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Libel, scandal, and bad big names: It Should Happen to You, Les Girls, Camille, and Romeo and Juliet
A number of George Cukor's films focus on the critique and correction of social personae, featuring protagonists who must fuss over the most "appropriate" or socially desired presentation of self. In It Should Happen to You (1954), the focus on public image assumes fantastic proportions when ditzy nobody Gladys Glover (Judy Holliday) blows her savings on billboard space, brandishing her name in gigantic lettering high over the city for no reason other than to see herself situated this way. Through the miracle of public relations, Gladys is instantaneously celebritized, although no one can quite say why she deserves to be. Yet, she is ridiculed for her grotesque self-presentation by the everyday photographer (Jack Lemmon) who loves her and eventually she renounces her exploded self-image for an identity of normal proportions. In Les Girls (1957), problematic female self-image is again foregrounded through a libel case hinging on a dancer's sexual propriety. Again, male desire sets the standard for the "proper" female self-image: sitting in the courthouse, the plaintiff's (Taina Elg) fiance (Jacques Bergerac) perpetually recalibrates his love for her as he is forced to absorb one after another the purported details of her indecency. In Camille (1936), an ex-courtesan, Marguerite (Greta Garbo), having allowed stigma to reconstitute her self-image, rejects her lover (Robert Taylor) for fear of marking him with the same social taint. In11red to performing her affections for wealthy suitors, Marguerite must tragically perform rejection of the man she does love. Socially forbidden love is similarly centralized in Cukor's adaptation of Romeo and Juliet (1936), in which the tides of passion conflict with social taboos and reputations. Here the principal actors' incongruous ages - Norma Shearer was thirty-four when the film premiered; Leslie Howard was forty-four - mean their performance of this archetypal heterosexual courtship is denaturalized-rendered routine and artificial.
This chapter discusses the above films' focus on socially condoned and legitimated identities, especially on their tendency to articulate a particular performance of self as the truthful and necessary expression of one's identity while concealing broader social forces that work to disempower the individual. The four films also illustrate selves that transcend societal prescriptions and, consequently, cannot ever find stable realization within the filmic world that contains them.
Publication titleGeorge Cukor: Hollywood Master
EditorsM Pomerance and RB Palmer
Department/SchoolStudent Life and Enrichment
PublisherEdinburgh University Press
Place of publicationEdinburgh, UK
Rights statementCopyright 2015 editorial matter and organization Murray Pomerance and R. Barton Palmer; the chapters their several authors