Cabinets of Transgression: Collecting and Arranging Hollywood Images
Media scholarship has
recently exploded with analyses of fans and fan behavior. In terms
of starting to come to some understanding of actual media effects as
well as grappling with potentials for individual and social change
through media use, this upsurge in research is great. What I wish
to do in this essay is to use the cases of three collectors to
complicate an initially sketchy picture of one aspect of fan
behavior. The places of cinema within the everyday lives of
individuals are vast; consequently, explanations for the meaning and
uses of cinema need to respond to that diversity.
collectors whom I will examine (and only in brief terms at that) all
collected cinema star materials: Carl Van Vechten, Joseph Cornell,
and Jane Smoot. However, their practices of collecting and their
methods of preserving those materials vary greatly and exemplify
three diverse ways of asserting themselves in relation to their
objects of fandom. To begin to comprehend the significance of these
residues of cinema in the everyday lives of people requires respect
for potential differences and will aid scholarship in moving to
general conclusions about the functions of fandom for individuals
and within social formations.
Key Words: Collecting
Theories and Practices; Film Fandom and Everyday Life; The
Consumption of Star Images; Archival Research.
Collecting as a Field of Study
As a part of cultural studies, the study
of collecting has recently generated much attention. In
media studies, for example, John Fiske writes, ‘collecting is also
important in fan culture, but it tends to be inclusive rather than
In other words, the collector’s goal is ‘as many as possible’ rather
than the quality of the item. Fiske’s observation is incisive, but
I would argue that it is too sweeping as a description to cover the
actual variety of practices of collecting that exist. Moreover,
Fiske envisions the act as a specific social practice -- the
accumulation of ‘cultural capital’ that may yield eventually some
economic gains; however, his focus on one type of consumption
overshadows the productive aspect of collecting that most scholars
now see. I prefer the definition of collecting to be one offered by
Michael Camille who views collecting less as a pathology and more as
‘“a socially creative and recuperative act.”’
Research on collecting now traces the
act back to the pre-historical ritual of creating ‘hoards, graves
and shrines.’ The ritual of including items at these sites may be
viewed as social and political gestures involving statements of
lateral kinship relations as well as hierarchies stating the
creator’s relation to the gods (an adequate accumulation offered to
the gods indicated the giver’s closeness to the deities). Museums
as physical sites of accumulated goods available to viewing by at
least portions of the populace exist from the third century B.C.;
churches also became the community location of relics, with access
controlled by religious authorities.
A more secular educational function
augments the social and political functions of early collections.
Susan Pearce and Ken Arnold locate the ‘memory theatre’ of Guilio
Camillo Delminio in the 1500s as a significant cultural item.
Camillo’s ‘“theatre” was a wooden structure, stuffed full of
meaningful images and words, which was shown first in Venice and
then copied in Paris.’
The theater’s function was educational; it was a propaedeutical
instrument for efficient learning and memorization. As well, Pearce
and Arnold note that, like modern museums, the theater was supposed
to be experienced in a particular order. This box structure
reoccurs through the Renaissance practice of putting collections
into cabinets, described by Anthony Alan Shelton as ‘cabinets of
transgression’ for their potential oddity in terms of the act of
collecting as well as for what was saved.
In fact, early modern collections echo that practice in the first of
their names for these containers: in German, ‘Kammer’ (room or
chamber); in Italian, ‘studio,’ ‘galleria,’ ‘museo’; in England,
‘cabinet’ (often ‘cabinet of curiosities’ or ‘of rarities’).
While the church and political
authorities might be collectors of high prestige items such as art
and statues, from the mid 1600s on in England, wealthy but less
politically well situated individuals collected for their cabinets
of curiosities ‘coins, scientific instruments, minerals, medals, . .
. plants,’ and so on.
These cupboards grew into rooms and then larger series of spaces.
Additionally, as the collections grew, collectors attached texts to
their objects, creating catalogues. Marjorie Swann points out that
these catalogues became a method to make the collections public:
they were not merely inventories (although they were certainly that)
but ‘self-conscious interpretation’ which promoted the collector,
fashioning the collector as an actual author.
