Released on January 6, 2009 by Vintage Books, The Star Machine by Jeanine Basinger features a short passage on why Ruth Etting didn’t become as big a star in Hollywood as she was on radio and records, and on Broadway.
From one of our most distinguished film scholars, comes a rich, penetrating, amusing book about the golden age of movies and how the studios worked to manufacture stars. With revelatory insights and delightful asides, Jeanine Basinger shows us how the studio “star machine” worked when it worked, how it failed when it didn’t, and how irrelevant it could sometimes be. She gives us case studies focusing on big stars groomed into the system: the “awesomely beautiful” (and disillusioned) Tyrone Power; the seductive, disobedient Lana Turner; and a dazzling cast of others. She anatomizes their careers, showing how their fame happened, and what happened to them as a result. Deeply engrossing, full of energy, wit, and wisdom, The Star Machine is destined to become an classic of the film canon.
And here’s the passage that mentions Ruth Etting…
Ruth Etting was 36-years-old when she made her first full-length film – and while obviously still “pretty” she was no longer the dewy fresh young thing she was at 17, when she appeared in her first stage show in Chicago. Or at 21, when she started headlining those stage shows. Or even at 30, when she first starred on Broadway. By the time Ruth hit Hollywood, she was nearing 40, and the silver screen is an unforgiving medium. So it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that she’s remembered now as “not a beauty” – but it’s still a little sad. Getting older is not a sin! Unless you’re in Hollywood and it’s 1933, and your face is going to be projected on a 40 foot high movie screen… then it’s the kiss of death to a film career.
Ruth Etting may be just one more case study in this book – an example of when the studio system failed to make someone a Hollywood Star – but no one can take away the fact that she was a legitimate star on the radio and on Broadway. And honestly? Two out of three isn’t too bad!