -- yeah. I mean i guess Tony Curtis was considered quite a hearththrob but i've never quite understood that.

March 18, 2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

A long while ago, In Style enlisted (the now deceased) Kevin Aucoin to do makeup on some great 90's actresses as women of the past. I remember Gwyneth looked impressive as either Faye or Grace.

March 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBia

And also Anne Hathaway as Judy Garland

March 19, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterlily

Lauren Bacall recently said in her 'Vanity Fair' interview that all the talent is gone... its so sad

March 19, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterlaura

Lauren Bacall recently said in her 'Vanity Fair' interview that all the talent is gone... its so sad

March 19, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterlaura

Speaking of the brokeback/Black Swan talk, what if nowadays, the roles are more iconic than the actors themselves,. The latter having to transform for the former, instead of during the Golden age when the stars were themselves in movies for twenty years. (And yes, I'm kind of being reductive in this comment)

March 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPaolo

Yes, I think it's good that characters are more iconic now than actors. They are actors, they have to transform in other people, and if their role gets the label of "iconic", that would mean they worked it out very well, but they should have their private life. Think of Veronica Lake's biography, she really hated that iconic character they created for her. Then you see that clip called "A Sweater, A Sarong and a Peek-a-Boo Bang" singing along with Dorothy Lamour, and Paulette Goddard, and you realise they are just three women in disguise of their own icons! It's a bit sad, like a circus. But yes, it's Golden Age, and we all love it though.
So I don't think it's related to talent, Bacall is a bit mean in that statement.

March 19, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterloveantinoo
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