Collections of private individuals
formed the basis of major public museums. For instance, a donation
by an individual established the British Museum in 1753.
In the mid 1800s, an outburst of activity around public exhibitions
and cultural expressions of nation-state formations occurred. The
1851 Great Exhibition became the foundation of the South Kensington
Museum, now known as the Victoria and Albert Museum; in 1856 the
British Parliament voted for a National Portrait Galley. The
Germanische National Museum opened in 1853 in Nuremberg, so-called
‘Germanische’ since Germany had not yet unified. Vienna’s Natural
History Museum opened in 1889 although collections in the Hofburg
and Belvedere predate that. In the United States citizens founded
the New York City Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1870; the Museum of
Fine Arts in Boston in 1870; and the American Museum of Natural
History in New York City, also 1870.
While these official museums flourished,
collecting had evident tiers of prestige and decorum. As Pearce
notes, art and natural history were ‘morally respectable and
intellectually acclaimed’ while ‘historical and exotic material’
might develop a ‘demonic turn.’
Although I have noted the social and political sources of collecting
coming from grave offerings and religious relics (remember that
these are body parts), some nineteenth-century collections
concentrated not on those high on the social register but on the
remains of criminals or the monstrous and occult. This is the time
of the establishment of wax museums and other popular commercial
entertainments of the macabre or even just the unusual: the P. T.
Barnum collections, the circus sideshows, the displays of captured
natives brought into Europe and the United States. This ‘underside’
of collecting was present all along. Barbara Benedict has studied
the notion of ‘curiosities’ and concludes ‘that English culture
portrays curiosity as the mark of a threatening ambition, an
ambition that takes the form of a perceptible violation of species
and categories: an ontological transgression that is registered
empirically.’ In the period of her examination, 1660-1820, those
individuals who displayed curiosity were conservatively marked as
‘monsters, “queers,” and curiosities.’
This conservative side generally loses out to the legitimation of
exploration, gathering, and display, but it has rough moments. For
example, Walter Kendrick’s history of The Secret Museum
shows just how exotica brought back to colonial powers in Europe
could disrupt cultural assumptions. Kendrick discusses the problem
of the excavation at Pompeii. Cataloguing and detailing the city
required mentioning the ‘unmentionable’ such as statues of satyrs
having intercourse with goats, frescoes of sexual congress, and
numerous brothels. Colored engraved books might not include the
most scandalous items, but they could not avoid all of this,
especially the innumerable instances of disproportionately large
erect phalluses on statues of gods on many street corners and
doorways to homes. Since the material was information about ancient
Greece, it had to be saved. ‘Pornography’ as a term appears in the
1850s through 1870s in connection with the saving of the artifacts
in the sites preserved for scholars.
By the late twentieth century, the significance of the act of
collecting as well as the collections themselves is the focus of
Although my very brief synopsis of the
history of collections has hinted at some of the functions of
collecting, scholars have several theories about why individuals and
cultures select, assemble, sort, and classify objects. An obvious
explanation is psychological, with collecting deemed ‘normal’ to
‘pathological.’ Pearce notes that Freudians have considered
collecting ‘as a process of significance in its own right.’ She
points to classic Freudians who connect it to anal-erotic origins.
Things collected are loved objects/feces; collecting proves control
over these objects.
Swann refers to Werner Muensterberger as arguing that individuals
collect because of a childhood trauma. The objects become
‘surrogates for human love and reassurance.’
This proposition also appears in Jean Baudrillard’s ‘The System of
Collecting’ which adds a semiotic analysis to the psychoanalytical
thesis. Baudrillard notes that something collected has its meaning
changed from its normal place in a functional world to that of being
possessed and, moreover, possessed as part of a new series of
items. This is a parsing out of the loved object into a ‘perverse
auto-erotic [and private] system.’
Social theories also exist. Indeed,
just as psychological explanations run the gamut from normal to
pathological, social theories view collections as within social
norms or transgressing them. Collecting has an aspect near that of
wanting to be like God or in absolute control; collecting also
involves matters of ‘taste’: John Elsner and Roger Cardinal believe
that a cultural analysis of collecting requires ‘honoring the
extremist as much as the conformist, by assessing the eccentric
alongside the typical, and by juxtaposing the pathological with the
Although, of course, who categories which under what label matters!
