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Friday, December 27, 2013

HISTORY LESSON: Man Enough? Part 2 - The Studio Era

Continued from Part 1 - Silents

William Powell represents the depression-era man in My Man Godfrey,
a film that showcased the struggle of masculinity through the dark age 

and, finally, his triumph: mind over matter, always with comedy.

... And then, the storm came. As the silent era dissipated like yesterday’s old dreams, the talkie revolution stepped in. Simultaneously, the Great Depression would hit. America would feel the full effects of both phenomena, but not immediately. Life continued on clumsily in the ignorance that tragedy could be averted while the movies tried to learn to speak. It would take man awhile to notice the desperation of the concurrent financial disaster, just as the cinematic medium used the period for experimentation, slowly trying to re-establish what exactly it was doing. As men, breadwinners, and former tough guys, started getting laid off, the male ego took a real blow. The movies valiantly saved the day, becoming one of the only successful businesses during this period. Why? They gave guys their guts back. The male archetype on film hollered, screamed, and took no prisoners. The early ‘30s were ruled by cavemen. With a finger on the slowing pulse of manhood, the leading men started to holler at the world and beat their chests, and the movies really started to scream...

The thirties introduced men with equal parts spit and polish, glamour and grit. They were dapper-- to counteract the cloud of poverty-- and dangerous-- to compensate for the national feeling of powerlessness. The Gangster took shape, introducing the era's only comprehensible form of the prosperous male: the criminal. If you couldn’t make an honest buck, you could make millions of them dishonestly. Crime was the only thing that paid. The world that slapped the populace in the face was, therefore, was about to get bitch-slapped right back. James Cagney (left in The Public Enemy) made his fierce entry into the medium alongside George Raft and Edward G. Robinson, birthing the contemporary embodiment of the American Dream turned Nightmare, while somehow inspiring hope. Mirroring the growing public desperation, these ultimate underdogs got scrappy. They would lie, cheat, or steal to get ahead, and somehow beat their own bad rap by getting “badder.” 

Iconic films like Angels with Dirty Faces and Little Caesar produced a new, unlikely hero. Suddenly, audiences were sympathizing with the bad guy, who indeed was (at least initially) morally irredeemable. These "gents" were not your token, attractive guys either. Robertson’s bull-dog face only made him fill the shoes more ably of his internally ugly characters. Paul Muni as the original Scarface used cosmetics and body padding to make himself look absolutely Cro-Magnon in the role (right). These were the internal beasts coming out to play who, in a time of deprivation, took any and everything they wanted on behalf of their viewers, who had little more than their theater tickets to give them solace. By screwing the system that screwed them and defying the law with every breath, these guys filled their pockets with cash, dressed to the nines, and bathed in champagne. 

George Brent manhandles Barbara Stanwyck's "tramp"
in The Purchase Price.
They also had any woman they wanted-- those who wouldn’t have given them the time of day under normal circumstances. Money bought happiness. These “dames,” who were only looking for the highest bidder, were purchased like posh gold watches and discarded instead of rewound when they became outdated. It was about building from the ground up, after all. You have to drop the dead weight on the way to better things. As each gangster ascended, he dropped the “sluts” he had picked up along the way as soon as a better one came along. Mobsters weren’t into emotional investment. They wanted the best-- now. They also made certain to show a woman who was boss. Who can forget Cagney pushing that grapefruit into Mae Clarke’s face? The message was clear, “Keep your mouth shut and your legs spread.” This pumped up the ego while humiliated men fell in stature down the familial food chain, their wives taking on jobs to help out the family finances. It reestablished their position as the patriarch.

Edward G. Robinson as "Little Caesar."
Why did the public respond so heartily to these guys? Aside from the obvious cathartic release for men who could watch and live vicariously, the acting and writing of the time was so superb that the villains were given astounding humanity, however corrupted. These men were complicated. As lascivious as they may have been, audiences also saw the little boys within them-- their "holy" spirits may have been broken after living in the gutter, but the stars were still in their eyes. They also lived in constant fear, however well hidden behind their tough guy facades. Constantly hunted by the feds or competing thugs, there was a big, red target on each of their backs. An enemy could take them out at any minute, even when they were simply doing all they could to survive. Nothing in life is free, and while they may have left a trail of blood behind them, they bore their own scars and took their own hits. It’s a dog eat dog life... The interesting and scandalous layers of their personas, peppered in the subtext of the writing, also enriched their stories. Robinson’s homoerotic friendship with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. in Little Caesar or Paul Muni’s uncomfortable and possessive relationship with his sister (Ann Dvorak ) in Scarface illuminated the multiple cracks in the impenetrable male facade. They were fascinating, dark, disturbed, and disturbingly real.

