Van and the Fan (Magazines)
Let me start by saying this isn't what I had planned to write to celebrate my darling Van Johnson's 106th birthday. I was going to talk about one of Van's more underrated rom-coms, Mother is a Freshman, but due to unforeseen tech issues, I can't currently take screenshots on my laptop and -- as you may know -- screenshots are kind of my thing, so trying to discuss a film whose color photography is 40% why I enjoy it without any photos seemed silly.
So! With not many options at hand, I've decided to do a pictorial-esque piece using fan magazine snippets I've found over the past few years. I love going through these magazines; they're such a departure from what we have today, with a weird mix of studio-created fluff, delightful photographs that are both candid and posed, and the occasional bit of real, exasperated candor from your favorite actors. These materials tell you so much about how the Golden Age movie stars were constructed and perceived, often working in tandem with their films and other media appearances to present to audiences a very specific persona.
For Van, that persona was "wholesome all-American boy." To women, he was adorable and thoughtful, the perfect man to have around the house. To men, he was someone you could pal around with and not feel threatened by. In the pages of the fan magazines, Van Johnson was a goofball, a hard worker, a dream party guest, a devoted husband and father, a perfect co-star... Not all of this was true -- Van was actually quite shy at parties and his moody, self-isolating behavior at home was very hard on his family -- but in the fan-mag world, Van was exactly who you should aspire to be or be with, and he was willing to play along with this. A complicated man off the screen, Van didn't really let a lot of people in, making him more than happy to inhabit an MGM-crafted persona for the public.
I can't include every magazine article and photo I've found here (I didn't even include covers!), but here are many of my favorites. Enjoy!
This is my entry to my Sixth Van Johnson Blogathon. Read the other tributes here!