Is Stardom Worth It?


Modern Screen, February 1939


Kay Francis, who’s been cinematically around a long time, gives the answer.

By Malcolm Oettinger

OF ALL the incandescent ladies currently twinkling in Hollywood, perhaps none is better qualified to assay the values of stardom than Kay Francis. For a decade or more she has been importantly photographed in minor and major masterpieces stemming from the cameras of Paramount and Warner Brothers. She has given her talents to miniature classics and prestigious disappointments. She has weathered silent, talkies, and the switch from sophisticated comedy to costume drama and back. She has had hits, floperoos, triumphs and disasters, yet today she remains firmly entrenched.

In addition to this, Miss Francis has been around. She knows both Paris and London as well as she knows Hollywood and New York. She is possessed of darkling beauty and is, in a word, worldly as few movie stars are. She does not hesitate to express her opinions, and she knows a number of good words that enable her to express them well. She is decorative but, more importantly, she is adult in her thinking process.

When cornered, Miss Francis had just arrived in New York and rather begrudged any time from the theatre, which she was attending matinee and night. However, she agreed to weigh the advantages of stardom against the disadvantages and you, as the judge, may decide whether stardom is worthwhile or not.

“Stardom looks alluring when you haven’t achieved it,” said Kay. “You know the old maxim, distance lends enchantment. It’s very true. Not, mind you, that stardom hasn’t its virtues.

“First of all, the financial remuneration. Delightful! Money is handy stuff. I don’t think I’m mercenary, but when all those horrid bills start piling up the first of the month it’s reassuring to know you can write checks with a free hand.

“Then there’s the idea of being somebody. Seeing one’s name in lights is a thrill, and don’t let anyone tell you it isn’t. I’ve yet to glimpse Kay Francis on a marquee without glowing a little inside. Call it vanity, call it pride. Whatever you want to name it, there’s a tremendous ego satisfaction in being a star on the lot, instead of one of hundreds of more or less nameless stock players.

“That brings us to the third good reason for enjoying top billing. There are attentions thrown to the star that are reserved for her only. Portable dressing room, special camera care, special lighting, and retakes when desired. Sometimes you’ve done a scene that you feel could be better even though the director has let it run. As a star, you’re entitled to a retake. If you were a character woman or second lead, you could whistle for it and like it.”

Just as Kay was leading one to believe that she is the original glad girl who likes everything, she tacked over to a complaint against being a star.

“One of the unpleasant angles,” she said, “is being handed a poor story with the ideal that your name and popularity will carry it. That’s a very foolish notion. No star is better than her script. Someone once said that no star could survive three flops. I would like to add that no star can rationalize a badly prepared story. I know; I’ve tried! The public holds a bad picture against a star longer than a good picture is remembered.”

Invitations from total strangers is another thing Miss Francis can find nothing to cheer about.

“Hollywood stars are asked to parties in New York by people they’ve never met—publicity minded society folks, as a rule. The celebrity hunters are willing to hunt small game, shall we say modesty, or practice on us to keep in form. They ask you to teas and dinners in which you are totally disinterested.”

Back home in Beverly Hills, it’s almost as bad, Kay added. She is invited to press buttons opening expositions, act as hostess at the premiere of a new meat market, award the prizes at a dance class commencement, serve in a dozen and one capacities in no way associated with acting.

“Of course, I don’t accept these wild invitations,” she amplified, “but one is bound to give them decent consideration. You owe that courtesy to everyone. You must be tactful and diplomatic in turning down an invitation because to the person issuing them they’re not as silly as they may seem to you.”

Miss Francis added that she sees every letter addressed to her, although her secretary sorts the mail and classifies it according to its importance.

“My fan mail delights me,” said Kay. “It comes from such unexpected places—Tasmania, Delhi, Russia! It thrills me to have people bother to write just to say they enjoyed a picture I was in.”

Another black mark against stardom, according to Miss Francis, is the ungodly hours demanded of a star. Extra scenes on Sunday, retakes until two in the morning, trailers on holidays—all for art’s sake. Between pictures it’s difficult to plan a vacation for fear loose ends of the last one have to be gathered up or a new ending tackled on. A star’s time is subject at all times to the call of the studio.

Kay saved her pet grievance against stardom for her final shot. “I abhor being a goldfish in a bowl, open to public inspection all hours of the day,” she flashed. “I resent being asked whom I’m going to the theatre with, where I was for the weekend, and what my intentions are towards matrimony. All these things are nobody’s business. Being a star shouldn’t make one fair game for snooper’s sniping.

“Wearing smoked glasses doesn’t hide you. You can’t get away from it all when your face has appeared on so many screens everywhere so many times. A star is marked as long as she is a star. Of course, they let you alone when you’re through.” She laughed a bit ruefully. “When I fade I suppose I’ll miss the pushing around. We can’t be satisfied. But I would say definitely that the one thing about being a star that’s hardest to take is the total lack of privacy!”

Thus Kay Francis upholds and attacks the joys and terrors of stardom, laying bare its rewards as well as deploring its sorrows. Is it worthwhile? Miss Francis seem to feel, womanlike, that the answer is yes and no. What do you think?

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