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Depression Lessons #11

This lesson from Depression-era cinema comes to you in a one-liner about the stars of early Talkies: They weren’t necessarily pretty.
Zasu Pitts: All mien, a droopy bouquet self-sufficient in its droopiness, redolent of specific flowers. And yet, this lily of the valley knows it’s been brutally transplanted. Some actors do that, even if unconsciously—embody perfumed there-and-not-there presence, in this case a position within the general mayhem of pre-Code programmers that… yields. Gives way. There’s no sense of tragedy in her exodus from the exalted Silents to All Talking Pictures, not a hint of loss, in fact. Decaying sweetness comes with the schtick. At once defining and escaping capital "K" Kitsch, the Great Zasu’s trembling trademark vocalizations seem made for the coarsest ballyhoo, because, after all, doormats were suddenly IN! She evokes prettiness more than being pretty, and suggests, with her out-sized peepers and alabaster skin, Victorian ideas of purity so that her perennial status as a discarded, worn-out broom never fully takes hold. Is this a kind of victory? Today’s Depression Lesson comes to you in a one-liner about the stars of early Talkies: They weren’t necessarily pretty.
And not everyone tried fast-talking America out of The Great Depression. Some, like Zasu, lugged the burden of land-locked accents – congealed honey from a grocery in East Hell, Nebraska – onto Hollywood's synch-sound shores. Actually, she was raised by a one-legged father in Kansas. And came of age with a quavering alto honk pitched to the tremulous flutter of her hands.
Special thanks to Tom Sutpen and David Cairns
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Part of our on-going series Depression Lessons.

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