Clark Gable's "Babe Stewart" checks
something out at the library- Carole
Lombard- representing a healthy,
male, sexual appetite and the
norm of objectification.
Clark Gable was also a hoodlum and racketeer, strong arming Norma Shearer in A Free Soul and scheming his way to the top in San Francisco or China Seas. He too was portrayed as a rough and tumble guy whose good fortune was his good looks. His cocky manner generally presented itself with more suavity than his super-mafia brothers. He was a disrespectful, respectable self-made man. He played a little dirty, but he often found absolution in the end, generally in the arms of a woman, whom he had cleaned himself up to properly protect. His masculinity was therefore defined both by his abilities to be a provider but also to "fly right." He acted a bit as the bridge between the depression’s beginning and its end, his characters always being a bit edgy and unattainable but still able to outgrow their selfishness to settle down in a modern way with an equally broken but secretly angelic woman. By the end of the roaring gangster era, he maintained his macho yet became more innately decent. Even "Rhett Butler" became a family man. Still, whether playing house with Myrna Loy in Wife vs. Secretary or bad guy made good in Hold Your Man opposite Jean Harlow or No Man of Her Own opposite Carole Lombard, he showcased a man whose hands were dirty but at heart was a well-hidden, good guy. His great victory was triumphing over his circumstances and shedding his bad boy skin to become a real man. His “manliness” and his eventual passion and responsibility for his chosen woman made him catnip to the ladies as well.

Man's man Bogie roughs up the effeminate Peter Lorre,
and puts the "bitch" in his place in The Maltese
Of course, there were different varieties of men in this period. Muni and Spencer Tracy were the symbolic martyrs of fallen men, churning out socially conscious pictures like I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang or Fury. Tracy's dominance in this particular field would continue throughout his career, portraying compelling figures battling changing sociopolitical tides. He remains a master in the craft, and his version of the American male would transcend and mature with the ever-changing world. Errol Flynn and Tyrone Power were the caution-be-damned, overgrown boy heroes (in tights) who maintained our optimism in the face of danger. Their spirits sharpened our belief systems and our personal quest for poetic justice, "with a little sex thrown in." Bogie led the noir revolution, establishing a man with his own definitions of morality and right and wrong. He was a bad guy who was a good guy, solving crimes with unnecessary roughness and street smarts. He also maintained his manhood by defeating the femme fatale, drawing a hard line between the sexual and the romantic. He saw to it that the man wore the pants and equally took it upon himself to take down the villain. His "Gal Friday," in contrast to the sexy succubus trying to drain him of his power, was protected purely because of her submission, even as she also took on harder edges like Lauren Bacall. The harsh world that had changed him had to accept him, warts and all, and this was exemplified by this attentive and never deterred Gal Friday. His damaged goods but wizened hero helped pave the way to fiscal and social “normalcy” as the depression eased up. However, the noir shadows he brought along with him would always indicate the ghosts of our past. He was the face of an aged America.

Captain America, Gary Cooper, in The Pride
of the Yankees
, the morale boosting war-
time film that promoted wholesome
values through the great national
pastime of baseball.
There too were more romantic moral compasses, like James Stewart, Henry Fonda, or Gary Cooper, whose messages of righteousness started to increasingly transcend the domestic sphere and get political, particularly as the thirties became the forties. Their all-American heroes, by promoting “all-American ideals,” portrayed the prototypical male as one bound by duty, country, and integrity. Films like Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Ox-Bow Incident, etc, presented fighters for truth, justice, and the American way, even when the hero was a humble guy who bore less muscle than the formerly prosperous, gun-toting gangster. The interesting William Powell provided the ideal modern husband, as the often half-drunk but always charming "Nick Charles" of The Thin Man series. He solved crime and made love to his wife, triumphing over the horror of life by accepting it as the greatest gag ever played-- not to be taken seriously. In essence, he laughed in the face of danger. As WWII gained steam and our country’s participation in it became inevitable (after the Pearl Harbor horror), redefining America as something worth saving became the dominant concern. We needed unsung heroes to finally be heard. Their message-- that we were all going to be all right-- was vital to morale as our villains switched masks from the government, the Man, or the tax-man to the foreigner.

