Famously touted as “the most beautiful woman in movie history” by Darryl F. Zanuck, the chief executive of Twentieth Century Fox, actress Gene Tierney achieved major stardom with Fox’s classic Laura (dir. Otto Preminger, US, 1944) following years of being typecast as an Orientalist “exotic.” The production insisted on her embodiment of the Hollywood beauty ideal during World War II and defined feminine beauty in terms that would not offend soldiers overseas. Fox went as far as to excise a montage sequence in which the influential columnist Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb) helps make over Laura Hunt (Tierney) from the stenographer of an advertising agency to a Madison Avenue executive and glamorous socialite, selecting a more sophisticated hairstyle and wardrobe and introducing her to the café society of Manhattan’s Upper West Side. This article analyzes the historical promotion and publicity that surrounded Tierney’s transformation. It argues that her shifting star image accommodated the different conceptions of the Laura character both at diegetic and extradiegetic levels, but made haute couture beauty accessible to the home front by concealing an ornamental process of female beautification. With a wardrobe that anticipated the ready-to-wear women’s fashions she went on to create, Fox costume designer Bonnie Cashin refashioned Tierney into an “all-American” war-time working woman.
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Will Scheibel; Working It: Gene Tierney, Laura, and Wartime Beautification. Camera Obscura 1 September 2018; 33 (2 (98)): 161–195. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/02705346-6923154
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