Women, Movies & the American Dream"

“Popcorn Venus” explores the powerful screen images of women that Hollywood created and sold us throughout the 20th century and examines what these images reveal about our society – and womenthemselves.

Simultaneously a history of American movies and a sociological study of American values, it covers the roar of the twenties and with it, the first sex symbols, the vamps of Theda Bara and femme fatales of Pola Negri; the hard times of the Depression-era thirties that brought, along with the advent of sound, the earthy charms of Jean Harlow and Mae West, the mystery of Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich, and the frothy escapism of Ginger Rogers and Alice Faye; the war years of the forties when, with the men away at the front, women took over the homes, workplaces, and movie screens with what we now call “women’s pictures” or “weepies;” the straight-laced fifties which managed, ironically, to celebrate both the image of the virgin andthat of the blonde bombshell; and, of course, more recently, the sixties and seventies, when movies began to deal more thoughtfully with sex, feminism, and a new kind of woman. The book, which also devotes asection to the first women who worked behind the camera, emerges as a scrupulously documented and delightfully nostalgic account of the screen presences who captivated our Saturday afternoons at the movies – and influenced our lives.




     When I was two, my mother took me to my first darkened theater where, to her amazement and for the first time in my life, I sat quietly through (a revival of) Walt Disney’s Pinocchio. Even then, the screen world created for me a secret garden, a special haven. Never was there a better incentive for learning to read either. Before I entered the first grade, I was the astonishment of the neighborhood. Riding along the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, the adults were just not quick enough to call out the features at the Earl, the Luxor, or the Loew’s Paradise. To keep up with (what for me was) the world, I had to get a grip on my ABC’s fast….

How profoundly Hollywood’s values have influenced a gullible public – like myself. But why did the public—and especially its females—so passively embrace the industry’s interpretations of life? After all, an image—even one created by so rare an animal as a movie mogul—is molded from prevailing audience attitudes; indeed, the public determines the life or death of a movie. Louise Brooks, an actress of the twenties, wrote: “Producers found the trick of curbing the stars and standardizing their product according to their will and personal taste.” But “it was never their will, but the public’s which made them the exploiters of the great personalities and builders of enduring stars.”