3 of the defining figures of the Roaring Twenties
The Roaring Twenties saw the introduction of some of history’s most important players. Many redefined what it meant to be human.
– Charlie Chaplin brought a charming comicality to the first motion pictures.
– Gloria Swanson has gone down in history as one of Hollywood’s most essential leading ladies.
– F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote breathtaking reflections on the consciousness and social issues plaguing the 1920s.
The 1920s was one of the most electric periods in history, not only when it came to the economy, but also in the fields of art, literature, technology, and more. The celebrities that emerged during this era were some of the earliest pioneers in the industries of humanity that we celebrate today. Here are three of the influential figures that defined the glamorous scene of the 1920s.
Charles Chaplin is inarguably the most famous silent film star to have ever lived. Before the era of “talkies,” flicks were colorless and soundless. Creating intelligent, thought-provoking, and complex works of cinema required one essential element: incredible actors. With his quirky mustache and famous bowler hat and cane, Chaplin took the silent film scene by storm. His masterful expressions, hilarious gestures, and iconic comicality made him the most sought-after silent actor on the scene.
The Londoner rose to fame through outstanding performances in films like The Gold Rush (1925), City Lights (1931), and Modern Times (1936). He went on to win over 22 awards for acting, writing, directing, and producing, including an Oscar for Limelight (1952).
Sadly, when “talkies” were introduced to the cinema, Chaplin’s over-the-top, silent performances fell out of popularity. Chaplin is still considered to be one of the most historic figures in the movie industry. He is widely recognized for his immeasurable contributions to the worlds of acting and film.
“I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille.”
This line, as well as the entirety of Gloria Swanson’s breathtaking, Golden-Globe winning performance in Sunset Boulevard (1950), etched her into film history as one of the greatest actresses to have ever graced the screen. However, while Swanson is known for her role as the shut-in has-been Norma Desmond, she enjoyed incredible success as an actress and producer in her day (and [S.B. spoiler] she didn’t have to shoot anybody to achieve her fame).
Unlike her on-screen character, Swanson made an uber-successful transition from silent films into “talkies” in the late 20s. However, she also enjoyed a fruitful career in silent films. The gorgeous and versatile actress starred in everything from action flicks to romance films to laments on life and character, blowing every role she was given out of the water.
Believe it or not, Swanson never intended to be in showbiz. She was in her first film, The Fable of Elvira and Farina and the Meal Ticket (1915), entirely by accident. When she was 18, she visited the Chicago studio where the flick was being filmed and was asked to be an extra due to her stunning features.
She agreed. History was made.
It took several more extra/unlisted roles (and a relocation to Los Angeles) for Swanson to establish herself as a leading lady. Across the years, she acted in a whopping 82 films, 26 of which were during the 20s. Although her personal life and relationships could be tumultuous (she was married six times!), Swanson was dedicated to the execution of her craft.
The gorgeous and versatile actress starred in everything from action flicks to romance films to laments on life and character, blowing every role she was given out of the water.
During her career, she was nominated for three Oscars, and, of course, won a Golden Globe for her exceptional performance in Sunset Boulevard.
F. Scott Fitzgerald
You were probably forced to read The Great Gatsby (1925) at some point during your formative years. While not every reference may have resonated with you, the novel was a defining piece of art for the 1920s, capturing the economic, moral, sexist, and social conflicts that plagued New York and the country. Fitzgerald‘s additional work etched him into history as one of the most significant writers of the early 20th century.
Although he wrote about the stupidly rich with ease in Gatsby, Fitzgerald was phenomenally poor as a boy. At Princeton, he immersed himself in the sphere of academic writing. After leaving to join the Army, he met his soon-to-be-famous wife, Zelda Sayre. Zelda was a novelist, artist, flapper, and the love of Fitzgerald’s life.
After a broken engagement (which was eventually repaired), Fitzgerald wrote his first novel: This Side of Paradise (1920). This youth-centric book earned his commercial success, as well as Zelda’s restored love. He then wrote The Beautiful and The Damned (1922), which projected his fear of a dull and morally lacking future.
The couple had numerous, notorious breakups.
After a relocation to France for a fresh start, Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby (1925), which became his most acclaimed novel. Unfortunately, Fitzgerald also began to abuse alcohol. As her husband drank his days away, Zelda slipped into mental illness. After a decade of impulsivity, restlessness fits of delusion, and personal/romantic disorder, Zelda was confined to a sanitorium.
A heartbroken Fitzgerald sunk into his alcoholism, writing only flits of stories and books for several years. Eventually, he moved back to Hollywood and found love again, this time with gossip columnist Sheilah Graham. His final novel, The Last Tycoon, was as much of a reflection on the “American Dream” as Gatsby had been, only set in Hollywood instead of New York. However, it was only half-finished when Fitzgerald died at 44 of a heart attack.
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