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The Star Machine

4.07  ·  Rating Details ·  436 Ratings  ·  52 Reviews
From one of our leading film authorities, a rich, penetrating, amusing plum pudding of a book about the golden age of movies, full of Hollywood lore, anecdotes, and analysis.

Jeanine Basinger gives us an immensely entertaining look into the “star machine,” examining how, at the height of the studio system, from the 1930s to the 1950s, the studios worked to manufacture star
Hardcover, 576 pages
Published October 23rd 2007 by Knopf
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Bill  Kerwin
Jul 28, 2010 Bill Kerwin rated it really liked it

Basinger's subject is the Classic Hollywood Star Machine, and the stars and near-stars who were transformed by the process.

I loved this book not so much for its insights into the workings of the Hollywood system (although Basinger has plenty) but for her loving and detailed portrait of individual stars and how they fought for their independence and integrity, subverted the machine to their advantage or were limited or damaged by it. She makes stars seem like heroes of their own lives, and there
Jan 14, 2017 Ana rated it it was amazing
I quite enjoyed this book. I'd love to have been around during the Golden Age of Hollywood.

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Dec 06, 2011 Sketchbook rated it really liked it
The making of a star and his-her duration. Since most dreary lives require Stars to exist, (a cinematic royal family), this is not - to coin a friend's phrase - "poop on the lawn." Poop, alas, seems to be Page One. The author upholds discretion and doesn't tell us the stratagems, usually sex, that got most into stardom. Author, instead, examines careers within the olde studio system, fr Tyrone Power to Jean Arthur, and leaves off the obvious names (Davis-Grant etc.) Her updates (2010) are feeble ...more
Nov 11, 2009 theduckthief rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"The idea of a star being born is bushwah. A star is created, carefully and coldbloodedly, built up from nothing, from nobody...Age, beauty, talent - least of all talent - has nothing to do with it...We could make silk purses out of sow's ears every day in the week."

During the Golden Age of movies the studio system controlled and manufactured the lives of their actors, having final say over everything from haircuts to spouses and covering up the seedier side of Hollywood. Basinger brings to ligh
Nancy Loe
Oct 13, 2007 Nancy Loe rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone who watches TCM faithfully
Actually, I think the NYT review of this is rather snide. But no matter, Basinger is by far my favorite film historian and she hits this one out of the park, shedding light on the studio process of manufacturing stars that I'd never considered. She also uses the star system construct to bring some performers who probably will never rate a full-blown biography back into the spotlight, like Irene Dunne, Jean Arthur, Van Johnson, and Loretta Young.

Basinger writes in a confiding and upbeat way, draw
Jan 19, 2009 Denis rated it really liked it
Basinger is a well-known movie historian and this is one of her most enjoyable works. Her knowledge is of course formidable, but so is her passion, and the combination works wonders. This book is mostly an analysis of how the studio system created stars during it's golden age, and it describes the manufacturing of gods and goddesses for the big screen with a wealth of details that is astounding and illuminating. Basinger is at her best when she shows how the machine works in inhuman (yet highly ...more
Mark Taylor
Jun 16, 2015 Mark Taylor rated it really liked it
Film historian Jeanine Basinger’s 2007 book The Star Machine is a thorough examination of how the studio system operated during Hollywood’s Golden Age. Basinger is the chair of film studies at Wesleyan University, and it’s very clear that movies have been a life-long passion for her. The Star Machine is 550 pages of details about film stars and movies that might not be familiar to modern audiences.

The Star Machine’s biggest strength is also its biggest problem: Basinger is a huge fan. And while
Jill Hutchinson
Nov 08, 2014 Jill Hutchinson rated it really liked it
Old Hollywood was a terrible place to be in the business of being a movie "star". The studios were in charge of your look, your personal life, your image, your everything. Players had no private life and the studio could make you or break you on a whim. This book explores that world and traces the lives of several stars, character actors, oddities, and second leads......and how they made it or faded away when the studio was done with them.
We learn, for example how a man who was truly ugly and a
Jul 21, 2009 Evelyn rated it it was amazing
LOVED THIS BOOK! what's great is basinger is obviously a scholar but even more so, she is also a devoted movie fan. the insight she has about the stars is illuminating not just in the academic sense but also the intimate personal knowledge basinger imbues in all her analysis as she grew up watching these movies WHEN THEY WERE ACTUALLY OUT.

the greatest compliment i can give is that the book made me want to see movies of people i was not fans of (tyrone power, loretta young, etc) and re-inspired/i
Sep 22, 2009 Annie rated it liked it
Wow. Cannot believe I made it to the end of this book. Okay, so that's a lie. I actually skimmed the last 50 or so pages because I just couldn't take it any more.