Traditional sociologists and
anthropologists tend to view collecting as functional, particularly
as part of the reflection or transmission of cultural knowledge.
For example, Elsner and Cardinal quote Stephen Jay Gould who writes
that classification is a ‘mirror of our thoughts.’ From this, they
describe collecting as ‘the narrative of how human beings have
striven to accommodate, to appropriate and to extend the taxonomies
and systems of knowledge they have inherited.’
Such a position has also benefited from application of the
Foucauldian notion of ‘epistemes’ to attempt a description of a
series of methods of collecting.
This narrative of knowledge can also become a declaration about
social relations. As Shelton notes, collections are attempts by
their makers to ‘rationalize’ the social world, ‘to demonstrate
personal worth and to legitimate their social positions.’
Critical social theorists such as
Marxists see collecting equally as political but also as a form of
consumption relating to the struggles of dominant and subordinated
groups asserting self-definitions. For example, Swann discusses
the significant contributions of Tony Bennett, Carol Duncan, and
Alan Wallach in describing how collections are ‘a medium of
representing and legitimizing different political systems.’
Swann notes that their accounts work well for explaining national
museums but do not handle other sorts of collections. Indeed, one
of the earlier self-reflective analyses of collecting comes from
Walter Benjamin in his 1931 essay, ‘Unpacking My Library.’ Benjamin
expresses such a consumer thesis about his books: his subject is
‘the relationship of a book collector to his possessions.’
Benjamin describes that relationship as one built upon memories of
acquisitions or missed opportunities to purchase, and he concludes,
‘Ownership is the most intimate relationship one can have to
objects. Not that they come alive in him; it is he who lives in
This is an assertion of self via consumption, but one caught in
romantic assumptions about this relation rather than seeing that
such an act of self-definition fits well into capitalism.
Most recently, an attempt to integrate
psychological and social theories derives from Foucauldian theory
about self-fashioning. In this approach, scholars theorize
collecting as an act of identity formation that is a ‘politically
charged cultural form’ and both ‘social practice and subjective
In other words, the act needs to be considered as productive (in its
consumption), for it creates the individual as a subject within the
social world. This approach permits some place for agency in the
act while still recognizing that the agency is meaningful only
because it exists within a system that makes it expressive.
Although such a
proposition about collecting has general applicability, the variety
of ways one might assert one’s self is equally important. The
social world positions individuals differently based on their sex,
gender, race/ethnicity, nationality, and sexual preferences, and
attention to diversity matters. Within this broader theory, Pearce
articulated in 1992 a tripartite distinction of styles of
collectors, which she has more recently asserted should not be
understood to be an exclusive typology. Individuals might operate
in various styles simultaneously. Despite cautions about this
distinction, the typology has some value in starting to mark out, or
at least consider, how to think about the differences among
collecting behaviors. Pearce’s schema is as follows:
‘an ostensibly intellectual rationale is followed, and the intention
is to collect complete sets which will demonstrate understanding
‘the objects are dominant’; this is an ‘obsessive gathering [of] as
many items as possible . . . to create the self.’
‘the individual creates a romantic life-history by selecting and
arranging personal memorial material to create what . . . might be
called an object autobiography, where the objects are at the service
of the autobiographer.’