War heroes fighting for freedom, women, and country, filled theaters as men (including some of our stars) took to the skies and propaganda took wing. Mr. America himself led the way. John Wayne (right) had long been wearing the badge and toting the pistol of the unofficial Sheriff of the United States. His characters became increasingly rugged and uncompromising in their unbreakable defense of liberty. His cowboys and soldiers, whether at their most pure-hearted in his early career (Stagecoach, Flying Tigers) or bitter toward his later career (The Searchers, The Green Berets) were symptomatic of man’s need to hold onto his own patch of earth, fighting for it to the teeth. As the cowboy, he was more of a drifter, and a somewhat Godless one at that. His religion, always, was freedom. As the soldier, this religion became wider in scope-- from the open plain to the entirety of the country-- as he guided men abroad, defending his personal definition of human rights and taking down whatever foreigner was threatening his sense of safety. Increasingly politically incorrect and thick-skinned as the years progressed, he was the Uncle Sam holding onto ideals that remain cemented in our culture. He made the United States feel safe to contemporary audiences. His unmannerly, unforgiving and, by modern standards, skewed perception of reality, was consistently saved by the palpable sadness he carried within him, again creating for men a man with a hidden depth. Buried emotions-- the refusal to be interpreted as a “sissy”-- were the glue that held America together. This submergence may harden the man, but it saved his brothers. So, the gangster became the soldier, still pointing a gun, the ultimate symbol of masculine power, to create and maintain the intimidating fortress of the United States. 

Jimmy Stewart made a career representing and fighting for the little guy. An
average looking and awkward sounding fellow, he was an underdog who
somehow made a home for himself as a bona fide leading man. The
messages in his films-- fighting passionately for truth and mankind
in general-- left people with the pleasing sensation that integrity
would win out in the end, no matter the circumstances.

Thanks in part to these films, America would entertain this necessarily self-centered focus for some time. Men were never as large as they were in the Studio Era. While the United States quaked under the pressures of the economy and then the second World War, we created larger than life heroes to bear the brunt of our desperation and rescue us from Hell on earth. Our men got dirtier, a little nastier, but they too became a little more authentic. There was truth-telling going on beneath the studio finessed perfection. While Hollywood was already veering toward its reliance on handsome faces, the cracks and flaws of man were becoming more visible, all of their howling, shooting, and manhandling covering up the paranoia they experienced at the loss of their livelihood and therefore their manhood. The variations of these different male prototypes has solidified them in history as the ultimate personality stars. None will ever be as famous as these guys, nor so important to upholding the mirage of Americana. However, as times changed, and as new threats appeared in the apple blossom gardens of American Eden-- the brief quiet following the war-- new movies with new heroes would lead us into another chapter. The biggest threat to man's sacrosanct structuring and exhibiting of the domestic bliss of the nuclear family would be one Hell of an atomic bomb: the "method" actor.

To Be Continued in the Final Chapter-- Method to the Modern

Monday, December 16, 2013

HISTORY LESSON: Man Enough? Part 1 - The Silents

In order to save his love interest (Virginia Cherrill) in City Lights, Chaplin has
to put up his dukes and "be a man."

While a lot of focus is given to interpreting the repression and liberation of women in film, that of the male archetype seems to be less thoroughly examined, at least in terms the facets of masculinity as reflections of/on society. The reason for this could very well be the lazy perception that "a man, is a man, is a man," which is a theory many may humorously, and perhaps correctly (to a certain extent), agree with. It is not the "male mystique" that continues to plague and baffle the opposite sex, yet this does not mean that the more "predictable" sex is any less complicated and nuanced than his fairer opposite. As such, his presentation on the silver screen and its metamorphosis over the years creates quite a broad portrait of just what it means to be a man. What makes a good man? A bad man? An attractive man? And what on earth is masculinity? Are the depictions of the different shades of the complex male conundrum-- the lover, the fighter, the cave man, the villain, the hero-- influenced by or influential of contemporary society? Probably a little bit of both.

Eugene Sandow gives good bicep in an early silent clip. A famous
Austrian body builder, he was
Schwarzenegger before anyone
knew what a Schwarzenegger was.

