Dipartimento di Musica e Spettacolo - CONFERENZE, Women and the Silent Screen Conference

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Fading Stars and the Ruined Commodity Form: Star Discourses of Loss in Fan Magazines, 1914-1929
Mary R. Desjardins

Last modified: 2010-05-12


This paper examines the fan magazine discourses of the teens and twenties that create a popular historiography about motion pictures and stardom in relation to star death or career decline.

Richard DeCordova  argues that the well-known publicity stunt by producer Carl Laemmle in 1910, in which he created a newspaper item claiming that the Biograph film player Florence Lawrence had not been killed in an accident, should not be seen as the origin of the star system in American cinema.   However, this stunt’s status as an “originary” event in the popular histories of motion picture stardom is accurate to the extent that it underlines that the threat of loss was important to the production of affect around stars from early on in the period in which filmic enunciation was being assigned to the players in films.  In other words, the association of a star’s rise with a threat of her death underscores the degree to which the industry-star-fan matrix was experienced as a kind of Freudian “fort/da” game in the silent film era.  The threats of a star’s death, disappearance, or career decline are central to many articles published in motion picture fan magazines between 1914-1929. 

Central to my argument is that the fan magazine’s investment in publishing sob-stories and melancholic star biographies is a popular historiographic method—a way of telling the history of the technological and industrial changes in the movies by giving these changes personal face as negotiated through the star image and star life-story which registers loss.  I claim that these articles can also be seen as early models for how star identities and fan investments in those identities are negotiated in a consumer society supposedly always focused on the “new.”  Change, stasis, temporal duration, and loss as experienced by the twentieth-century subject are worked through the early fan magazines’ stories about fading and (sometimes) returning stars.  My paper will explore these issues through examination of articles in motion picture fan magazines from 1914 to 1929. 




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