John Windsor expands on this system and
describes it: ‘Systematics is the construction of a collection of
objects in order to represent an ideology . . . . Fetishism is the
removal of the object from its historical and cultural context and
its redefinition in terms of the collector. In souvenir collecting,
the object is prized for its power to carry the past into the
The collectors that I
shall consider display preferences for self-definition that fit each
of these categories at least well enough to use the typology to
point out how variable collecting practices may be. Most
historians have run into collections such as these while researching
film, especially if they are delving into archives about stars. My
choices of Van Vechten, Cornell, and Smoot are somewhat arbitrary;
they each attracted me for specific reasons, primarily having to do
with my initial sense of the collection’s potential transgressive
nature within a broader social context. In order simply to open up
this field of research, I wish to provide succinct introductory
descriptions of these materials rather than an extended analysis of
each collection and collector. However, I hope that the
introduction of this research on practices of collecting will alert
scholars in media studies that passing by these scrapbooks and boxes
of souvenirs on the way to other research objectives might be
Van Vechten and Systematic Collecting
Carl Van Vechten was an influential
critic and promoter of modernist music, dance, and theater,
including the Harlem Renaissance writers of the 1920s. His
biographer, Bruce Kellner, remarks that Van Vechten enjoyed
collecting as a child, and he pursued this practice throughout his
As he neared his death, he gave massive collections of various sorts
to numerous libraries, including Yale University. These collections
are a culmination of an extensive career as an art critic and social
celebrity. Born in 1880 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Van Vechten did a
degree at the University of Chicago, worked as a reporter on local
papers, and moved to New York City in 1906. There he began his
music criticism, including essays on the premiere of Salome
and the fashions around opera and opera luminaries. By 1909, Van
Vechten moved into dance criticism, starting with Isadora Duncan.
In 1913 he became a confidant of Mabel Dodge as she was producing
the Armory Show. Following her to Europe, he met Gertrude Stein and
established a long-term relationship with her that resulted in his
promotion of her work in the United States. During the 1920s, Van
Vechten was a major advocate of the Harlem writers and artists.
Although his turn to novels was only somewhat successful, an
inheritance permitted Van Vechten to devote himself to writing and
circulating in the New York modernist scene.
Van Vechten’s association with movies
was one of an attracted but distant observer. As early as 1915, he
published essays such as ‘Music for the Movies’ and ‘The Importance
of Electrical Picture Concerts’ that display a modernist aesthetics.
In 1927 he visited Los Angeles, writing a series of essays for
Vanity Fair with episodes entitled ‘Fabulous Hollywood,’
‘Hollywood Parties,’ ‘Hollywood Royalty,’ and ‘Understanding
This experience became background for Spider Boy (1928), his
satire of a dramatist brought to the town to write a screenplay, and
he populates his novels with figures of stars and actresses such as
Midnight Blue in Parties (1930).
Yet Van Vechten seems less in awe of
Hollywood than might be expected. His descriptions of life there
emphasize film people’s excessive work ethic, crassness, and surface
propriety but fundamental hypocrisy and extravagance. Important to
him within the overall experience was a feature that I would
associate with his collecting behavior: he kept a checklist of the
women stars (and others) whom he wanted to meet and ticked them off
as he encountered them.
Descriptions of lost chances are included in the Vanity Fair
Indeed, however, while the Hollywood
social life per se held no personal reward for Van Vechten,
individuals -- especially specific individuals -- did. In the early
1930s, Van Vechten ceased writing novels and at about the same time
(1932) began serious photography, a diversion that he pursued the
rest of his life. The first person to sit officially for him was
film actress Anna May Wong. Many others would over the years,
including Lillian Gish and Tallulah Bankhead.
Jonathan Weinberg notes that Van Vechten’s photography was a sort of
material accumulation: ‘He spoke of his practice of photographing
celebrities not as a creative act but as collecting people.’
While Van Vechten’s photographs have
been prized as glimpses into the vast array of people circulating
through his household, another set of images has engaged the
attention of scholars. Included in his contributions to Yale
University are twenty scrapbooks filled with photographs (some
obviously his but many also given to him).
As Weinberg notes, these scrapbooks have a ‘variety of materials,
photographs, stories, captions, and comic strips’.
Significantly, they express Van Vechten’s semi-private commentary on
homophobia. Although married to actress Fania Marinoff from 1914,
Van Vechten had a closeted gay male’s arrangement with her, for the
scrapbooks are clearly prepared to be shared with other gay men for
enjoyment. His photographs include lovely shots of male nudes
(Anglo, African American, and Asian) with some subjects engaged in
sexual congress. The imagery ranges from the serious to the
bizarre, such as a contortionist who could suck his own penis.
