Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Let's Be Friendly

I write a lot about "lost starlets" -- movie actresses who I think had what it took to become big stars, but didn't make it (in part because women's roles went into free-fall in the '60s and never fully recovered). But there's another type of "lost starlet," probably a more common type: actresses who were clearly intended to become stars, who got the buildup and publicity associated with young stars, even though in retrospect they really didn't have anything resembling star quality. You could never tell who the studios would try to build up, especially from the '50s onward, when the studio system was collapsing and the judgment of studio executives was often very questionable. And so you'd get people selected for The Buildup seemingly at random.

The person I always associate with pointless publicity buildups is Pat Crowley. Not that she was a bad actress; she was a very good actress and a very pretty woman, and she eventually achieved some success as the lead on the TV version of Please Don't Eat the Daisies. But in Hollywood there are lots of good actresses and lots of pretty women, and somehow, around 1953-54, Paramount executives seem to have gotten the idea that she had something all the other pretty actresses didn't. And so she got a cover story in Life Magazine, always a sign of a major publicity roll-out (scroll down; it's the March 29, 1954 cover). Unexceptional supporting roles in unexceptional Paramount productions like Forever Female and Martin and Lewis's Money From Home garnered her a bunch of publicity shots and press releases that implied she would be the Next Big Thing.

And just as soon as the publicity push started, it was over. Paramount, having given her all that publicity, didn't even give her a leading role in a movie. Not that she deserved a lead role that early in her career; I don't think she did. But the build-up implied that the studio had something in mind for her, and yet there was no follow-through whatsoever, meaning the money and time spent on that build-up was essentially for nothing. It's not a slam on Pat Crowley to say that; it's just a sign of how inefficient the studio system had gotten by the '50s: instead of the publicity machine working hand-in-hand with the producers and executives to create new stars, it was like people would be selected at random for Star Treatment without any apparent follow-through at all.

Ms. Crowley had a very long and successful career, especially on television; Dean Martin liked her enough to have her as a guest on his variety show a few times, and she also appeared in the last Martin & Lewis movie, Frank Tashlin's Hollywood Or Bust. Tashlin seemed to like her, since he filmed several scenes showing off her legs: for Tashlin, Hollywood's most fetishistic director (something I've written on endlessly), calling attention to an actresses' legs was the highest complment he could pay her. Also, the birthplace of Crowley's character, Weehawken, N.J., is actually Tashlin's birthplace.

By the way, I'm quite serious about Tashlin and his obsession with women's legs; look at almost any of his movies. In Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? he tries to get us on Betsy Drake's side by demonstrating that she has better legs than Jayne Mansfield; after shooting the scene, he took Drake off the set, still wearing short-shorts, and led her into the studio commissary to show her off. That's the Tashlin Doctrine.

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