Over Christmas, my friend Zack sent me a photo of a drop-dead gorgeous woman with the message: “I am in love with the way this woman looks.”
I checked her out. Yep, she was most certainly stunning, with big, sad eyes, pouty lips, a classic nose, and perfect hair. Judging by the particular photo he’d sent me, I guessed she was from the 1920s—and she looked familiar—but I couldn’t place who she was.
Turns out she’s Sylvia Sidney, an actress. She looked familiar because I’d seen her films: first Sabotage, then Mars Attacks! and I Never Promised You a Rose Garden.
How did such a beautiful woman escape my attention? She never really “made” it, meaning she never became a household name, but why? She had lead roles, and she was talented enough to break in. Did she lack star quality? What was it that made the masses fail to embrace her?
Sylvia had been acting since the age of fifteen, and must have had something special—she was praised by critics and hand-picked by a Hollywood talent scout to appear in movies, and was able to successfully act through the Depression. She had a five-decade Broadway theater career. She was chosen by Alfred Hitchcock and Fritz Lang to star in their films, and she was so beloved by Tim Burton that he cast her in two of his movies. She even received an Academy Award nomination in the early 1970s.
So what Sylvia Sidney had made me think about (besides how much I would love to look like her) is: what separates an actor from their star quality? Is it that one movie role? Is it having a likeable face? Is it meeting the right people?
It’s not beauty or exposure—Sylvia had plenty of that. It must be a combination of things, namely talent, choices, and atmosphere. I’m sure that beauty and exposure thrown in help immensely, and I’m sure that it’s different things for everyone.
I think about this a lot when I discover broken dream stories about actors like Yvette Vickers, Peg Entwistle, and Elizabeth Short. Sylvia Sidney’s story is, of course, much more successful and happy than these other girls’, but still it makes me wonder…
…what she was missing.