I loved the vignettes about different actors, but throughout the book I felt a bit lost. I wish the author had outlined the very specific steps of the star machine process from the beginning. I think she did, but her further chapters were so extensive I never found them to recall and support her main thesis. And, what's the big deal abo
May 16, 2009 Steph rated it it was amazing
I thoroughly enjoyed the content as well as the structure of this book. I think I partly liked it so much because she articulates the qualities of classic Hollywood that I love most, which I may have otherwise had a hard time verbalizing. It was a quick read at over 500 pages. Some film literature can be too elementary or too scholarly (in a pretentious kind of way), but I found this to be perfectly sharp and digestible.
Mar 08, 2013 Tristram rated it it was amazing
Shelves: cinema
Stars werden nicht geboren, sondern fabriziert

Daß es rund um die Stars der Golden Era in Hollywood nicht wirklich wie in einem Märchen zugegangen ist - wer sonst als Hollywood sollte uns nicht auch schon mit dieser schnöden Wahrheit konfrontiert haben, in Form gutgemachter Unterhaltungsfilme?

Jeanine Basinger nimmt sich in ihrem Buch „The Star Machine“ ebenfalls dieser Wahrheit an, wobei sie sich an namhaften Stars orientiert – vor allem an solchen, die zu ihrer Zeit einen hohen Bekanntheitsgrad
Jul 23, 2015 Emily rated it it was ok

What I read of this book was really informative, but instead of coming off as interesting, it was just dull. The first few chapters were good, but then the book just got tedious to read. I think the major problem for me was that whenever the author would bring up an actor to illustrate her point she would end up summarizing their career, and that simply wasn't necessary to get her point across a lot of the time. I read the first part, which was good on the whole, and skimmed most of the secon
Dec 19, 2012 Karen rated it it was amazing
Fun, well written, and engaging read about the early Hollywood Studio system. Basinger has a lot of strong opinions and her personality comes through in her work, if this is something that generally bothers you as a reader you will likely be turned off but I found her to be charming and funny. Her use of footnotes is odd, but it didn't drive me as batty as some of the other reviewers.
RK Byers
Apr 20, 2014 RK Byers rated it it was amazing
Jeanine Basinger KILLED it as far as film knowledge and scholarship.
Beth Ann
Jeanine Basinger is one of my favorite film historians because she is a fan a cinema and she writes about film in an engaging, non-academic way. You won't find a lot of jargon cluttering her usual zippy style.

This book was slow reading for me, though. Basinger has overloaded her book with such detail that most of her star features could be used as the basis for in-depth, book form appreciations.

There was something off about the book's structure. I didn't find all of the chapter delineations clea
An exploration of the 'star machine' that was the studio system in the 30s, 40s and 50s - the making of the legends of cinema in the supposed golden age. This is a great, but long, read for classic film buffs interested in the creation of narratives offscreen as well as on, who don't mind knowing how the sausage gets made.

Basinger smartly chooses to focus on the lesser known lights (at least a modern day audience) across the spectrum of actors put through the machine - from the unqualified succ
Jun 30, 2010 Andrea rated it really liked it
Shelves: american-history
For someone like me who is young and essentially uncultured in movies, Basinger's book reads like a long list of movies or people I need to start looking up on YouTube. After providing some fascinating history on the Hollywood "studio system" of the 30s and 40s, the bulk of the book highlights individual stars, the blockbusters they made, triumphs and struggles of their personal lives, and how they each dealt with the ruthless and calculating Star Machine. Of course the system collapsed, and she ...more
Sep 28, 2015 GlenK rated it really liked it
Jeanine Basinger's long (550+ pages) and - mostly in the best sense - rambling work is less a history of golden age Hollywood star making machinery than it is the stories of a select group of actors who were created (although some came to it of their own efforts) and maintained by this machinery. Nearly everyone of star level in 1930s-40s Hollywood gets mentioned at least in passing but great attention is lavished on ten of varying types (for it was types that Hollywood created): Tyrone Power, L ...more
Apr 22, 2009 Adrienne rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I picked up this book randomly at a book store, adding to my veritable collection of books on Old Hollywood. The book examines the process by which the Hollywood machine made people into stars, which was calculated and efficient. I'm amazed by the power of those old studios, the way they created stars, plucking men and women out of obscurity, ruthlessly making them over, creating new names and new biographies for them, controlling every bit of press, and even covering up crimes they committed.
Annick Rodriguez
Jul 21, 2009 Annick Rodriguez rated it really liked it
This is a detailed, although not shocking, look behind the development of the movie studios' "star making machine". It looks at how some stars who get this treatment do make it big, and others do not. Some stars are destroyed by it , and others take it in stride. Interesting read even if you are not a celebrity follower. The whole idea of selling an image and a lifestyle so that audiences can follow a star to the box office shows how the publicity dept doesn't differ that much from what goes on ...more
Dec 15, 2016 Catherine marked it as did-not-finish
p. 240
Mar 19, 2013 Jenny rated it really liked it
Originally bought this just for the Deanna Durbin chapter, but got caught up and read the whole thing. It's mostly about the star system in Hollywood and specifically, stars who didn't quite fit the mold. Most of the subjects featured are actors I've always liked, but don't have biographies of their own as yet so I enjoyed learning more about them. Basinger spouts her own opinions liberally and I mostly agreed with them - not always. Gives one much to ponder and I sought out several movies she c ...more
Dec 10, 2007 George rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: people interested in Hollywood
Though slow reading at times, the book is interesting reading. It discusses the Hollywood studios star making system from the 1930's through the 1940's and using specific actors to illustrate the various points the author makes about the system and how it worked or didn't work. The final chapter of the book deals with the post 1950's era and how people emerged as stars without the old system in place.