Additionally, newspaper pictures of local sports heroes or college
lads whom reporters announce are about to put on a play requiring
cross-dressing are included as well. Throughout these scrapbooks,
Van Vechten montages his own comments about the images by adding
cut-lines or other printed remarks that turn the newspaper headlines
into revealing a homoerotic content. In a sort of campy John Dos
Passos approach, Van Vechten creates modernist, gay family albums.
As Weinberg notes, Van Vechten’s
practice of collecting exceeds that of merely including images to
count toward some phantom full series of items: ‘In the scrapbooks
the dominant culture’s language, the stuff of its crime reports and
its advertising copy, is made to speak sexual transgress’.
Weinberg also observes that Van Vechten is not producing a high
modernism but the look of ‘advertising’ or ‘tabloid newspapers such
as the National Enquirer’
which would place him within what is now distinguished as a pop (or
queer) modernism. James Small supplements Weinberg’s discussion by
pointing out the racial features of Van Vechten’s collection. Small
sees in the imagery both ‘a racial agenda’ and ‘a modernist
From my perspective, Van Vechten’s
scrapbook collection shows attributes of systematic
collecting in terms of both its movement toward complete sets but
also its ‘collection of objects in order to represent an ideology.’
Several features of these scrapbooks that have not been discussed by
others include (1) that Van Vechten uses the same image in multiple
places but to different expressive effect and (2) that his
scrapbooks are not all the same either within the scrapbook or among
them. Part of this variation may be due to the ambiguity about how
Van Vechten created them. Materials from 1918 through at least 1956
are included, but the arrangement is definitely not one of a
temporal succession. For instance, in volume 10 one page has
stories from 1929, 1935, 1939, and 1957. Rather some notion of
‘belonging together’ exists. It is as if Van Vechten worked on all
of these at once, and had them going for quite a few years before
their completion. This will be more obvious as I discuss some of
their diverse features.
For the ‘nudes’ scrapbooks, he often
starts out a volume with a series of high art nude males, and, as
the book continues, ‘lesser’ examples increase. At times it is as
though he plans to sucker his viewer into the book on some pretense
of aesthetic distance then to be taken into more raunchy material.
However, he also starts these volumes with full frontal male nudity
so clearly his viewer is already complicit with the project of
looking at transgressive imagery. Additionally, each volume seems
to have sections of ‘all of this kind’ although no volume is the
exclusive site for any of these groupings. For instance, the end of
volume 4 has a series of female butches. Volume 6 has lots of
original drawings of male nudes and includes patches of ‘types’ such
as native Americans and Asian Americans. One volume is a set of
photographs labeled as taken from 1932 through 1933, but these
images -- which have no commentary -- seem to be art photographs of
New York City market items, landscapes, and building facades.
Volumes 14 through 16 are a fabulous collection of original
drawings, photos, and cards by different artists such as Thomas
Handiforth [sic], Tamis, Man Ray, and Peter Tchelitchew. Again, no
paste-up commentary accompanies these.
Another group of
scrapbooks (volumes 8 through 13) includes nudes, but these are more
devoted to newspaper clippings about events in which Van Vechten had
special interest. Volume 9 has an extensive section on Christine
Jorgensen (around 1953), a small portion about Roy Cohn, and
articles about the murder of Elmer Schroeder, a lawyer and soccer
official who was likely gay. In these volumes, Van Vechten included
the titillating possibilities of other closeted gays such as King
Farouk of Egypt and Bill Tilden. He liked to include newspaper
photos of European sports events in which men kissed men in the
moments of victory.
He also reveled in
stories of cross-dressing. For example, he has a delightful
newspaper article from 1947 in which the boys at a high school wore
dresses to school in protest against the girls wearing jeans and
shirts. His collections present both the frivolous and the
pathetic. One two-page spread on transvestites contains stories
headlined: ‘Man Found Hanged Dressed as a Woman’ and ‘Man Who Wears
Women’s Dress State Witness’ (volume 10). Another page has a story
of a cop who dressed as a woman to catch thieves.
