Icons of Yesteryear

by Christine Wells

It seems that every day a story breaks in the so-called news about some entertainer or other who has had yet another shocker. Drugs, sex, criminal behaviour, it's all grist for the entertainment news mill.

Clearly, people want to know about all of this because it's front and centre even in supposedly respected publications.

Usually, talk like that doesn't interest me, because I either don't know the starlet in question or their lack of solid talent is such that they need the publicity their shocking behaviour attracts.

However, when the scuttlebutt is about an actor or musician I admire as an entertainer, I just don't want to know. Now, I'm not the kind of person who expects an actor to *be* their character in real life.

Intellectually, I realize whatever kind of rotten things they get up to in private, their art is a thing apart. It just seems that these days we know too much. It's becoming so hard to separate the two.

In the golden era of Hollywood, the studios made stars into icons. Everything about them was heavily controlled and information about their private life vigorously censored. Probably, it wasn't healthy for the star involved but it certainly gave those actors a shimmery, god-like quality that still endures today.

When I decided to blog about my favourite Hollywood icons, I was going to read all their biographies. But then I decided to do the equivalent of sticking my fingers in my ears and saying Lalalala, because I really, really just want to know them for their work, not their private lives.

In my pantheon of favourite actors (not necessarily the most talented actors, mind, just the ones I enjoy) these are the people I want to remember with rose coloured glasses:

Audrey Hepburn is my favourite actor of all time. She was elegance and beauty personified, but more than that, she possessed a rare, genuine charm that shone through every performance.

Cary Grant played comedic roles with smooth sophistication, but there was always steel and seething emotion beneath the veneer, which made him so wonderful to watch.

Grace Kelly -- cool and sophisticated, this ice queen had fire running through her veins. Another fashion icon with perfect deportment, Kelly was luminous on screen.

Gregory Peck -- gravel-voiced and granite-jawed, Peck brought a sense of gravity, toughness and integrity to a role.

The list goes on. So, if you know anything about their private lives--please don't tell me!

Who are your favourite Hollywood icons?

Are there any actors working today that you think measure up to icon status?

Do you care what an entertainer does in his or her personal life?


  1. Christine Wells: Thank you for your post.

    Like you, I'm a big fan of old Hollywood. But unlike you, I can't list my favorite stars and their most endearing/enduring qualities. There are just too many of them!

    Suffice it to say that though most of these famous figures have gone to their reward, they are still alive and well and living in the hearts of their fans. And most of us who admire them nowadays weren't around during their original heydays.

    Part of the reason why they're still "with us", at least for those of us who aren't entirely absorbed with contemporary celebrities, is because the public didn't know everything about them, as you mentioned. The stars kept their distance from the fans. The little information that went out was tightly controlled by the studio publicists. Their fans had to keep guessing.

    Flash forward past numerous social and technological changes. Nowadays we don't complain about not enough information about celebrities; rather, it's too much!

    I used to be an avid follower of pop culture and the larger-than-life figures who made it. But about fifteen years ago I lost interest.

    There was just too much pop culture, and it was bombarding me mercilessly. And too little of it was made for people like me, in terms of both my demographic groups and my mentality.

    Therefore very little of it interested me. It was no longer worth my time and attention.

    The situation has gotten worse ever since. Therefore I've lost touch with contemporary pop culture.

    I can't very well comply with your request concerning today's stars because I'm just not into them. But it's not a reflection on them. For all I know, I might be missing some great talents.

    Rather, it's a reflection on what our popular culture has become, and how it bludgeons the public into paying attention to it. Obviously it's working with many people. But some of us have grown numb. We're no longer interested.

    If I want colorful, distinctive figures to people my imagination, I don't have to go to contemporary pop culture for them. I can go to my imagination. But sure enough, they often have a marked resemblence to my beloved screen icons of the past. And here, any resemblence can't be purely coincidental!

    Keep up the good work.

  2. I completely understand what you mean - however I'm sure with all the tell-all books, autobiographies and gazillion of "stories" around Hollywood about these legends - well they would give Britney and Lindsey a run for their money. You've chosen a few of my faves - I love Gregory Peck - one of my all time fave books and films is To Kill A Mocking Bird - and his role as Atticus Finch is well - superb. Peck was so good at playing the noble American - but I also enjoyed him in lighter roles - including Roman Holiday with Audrey Hepburn - a fave of mine as well. Her eyes grace my twitter home page BTW ;D They did exude a magic onscreen that I think is missing today - except with a few exceptions - when I think of younger male actors - certainly no one in my mind can touch Johnny Depp in terms of his ability to just be magic itself. Thanks again. ;D

  3. My faves of that age were Humphrey Bogart and Paul Newman.

    But like Joanna said, it may be they outdid the pop stars of today in their private lives, it's just that we weren't really privy to it.

    When you think how everyone is 'famous' through FB and Twitter, it is just logical for stars to carry even more into this public eye.

    I do agree - sometimes it's TMI, but that's the name of the game today and it's a sad fact really.

    I think George Clooney has the kind of iconic person that could measure up with these folks. There's a 'nice' balance of public and private with him.

    And sad fact too, I am influenced by what they do in their private lives. Like Morgan Freeman and Roman Polanksi. I don't necessarily care for each and every tidbit (Britney shaving her head and having another breakdown won't make me stop listening to her songs) but sometimes, being in the public eye means you've got a public image and persona that you need to uphold. If you cannot do that, well, don't get in the bizz is my opinion.

    Sorry to have been so revved up.



  4. Christine - what lovely stars you're drawn to! They all have a sense of reserved dignity and inner fortitude as people, as well as being such luminous talents.

    My faves from the golden age are Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh. So weird that they ended up being a superstar power couple, because I like them as individuals. Vivien is my personal ideal of feminine beauty, coupled with her intensity and passion. Laurence just simply makes me swoon, especially his voice. I can just listen to him talk forever. But his skills as an actor are so amazing to me, he perpetually blows me away.

    As far as being disappointed with great talent when their personal shortcomings are exposed, I do tend to enjoy the talent and be grateful I'll never have to actually speak to the ones who are idiotic.


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