During the initial stages of silent cinema, men were, quite simply, just men. They weren't polished, they weren't pristine, they weren't products. They weren't, in fact, even acting. The more studied performers of the stage rebuffed the hackneyed gimmick of the "motion picture" as it groped its fledgling way into a fully grown, full-fledged business. Thus, the gratuitous appeal of the original flicker shows, which portrayed human beings naturally, as they really were, whether the image of the man projected was sneezing, boxing, flexing his muscles, or kissing May Irwin, was the documentary style of the medium. It was simple: point and shoot. Then, point and shoot with costumes on. The storytellers on the screen were regular guys looking for work. As movies became shorts, which became features, as 1 reel lengthened to 8, as plot lines became more complicated, so too did the requirements of the leading men become more intricate. Trained actors, who had performed on the stage and in vaudeville, soon began migrating toward the cinema, less to achieve fame-- as it didn't exist yet-- then to make ends meet and take the jobs that their contemporaries still poo-pooed. Many were innovators that saw the potential others overlooked, and some were merely wooed by the opportunity its opportunists. As a result, some of the great personalities of the 20th century would present themselves on the silver screen-- Chaplin, Keaton, Chaney, Fairbanks, Reid-- and the words "movie star" would be born. 

The interesting thing about these personalities is that, while they were better trained than the initial rookie actors of cinematic minor leagues, they were still fairly regular guys, the prettiest of them belonging to the Wallace Reid (left) variety, who with his boyish good looks and overgrown child charms was both the son and lover to his leading ladies. He and Douglas Fairbanks both presented a masculine archetype that was bristling with the energy of immaturity-- Wally with his speed racing, and Doug with his nonchalant embrace of danger. In these cases, the women and romantic interests were always secondary to the major action within the story, with both men more invested in being "wild and wooly" than responsible. Meanwhile, the leading ladies performing opposite them tried their best to domesticate them, all while accepting that they never really could. "Boys will be boys..." Wally was, admittedly, much more sexual, which is why he could easily vacillate between the daredevil driver of  The Roaring Road and the smitten love interest of The Golden Chance with ease.

Doug defends all of mankind's honor with the mightiest of phalluses,
his saber! (The Black Pirate)
Doug was never "in it" for love. Ever. His heroes, like D'Artagnan of The Three Musketeers and his Robin Hood were more enthralled with the opportunity for adventure than the sentimental pull of romance. Therefore, as an unspoken "hit 'em and quit 'em type"-- however optimistically he portrayed himself-- he wasn't about putting down roots but exploring man's liberty. The message both figures presented was that men weren't meant to be chained. They must be able to exercise their need for freedom. Women just had to be ready to catch them when they wore themselves out. Most of their stories possessed a wink at the female audience of, "Yeah, we don't need you, but we really do." The little lady in an apron was always the true brains behind the operation, running the man's life, all while he thought he was indeed running wild. This perpetuated the paternal society's definitions of gender roles within a marriage: women, keep the home fires burning, men... burn rubber!

Gilbert succumbs to the succubus, Garbo, in
Flesh and the Devil.
This isn't to say that there were no men with emotive eloquence. Two Romeos with such all consuming passion were John Gilbert and Rudolph Valentino, both of whom were inhumanly handsome and intensely virile. While inheriting in some ways the fairly adolescent charisma of the aforementioned brand of man-boy, the inciting incident in their lover storylines was not that which would attract them to adventure or the fight of good over evil. The inciting incident was the appearance of Eve in their Edens. Whatever extraneous business was happening otherwise was pure background noise. Each man followed only the beating of his heart, or perhaps better yet, the compulsion of his loins. These guys were victims to their passion. However selfishly they may have behaved in the past, meeting the girl was enough to instantly change them from selfish boys to helpless fools for love, and consequently drive them insane with desire. Gilbert was most memorably paired with Garbo in his romantic career. His intoxicated devotion to her, which nearly destroyed him every time (and sometimes did), portrayed for women the man of their dreams. He gave his undivided attention to his muse, for whom he would do anything, and he would not rest until he possessed her. This was enough to leave ladies fanning themselves in their seats, if not passing out in the aisles. 

Interestingly, it was Garbo who usually suffered in the end (at least in the silent era), being punished for her erotic witchcraft in Flesh and Love, for example. After escaping the soul-sucking power of the vamp, who sought only to bleed a man dry of his potent juices, the man was supposed to reclaim his soul, embrace his manhood, curse the bitch, and settle into a relationship that would place him back in a position of power. Gilbert's characters, therefore, would find solace in more dependable women who would be faithful, loyal, and submissive, and also allow him to peaceably engage in the boyish hijink's he'd temporarily forgotten while under the spell of forbidden sex. Though, it should be noted, that when Gilbert fell for a "good girl," such as Eleanor Boardman's heroine in Bardelys the Magnificent, the romance was indeed consummated. His more worldly character having already certainly experienced the ego and heart bruising of a Garbo-like woman in the past, this guy was out for an innocent wife to protect with his well-situated manliness. He had come of age before the storyline started.

