August 26th, 2011
The book editor said, “This is a 1950’s story. People don’t speak this way today.”
I began to think. The actresses and actors in the 1950’s, the Golden Age of the Movies, were subjected to speech coaches. Perhaps the vocabulary in the scripts were partially responsible. The result, I speak of actresses here, such as Betty David, Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Crawford, Susan Hayworth, and Kathryn Hepburn, gained presence; they emoted with strong vocabularies and impeccable clarity of speech. They took on poise, confidence, and maturity. We said of them that they were strong women no matter what part they played. They had personas.
As did the men in the 1950’s. The famous Actors Studio changed all that, changed the style, and with it the vocabulary changed.
“How old are you?” he asked in the 1950’s script. She answered, “I’m twenty-three.” I say, never in the real world could she be 23. She sounds like a forty-five-year-old executive running a large company. That was the standard of the 1950’s. It sailed out into society at large.
That standard does not exist in the movies today, or in our society. The word choices are different; presence is different. Women are more informal; they sound younger; their vocabulary and speaking style more relaxed; they do not emote. The everyday jargon is different.
So, the editor continued, “Since the people in your story speak as they did in the 1950’s, the story must be set in that period.”
I listened to him.