Back in the “Golden Age” of Hollywood, movie stars were glamorous. They looked good in every film, at every premiere, and at every awards show and their loyal fans lined up to see their movies and buy magazines in which they appeared. Whenever a camera was trained on them, they looked like they moved in a rarified circle, beyond the reach of moral men. Sure, they had their problems, but the bad stuff was usually kept off the front page and well out of sight. Only the shine showed through.

Fast forward to today. The glamour has been replaced by scandal and sensation, and we’re more likely to see a mug shot or a crash site photo than shots of gifted performers enjoying the jet set life. Movie star style has been replaced by stylists and designer product placement, and many celebrities are better known for their off-screen antics than their on-screen roles.

So what changed?

The decline of the studio system and the rise of multi media.

In the 1930’s and 40’s, Hollywood studios controlled everything in film production, from finding and cultivating talent to distributing movies in the theaters. Like giant factories, each studio would crank out thirty to sixty movies a year and maintain a stable of actors, writers, directors, and behind-the-scenes people to plug into those projects as needed. Lead actors might work on three or four movies a year; minor, supporting actors might work on ten or fifteen. Most movies were shot on the studio lots on a tight budget and short time frame, and only the most bankable actors or directors could pick and choose their projects. Usually, movies were assigned. If a talent didn’t like a film, that was too bad; if he wined or complained, he could be cut from projects, loaned to other studios, or even dropped from contract. It was a bottom-line, formulaic business, and creativity – while important – always came second. All that control was the bad part about studios.

The good part was that they truly cultivated their people. They took raw talent and turned it into box office gold through training and careful grooming. Actors and actresses were taught how to dress, walk, talk, and behave like movie stars. Some got new hair and new makeup; others got new names and new noses. This training was so complete, in fact, that when the “Best Dressed” lists first appeared in the early 40’s to stimulate the war-trodden fashion industry, movie stars were kept off the list because they had the unfair advantage of being dressed by their studios. Studios also managed to keep a lot of bad behavior out of the headlines because it was bad for business and chipped away at the Hollywood mystique.

That history came to mind as I watched the Oscar’s Red Carpet pre-show the other night. As one actress strolled down the red carpet in haute couture, chomping on a wad of chewing gum while cameras flashed away, another bragged to an interviewer that she would never get out of her jeans if it weren’t for the amazing work of {insert popular stylist name here}.


They can command millions for their work but they can’t dress themselves properly or chew with their mouths closed? Hmm. Kind of makes you wonder just what warrants those big paychecks. It also makes me want to wait until their films hit cable instead of paying full price at the theater. There’s no mystery with these people. They’re just the “average Joe.”

That’s what set the “Old Hollywood” crowd apart. Those stars didn’t seem average. They seemed beyond reach. They were like the cool kids in school, moving in an elite circle that others wanted to be part of but just couldn’t quite manage to swing. Even today, fifty, sixty, seventy years later, you can watch a movie from that era and have that sense of wonder and awe. What would it be like to hang out with Katherine Hepburn, Carole Lombard, Humphrey Bogart, or Clark Gable? What could you learn from Bette Davis or Joan Crawford? What beauty tips could you glean from Veronica Lake or Marilyn Monroe?

Yes, there are celebrities today that people clamor to see. But will their popularity survive the test of time? It’s hard to say. The biggest blockbusters these days seem to be heavy on the special effects and light on the talent and storylines. Will the “A-Listers” of today even be remembered fifty years from now?

Will you?

If you’re busy following the crowd, trying to fit in or “keep up with the Joneses”, you probably won’t be. Sorry, but if life is like a casting call and you’re just like everyone else, how can you expect to stand out? The only way you can realistically shoot for a larger part/a better title/a bigger paycheck is if you bring “something extra” to the table that no one else does.

For some, it’s better skills or a unique skill that no one else has. For others, it’s a better wardrobe or manners that make the difference. For “A-Listers,” it’s a combination of both: good skills and proper packaging. Such finesse will set you apart from your peers today, and make you the standard bearer in your field for years to come.

Here’s how to strive for it:

1. Take a good, honest look at your current skills. What’s good? What’s not so good? What could use some work? If your skills are good, then strive to add a unique but related skill to set yourself apart. If a “triple threat” in Hollywood is someone who can act, dance, and sing, what’s a “triple threat” in your industry? Someone who can research, write, and speak? Create, market, and administer? Play, perform, and coach? Think about it and expand your skills.

2. Take a good, honest look at how you dress. Is your wardrobe appropriate for your position and industry? Do you know what to wear at different levels in your career? Do you know how to dress appropriately for different occasions? If not, then it’s time to find out.

3. Take a good, honest look at your manners. Could you dine at a fine restaurant or a backyard barbecue with equal ease? Do you know how to say “thank you” or receive praise with equal grace? Could you pass through a diplomatic receiving line without feeling like a fraud? If not, read books or take classes on etiquette. Nice manners are in short supply these days but still appropriate for every occasion.

4. In almost every industry, those who excel get pushed into the spotlight to speak, write, and teach others. Could you do so with confidence, knowing your skills and appearance are “up to snuff”? Or would you “freak out” and say NO to an invitation because you couldn’t stand the scrutiny? Plan for success by getting your writing and presenting skills in order now.

5. Finally, manage your public image with care. Respect your own privacy by setting boundaries of what you share with others. If you don’t want something repeated, don’t say it in the first place. If you don’t want racy photos published, don’t pose for them to begin with. If you have indiscretions in your past that you don’t want revealed, keep them hidden as best you can – and then come up with a good story to tell should they ever come to light. The Internet has enabled secrets and scandals to be flashed around the world in an instant, and those who seek to curtail your success will use your comments, bad photos, and secrets to “keep you in your place.” Don’t let them. Think before you speak, drink in moderation or not at all when in a group, and never behave like a spoiled teenager. Show class; don’t be crass.

Just reading through this list, you can see why “Old Hollywood” style seems in such short supply these days. Yes, it takes time and effort to groom yourself for a lead role in your industry or community. But you’ve probably already worked hard to get where you’re at; why not go that extra step and enjoy all the rewards that go along with it? You may be delighted by the new company you’ll keep.

Good luck!