Valentino's gents were very similar in their romantic addictions. Rudy had no problem becoming the putty in the hands of Alla Nazimova's Camille or Nita Naldi's vamp in Blood and Sand. The same action ensued, with the woman generally paying the price for her forbidden, unbridled sexual nature, and the man reasserting his final dominance, either shaming her in Camille's case or foolishly allowing himself to be destroyed in the vamp case, the latter being a lesson to all men. However, Valentino's heroes possessed more danger than Gilbert's. The is partially due to the scintillating allure of the foreigner-- xenophoberotica?-- and his animalistic assertion over his prey. In both Sheik films, Rudy shamelessly kidnaps Agnes Ayres and Vilma Banky until they accept their stations as his sex slaves, with him resorting to what can only be described as rape in the second film, Son of the Sheik (see right). Naturally, he feels bad for his carnal crimes afterward and learns his lesson, thereby clinging the soiled woman to his muscled chest-- again, the "good girl"-- and reforming himself into a more civilized man (undoing his foreignness) in the process. With his dark(er), Italian appeal, he also offered more fantasy, as Rudy wasn't a real American but a strange figure from a strange land. His heroes could be tamed but not domesticated, and after his capture of chosen female, it is assumed that he would take her to a fantasy world of happily monogamous "ever afters" and over-sexed oblivion. In whichever case, the macho man had to conquer to become the King of his own identity. He must be a slave to no one and the ultimate one in charge. This begets the plague of the necessarily more submissive female. 

Keaton battles the elements in Steamboat Bill, Jr.
In truth, the only true lovers of the silent era came from the fools and clowns-- sometimes literally. When looking at the selfless devotion of Chaplin or the innocent but maladministered and attracted pursuit of Keaton, one witnesses some of the greatest examples of romance in all of cinema, period. The Tramp would send himself into further despair, isolation, or poverty to rescue the woman he loved from even minor devastation (The Circus, City Lights), while Keaton's many lovable but bumbling wooers would do anything to impress a potential bride only to fail-- as in his refused enlistment in the army in The General. Neither was reaching for the moon. They just wanted nice girls to settle down with and have an ordinary life. They also always had competition: bigger men, stronger men, better looking men, and richer men. The Tramp was undeserving, because he was poor; Keaton, because he wasn't macho. The latter would only accidentally become a worthy hero when presented with the challenges of extreme circumstances, be they wartime, weather affected, or even hallucinatory. The notion was that these men were, indeed, good guys. But good guys rarely get the girl, which is why the majority of the time, these two did nothing but suffer. The image of the man as the strong provider and savior still continues to be the divisive factor in what makes a man a man. 

Chaplin continues his voyage as the loner, lovelorn loser in
The Circus-- a telling title.
Unlike Fatty Arbuckle, who was able to win the day almost totally due to his imposing size and the clever swiftness of his actions and schemes, he was a bit of the selfish prankster that Fairbank and Reid represented but in the comic genre. Contrastingly, Chaplin and Keaton were diminutive, sensitive, emotionally aware, but mostly uncomfortable with themselves. Confidence is key, and they guys didn't have it. Thus, Chaplin's victory was primarily only ever the reward of selfless love-- sending the girl of his dreams off to live with the man of hers-- while Keaton was more often allowed to end in wedded bliss because, despite his size and social ignorance, he was able to prove his masculinity through his unbelievable, life-saving acts of prowess. He had thus earned his place in man-dom. Chaplin's silent hero never received applause for the secret aid he gave to his lovers in need. These comic gems were the underdogs of society, who thus gave such equally aching, hidden Lotharios a voice. However, they were still the butt of their own jokes; not real men, but men in training. They weren't what any woman was looking for, and furthermore, they were holding the steam engine of the growing American powerhouse back by begging on street corners instead of getting "real jobs." In a capitalist society, one who isn't chasing coin or engaging in the game of business is looked upon as a chump, just another sad cog in the wheel of the money machine. Invisible heroes aren't heroes.

