Dec 26, 2019

Book Review--Star Attractions: Twentieth-Century Movie Magazines and Global Fandom

Star Attractions: Twentieth-Century Movie Magazines and Global Fandom
Tamar Jeffers McDonald, Lies Lanckman, eds.
University of Iowa Press, 2019

Star Attractions: Twentieth-Century Movie Magazines and Global Fandom is a collection of essays that takes a serious-minded look at what is often seen as the frivolous topic of movie magazines. The twelve pieces gathered here find the substance in these periodicals, from the fans that populate Letters to the Editor sections to the stars that are the subjects of their pages. It is an academic take on the subject, and thus not a light read, but it is a fascinating exploration of many aspects of these once hugely popular magazines.

I was most fascinated by book co-editor Lies Lanckman’s essay, In Search of Lost Fans: Recovering Lost Fan Magazine Readers, 1910-1950, in which she dives into the data behind fan magazine letters sections. Since many of these magazines took liberties with the truth when it came to writing about the lives of the stars, it is reasonable to think that some or possibly even all of these letter writers could have been creations of the editors. Lanckman tracks down several of these letter writers via census records, both determining that these contributors were in fact real and also finding a lot of interesting information about what kind of people wrote to fan magazines.

While Hollywood film magazines get the bulk of the attention, there are also pieces covering periodicals about Malay, French, and Romanian cinema, not to mention an exploration of the public image of British star Ivor Novello (most famous for Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lodger [1927]). There’s also a history of the long-running Elvis Presley movie fan mag. Elvis Monthly and a pair of intriguing pieces about the images of two of early Hollywood’s most powerful actresses, Mae West and Alla Nazimova.

With diverse subject matter and widely different approaches to each topic, Star Attractions is most rewarding taken a piece at a time. It is a varied, thoughtful approach to exploring a subject that seems light on the surface, but becomes more significant when you consider the influence these magazines had on their audience.

Many thanks to University of Iowa Press for providing a copy of the book for review.

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