The Power of Glamour

January 2014

Book Review: The Power of Glamour (The women who defined the magic of stardom)

Annette Tapert Aurum Press 1999

This is not a new book, and the copy I have just bought is a second hand old library book…

Despite the title it is not in itself a glamorous book. The cover has a black and white pencil drawing of Hollywood stars on the cover and all the pictures are B& W. Is that part of its charm?

I was hooked from the very first paragraph:

“Until this century, glamour was associated with the occult. The word denoted attractiveness that was exciting, romantic, fascinating – an attractiveness too powerful to be real. Such personal power had therefore to be allied with sorcery.”

The book covers the life and times of 11 stars of Hollywood – some of whom are well remembered such as Gloria Swanson, Katherine Hepburn, Garbo and Dietrich and others who have slipped into the shadows such as Dolores Del Rio, Kay Francis and Constance Bennett.

The book explains how these stars rose to fame and fortune and how the cinema studios tried to mold them – they were put under contract by their studios to be developed into glamour queens.

Gloria Swanson made glamour synonymous with Hollywood – the first who understood that audiences wanted their stars to be exceptional creatures both on and off screen. Achieving mega stardom before studios had sophisticated publicity departments, she crafted her own image.

It turns out that Gloria had personal image issues. She was born with large ears, and large square teeth. From an early age her mother tried to hide her “faults” with expensive clothes. Through her early life her ears dictated the way she chose to wear her hair and she would raise her hand across her mouth when she smiled to cover her teeth.

She didn’t conform to the accepted notion of beauty, refused to have a nose-job still became the most imitated movie star in history.

She learned that if she lengthened her skirt at the back and dropped the waistline at the back she looked taller and that uneven lines gave her height ~ and so she often wore a long gown with only one sleeve.

Although Joan Crawford is generally cited to be the quintessential product of the system – she remained, like Katherine Hepburn the ultimate architect of her personal image and persona. The key message that comes across is always be true to yourself.

This is an easy to read book which is quite fascinating in its detail. The styling tips are more than relevant today – in fact we would do well to remember a few of their tricks, whether we are in front of the cameras or not.