Lon Chaney also belongs in this category, which is further complicated by identifying these ardent, bleeding heart lovers as a fools simply for loving at all. Chaney's twisted, heartbroken soldiers were literal mutations of the male sex. The fact that he wore love on his sleeve made him a monster. "This is not what a man is supposed to be," his movies unconsciously seemed to say. This too is why he is constantly left loveless by the final reels. The Phantom of the Opera is, forgive me, "cock-blocked" by Norman Kerry's more virile Raoul when vying for Christine (Mary Philbin). The Hunchback of Notre Dame is, again, intercepted by Kerry's Phoebus when vying for the heart of Esmerelda (Patsy Ruth Miller). Even when not physically misshapen, Chaney's desire and pure-hearted emotion for the women he desired sealed his fate as one who would forever do without such love's return. His obsession with Joan Crawford in The Unknown leads him to mutilate himself. His devious fixation in The Unholy Three, his love for Mae Busch/Lila Leed, is why he fails in his caper and is punished for his crimes. He is crippled by and in love in The Shock, West of Zanzibar (left), and The Penalty. He is a dunce in love in The Trap and Mockery. And, just as Chaplin, his selflessness goes unrewarded with loneliness in Tell It to the Marines and While the City Sleeps.

Chaney's depiction of the ultimate man's man in Tell It to the Marines is
pretty much the definitive portrait of masculinity. Hard-broiled, weather-
worn, and built of discipline and duty, he is the man all new enlistees
are meant to emulate. His one error is the depth and honesty of his feelings,
which is why he loses the girl to the less emotionally and more erotically
focused William Haines (boy-man). His heart is read as a flaw, yet his 
surrendering of it in the end makes him a hero. Real men don't fall for 
that love stuff. They get the job done.
The absolute torment of bearing such a full, martyred heart, one so desperate to love, made Lon's heroes immediate victims. When playing a purely sexual avenger in Victory or The Wicked Darling, he still didn't get the girl, but he represented more fully the man's man that could at least get a tramp and could make it in society, even if by the skin of his corrupt teeth. His predators with their ulterior motives and potent sex drives spoke to the beast in male viewers. He was their dark side, something immediately relatable, just as in his opposing roles he represented their good side-- strangely an even darker, dirtier secret. In either case, as the extreme in both contrasting levels of the internal, male, emotional world, he rarely walked away the winner-- literally and figuratively. His sinister villains had to be destroyed for the sake of order in society as well as in the protection of virginal women, and his hideous poets had to be eliminated in some fashion so that the virgins could be defiled by more righteous men-- less emotive, good looking, and not from the dregs of society. 

Thomas Meighan as the bored husband in Why Change Your Wife?
Perhaps the best representative of the silent movie, "regular" man would be Thomas Meighan. Handsome but not pretty, masculine but not action oriented, his characters were generally average guys, which is to say that they held down jobs, were crossed and sometimes victorious in love, and were composites of flaws and virtues. He was sexual and desirous of love but not overly emotive about it. He had feelings, but he played them close to his chest. He may have started out a con man in The Miracle Man, but he cleaned up his act and went straight by the end. When watching his performance in Male and Female, we see that he is indeed a man of character with both primal and romantic desires-- directed at Gloria Swanson-- but these qualities are only exhibited after the characters are stranded on a desert isle, and he is allowed to indulge his instincts without fear of social scrutiny. When he returns to life, so too do these instincts become buttoned up and forgotten. A real man knows how to walk a straight line, keep his romance a secret, keep sex in the bedroom, and pay his taxes. The sturdy and reliable Meighan, in all the varieties of his characterizations, provided such a portrait, still while allowing light to be cast on different aspects of man's character that the actual average man would never have allowed to be seen.

Love's a gag, something that Fatty Arbuckle showcased best-- here
alongside constant co-star Marbel Normand in Fatty's Married Life.
Fatty cared for his women, but womanhood was something he
generally had to put up with while out getting into more interesting 
trouble or making it. Marriage is a drag, but the ball and chain was
never going to stop Fatty from being Fatty!

These actors were favorites during the silent era for all that they represented, whether their stories made them winners or losers. The interesting thing to note is how intrinsically different they were from one another. No two were the same. Each had his own fashion, his own style, his own art, and each depicted his own version of masculinity, even while all portrayals may have eventually led society down the same path of acceptable male behavior-- the best version of his gender. Perhaps because screen identities were not yet firmly established, ergo there were no cliches or gender staples to adhere to, men were allowed to step before the camera in all shapes and sizes, modes and behaviors. The early days were an incredibly diverse and liberating era for the actor/performer, and viewers were consequently introduced to a wide array of talents and depictions of what it then meant to be a man in contemporary America. While the thread of necessary male dominance always held sway, never again would the characters in the male tapestry be as mixed nor as interesting as in the silent period. At the time, it would have been more fitting to say, a man is a man in any way he can...

To Be Continued in The Studio era and Method to Modern Times...