Let's have a gay old time : how lesbians shaped early Hollywood




Reinschmidt, Janet

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This thesis puts forth Alla Nazimova, Kay Francis, and Greta Garbo as case studies for early Hollywood lesbian stardom and reception and unpacks how their star personas were constructed as well as the fan responses to their image and work. Through intersections of star studies, reception studies, classic literature, and queer historical texts, I discuss each star’s life and career with textual analysis of their films and primary sources such as fan letters, fan magazines, advertisements, and newspaper articles. I argue that each star represents a queer, and more specifically lesbian and bisexual, sensibility within the early Hollywood film industry that deserves more scholarly attention. The fan letters columns within old Hollywood fan magazines such as Photoplay and Modern Screen particularly illustrate the construction of queer star personas and the impact that they had on informed movie fans. Nazimova, Francis, and Garbo were all-powerful and influential figures in the film industry during significant periods of change such as the rise of the studio era, the arrival of sound, and the shift from pre-Code to the production Code era. Their star personas reflect how they were influenced by and went on to influence these critical transitions in Old Hollywood. There is a fundamental activist function to this work, to remind audiences that queer people have always existed, even without a framework to discuss identity, and this work endeavors to show a dedicated lesbian influence and audience of early Hollywood.


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