In the post–World War I American climate of isolationism, nativism, democratic expansion of civic rights, and consumerism, Italian-born star Rodolfo Valentino and Italy’s dictator Benito Mussolini became surprising paragons of authoritarian male power and mass appeal. Drawing on extensive archival research in the United States and Italy, Giorgio Bertellini’s work shows how their popularity, both political and erotic, largely depended on the efforts of public opinion managers, including publicists, journalists, and even ambassadors. Beyond the democratic celebrations of the Jazz Age, the promotion of their charismatic masculinity through spectacle and press coverage inaugurated the now-familiar convergence of popular celebrity and political authority.
“A fantastic and an eminently readable milestone in the study of celebrity. Bertellini sets a new standard for archival and analytical approaches to movie stardom in the 1920s while also illuminating the political stakes of celebrity that resonate with twenty-first-century culture.” GAYLYN STUDLAR, author of Precocious Charms: Stars Performing Girlhood in Classical Hollywood
“This is a remarkable and timely study, and a model of interdisciplinary and transnational scholarship. Only someone with Bertellini’s cross-disciplinary expertise and meticulous research skills could pull together these cases and weave them into a compelling account of the ‘cinema effect’ on American politics.” BARBARA SPACKMAN, University of California, Berkeley
“Bertellini’s brilliant book shows clearly how celebrity and promotional culture became integral to new practices of mass governance in the early twentieth century. It is a crucial history, essential also to any genealogy of the mediatized present and the rise of modes of authoritarian and neofascist governance.” LEE GRIEVESON, author of Cinema and the Wealth of Nations: Media, Capital, and the Liberal World System
GIORGIO BERTELLINI is Professor of Film and Media History at the University of Michigan. He is the author and editor of the award-winning volumes Italy in Early American Cinema: Race, Landscape, and the Picturesque and Italian Silent Cinema: A Reader.
Bertellini, G. 2019. The Divo and the Duce: Promoting Film Stardom and Political Leadership in 1920s America. California: University of California Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1525/luminos.62
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