Girl in the canoe: history, teleology and the work of star construction in the early roles of Marilyn Monroe

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    Abstract

    This essay identifies the theoretical consequences for the discipline of star studies of the manifest disparity between Marilyn Monroe's extensive work as a unknown bit part player and her later stellar celebrity. Monroe's unattributed appearance in 1948 as a pinup photograph in a Gene Autry vehicle stands as a point of origin of her entry into cinematic history. Articulating the significance of this first appearance in relation to her subsequent globalized celebrity of later years is, however, reliant upon a range of unacknowledged assumptions that undermine the epistemological basis upon which star careers are usually constructed. Instead, the discrepancy between bit part player and star persona is examined as a challenge for the construction of knowledge in star studies. Monroe's star history provokes recognition that ‘taken-for-granted’ notions such as career progression, box-office appeal and natural talent are actually organized according to a narrative structure that is teleological. In this, understanding of stardom as a historical process is reduced to a self-confirming narrative: against the grain of historical evidence pre-Niagara of 1953, the superstardom of Monroe's later career is understood to be in place at its beginning. The essay concludes with an appeal to dispense with this conceptual apparatus in order to approach the actuality of the sociohistorical reality of the late 1940s/early 1950s in which Monroe made her bit part film appearances.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)54-70
    Number of pages17
    JournalScreen
    Volume51
    Issue number1
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 2010

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