It's not an expose' nor provides hidden "dirt" regarding stars or Hollywood. It is an indepth ex
Mar 08, 2009 Francesca rated it it was amazing
Shelves: film
An excellent and enthusiastic overview of the studio system of Hollywood's classic period, described through the careers of particular performers. Basinger shows how studios carefully crafted actors' and actresses' careers--the discovery of a star, the lessons, the publicity, the films as tests, and finally the hitting upon type and the playing against type. I love how Basinger brings some actors back from obscurity--such as Deanna Durbin--to make us appreciate why they were so popular in their ...more
Feb 19, 2016 Kate rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, kindle, 2016
This is going to sound blurb-y, but it's true, this book is meticulously researched, readable, and even juicy. From a star's discovery, to their appearance and marketing, to a studio's relationship with gossip columnists and star magazines, "The Star Machine" has everything you'd want to know about early Hollywood's studio system.

The book manages to be useful and fun by using the story of specific stars to illustrate an aspect of the system. I was really captivated by the stories of Errol Flynn
Kit Fox
Dec 15, 2010 Kit Fox rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Basinger is really good at placing classic films in the context that they were made, released, and received. Personally, I love finding out as much as I can about Golden Era Hollywood--and earlier--even if there isn't too much dirt dug up. (Shocker: Mickey Rooney was an a-hole.) Has some great photos included too. Her writing style is markedly un-super-scholarly, though I kinda wish it had been cranked up a bit more. I mean, if you don't already give a shit about Ann Sheridan--which you should-- ...more
Jan 25, 2013 Julie rated it it was amazing
Jeanine Basinger is one of my favorite film historians who provides an in-depth analysis of her subjects - in this case, how Hollywood made stars. I really liked how she didn't cover material that has been presented elsewhere such as the Freed Unit and how she looked at those individuals who didn't click with the public as well as those who did. The last chapter or so was a bit slower and seemed dated since she was talking about Hollywood after the studio system collapsed and "current" so-called ...more
Patrick Elsey
Jul 26, 2016 Patrick Elsey rated it did not like it
As much as I enjoyed this book I can't really recommend anyone read it. The author seems to hate everyone involved in Hollywood that isn't part of the "Golden Age" which the author seems to think only takes place from 1937 to 1945.

The author basically dismisses everyone not involved in what they believe is the "Golden Age" loves Clark Gable a lot (he's great but still) and never talks about say Louis B. Meyer and somehow dismisses Irving Thalberg.

The massive gaps in the history in the book desp
Jun 23, 2013 Belinda rated it it was ok
Shelves: film-theory
I had high hopes for this book from film academic Janine Basinger, but ended up very disappointed. It starts well with an interesting depiction of how film studios manufactured stars during Hollywood's golden age. However, once she starts talking about specific stars the book really focuses on her opinions and value judgements, which is not something I'm particularly interested in. She also completely ignores the sociological and audience aspect of stars, except for fan mail.
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Jeanine Basinger holds a BS and MS from South Dakota State University. She is a film historian, professor of Film Studies at Wesleyan University and curator and founder of The Cinema Archives at Wesleyan University. In addition, she is a trustee emeritus of the American Film Institute, a member of the Steering Committee of the National Center for Film and Video Preservation, and one of the Board o ...more
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“Deanna Durbin's movies are about innocence and sweetness. They're from a different time and a different place. Outside the movie house, there was Depression, poverty, war, death, and loss. Audiences then were willing to pretend, to enter into a game of escape. No one really thought that the world was like a Deanna Durbin movie, they just wanted to pretend it was for about an hour and a half.” 2 likes
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