Chair of the Film Studies Department Jeanine Basinger’s “The Star Machine,” examines the insular, heavily-commercial process that made and broke the careers of movie stars from the 1930s to the 1950s. The book illustrates the studio system’s effect through “the human factor”“including case studies of movie stars who were built up and knocked down by the earliest titans of pre-color Hollywood. Among others, Basinger profiles Loretta Young, Errol Flynn, Irene Dunne, Deanna Durbin, and Tyrone Power. She also explains what ended the original “star machine,” and why the practice of “making” stars is no longer relevant in movies. Here’s what the critics are saying:

“The movie industry did not have a formula, but it did have a process, and in her most absorbing chapters, Ms. Basinger breaks down the steps by which human raw material could be shaped into something that audiences would love and pay money to see again and again. Some of this material is familiar, but Ms. Basinger chooses her examples cleverly. Although it is no secret that actors entered into serflike bondage, who knew that Gene Tierney battled long and hard to retain contractual control of her own teeth?”

­”William Grimes, The New York Times Book Review

“…a smart, deeply researched but also chatty and fast-flowing history of the phenomenon [of movie stardom].”

“Fred Schruers, Los Angeles Times

“…once the book’s central idea is laid out”stars aren’t born, they’re laboriously handcrafted and sold“the author just repetitively hammers the point home.”

”David Fear, Time Out New York

“According to Jeanine Basinger’s history of Hollywood’s golden age, “The Star Machine,” studios used to be alchemists, spinning ordinary men and women into silver-screen gods. They were given fake noses, fake teeth, fake bios, and fake names. Almost nothing about them was real, which was exactly the point: Hollywood was peddling fantasy.”

“Chris Nashawaty, Entertainment Weekly

“Much of the primal appeal of moviegoing stems from watching beautiful people in sexually charged scenarios, and it’s disingenuous to pretend otherwise. But there’s something disconcerting about film scholars who obsess over a favorite star’s erotic appeal. “Machine” could easily trim 50 pages of fat just by editing out every loving description of how amazing sex symbols like Tyrone Power look in their perfectly tailored costumes. (Of course they look good” they’re fucking movie stars.) “Machine”’s epic length (more than 600 pages) speaks less to a broad, expansive vision than to a stubborn unwillingness to edit judiciously. It would benefit from more critical analysis and much less starstruck, fangirl ardor.”

“Nathan Rabin, The Onion A.V. Club

“Deeply engrossing, full of energy, wit, and wisdom, “The Star Machine” is destined to become an invaluable part of the film canon.”


“As you read Basinger’s book, it is easy to feel sorry for the stars that were part of the machine. Studios were like pimps: they picked someone out, made them over, and put them on the screen to be viewed and used. When the actor’s star dimmed, they were tossed out for a younger version. She gives a close-up view of the machine and the long-lasting effect on the lives it touched.”

“Teresa Watson,

“Basinger is one of the most down-to-earth film historians, and one of the most readable. Her book is encyclopedic, full of information and tales moral and otherwise. She is especially good in charting a performer’s career over a sequence of films and roles.”

”David Walton, Pittsburgh Tribune

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