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Review: 'What Price Hollywood?: Gender and Sex in the Films of George Cukor' Spotlights a Gay Director's Ouvre

by Bill Biss
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Jul 10, 2020
Review: 'What Price Hollywood?: Gender and Sex in the Films of George Cukor' Spotlights a Gay Director's Ouvre

It was just a timely coincidence that after finishing Elyce Rae Helford's book "What Price Hollywood? Gender and Sex in the Films of George Cukor" that the next morning Turner Classic Movies presented a five-pack of Cukor's films. Screening were "The Women," "The Philadelphia Story," "A Woman's Face," "Gaslight," and "The Actress." All five of these classic films, and more directed by George Cukor, are spotlighted in a new and inventive way in Elyce Rae Helford's book.

She analyzes sexuality, both heterosexual relationships and films with gay and lesbian subtexts prevalent within the confines of the studio system at the time Cukor was directing these films. Not only that, Helford explores how film historians and the critics of the time of the film's release reacted. After reading each chapter, there is cause for reflection and a deeper understanding of Cukor's films.

Oh, did you know George Cukor was gay and when he was tagged a "women's director" he disliked that moniker? Cukor was an actor's director, and a very fine one at that. From "What Price Hollywood" in 1932 to "A Star is Born" in 1954, or "A Double Life" in 1947 to "Born Yesterday" in 1950, he had a finesse and eye to create memorable and long-lasting performances out of the stars he directed. This is his eternal gift of talent. He also had a tremendous collaboration as director and friend with Katharine Hepburn. Each of these facets of his career is brought to light in Helford's finely researched and thought-provoking book.

From female friendships to the role of masculinity and use of alcohol in his films or his 1940's films and his choices of directorial assignments, it's crystal-clear that Cukor possessed remarkable talent as a craftsman and a solid sense of what subjects mattered to him. To quote Cukor, "Heaven knows, everyone has his limitations. But why make them narrower than they are?"

Elyce Rae Helford also examines Cukor's use of drag, gender, and camp. Her title for Chapter Seven: "Queer Musical Excess." George Cukor won his only Oscar as director for "My Fair Lady," and it really is a revelation as Helford discusses all the dialogue and situations overlooked in this award-winning and timeless musical. She also touches on his directorial work for "Let's Make Love," starring Marilyn Monroe, and "Les Girls." Needless to say, if you want an authoritative and fresh look at George Cukor's films, look no further than "What Price Hollywood?"


"What Price Hollywood? Gender and Sex in the Films of George Cukor"
by Elyce Rae Helford
Hardcover
$40.00
https://www.kentuckypress.com/9780813179292/what-price-hollywood/

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