Van Vechten’s scrapbooks provide an
important proof of the history of gay culture for the period. For
one thing, he seems to have read and saved stories that detail much
of the gay underground scholars are working to uncover. The
scrapbooks include the sorts of stories that George Chauncey
references in Gay New York about drag balls in Harlem and
Greenwich Village in the late 1920s and early 1930s.
Additionally, the scrapbooks have images of many of the movie stars
who have become icons for gay culture. Among the males are Roman
Novarro, Lionel Barrymore (in drag), Cary Grant, Tab Hunter, Jack
Lemmon (in drag from Some Like It Hot), lots of Johnny
Weissmuller, Van Johnson, Montgomery Clift, and an article on Sir
John Gielgud arrested for soliciting males in 1953. Females
include Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich, and, shown dragged at the
1936 odd fellows ball, Jean Harlow, Mae West, Joan Crawford, and Kay
collecting, then, seems systematic in that the scrapbooks are the
material site of a closeted gay man’s life who wishes to retain
these images for the present (something to pass around to friends)
and for the future (a record of the submerged but very existent
mid-twentieth-century life of homoerotica and homosexuality in New
York City). This is authorship in which Van Vechten is expressing
the richness of a life that could not officially be public but which
was vividly present nonetheless; his scrapbooks stand as a personal
and social testimony to training their viewers how to read the
submerged within the everyday.
Joseph Cornell and Fetish Collecting
‘Precious’ is my term
for the collecting activities of Joseph Cornell. The most well
known of the three collectors whom I am studying, Cornell actually
made a living and an artistic reputation from his saving and
rearranging of materials amassed from his various ‘wanderlusts’ (his
term) through New York City. I am characterizing his approach as an
example of fetish collecting, defined by Pearce as ‘an
obsessive gathering [of] as many items as possible . . . to create
the self.’ But more so on the terms that Windsor employs whereby
this style is ‘the removal of the object from its historical and
cultural context and its redefinition in terms of the collector.’
As I shall describe below, Cornell’s
strategy for his boxes -- and he literally does produce miniature
cabinets -- is to pluck images and objects from their home
territory, rearranging them in his private associational manner, as
Baudrillard would put it, his own auto-erotic system. One of
Cornell’s favorite authors was Novalis whose quotation graces a
section of Cornell’s diary. Cornell quotes Novalis as writing, ‘Why
content ourselves with a mere inventory of our treasures? Let us
look at them ourselves, use them and work upon them in manifold
Given the broader purpose of this essay,
I am able only to touch on the biography and work of Cornell, but a
few character and work traits are helpful for distinguishing his
collections from those of Van Vechten and Smoot. A nearly
life-long resident of Utopia Parkway in Queens, New York, Cornell
was a typically eccentric American artist. In the very early 1930s,
he encountered the work of Max Ernst, especially Ernst’s novel,
La Femme 100 têtes, in which Ernst used cut-up Victorian
engravings to tell a story. According to Hilton Kramer, Cornell’s
first artistic productions followed this technique.
Although a surrealist influenced him, most art historians accept
Cornell’s self-declaration that he was not part of that artistic
movement. Indeed, scholars distinguish Cornell’s work from
Ernst’s. For example, Dore Ashton points out that Ernst’s work
evokes horror while Cornell’s is nostalgic.
The idea of the chance encounter -- such as an umbrella on a sewing
machine -- is the meeting point for the two men, but Cornell veers
off into a different world, one populated by certain kinds of women,
children, toys, stars and moons, seashells, parrots, and magic that
seem to be a private symbolism or language.
Thus, Cornell constructs his boxes as
constellations or, perhaps, as nodal points of private associations
which are in ‘infinite combination’ and rearrangement. Ashton
indicates that Cornell did have an interest in dreams, and his
diaries record recurring ones about his invalid brother Robert as
well as women with whom he became obsessed.
Trailing out a set of associations is partially possible because
Cornell’s practice was to maintain a daily recording of his
wanderings, feelings, and observations (and all of the sweets he
ate) as well as extensive folders and containers of materials that
served as his base for a project. So, for instance, photos of his
basement workshop show stacks of boxes labeled seashell, plastic
shells, glasses, woolen balls and so on. Additionally, he
maintained folders into which he dropped items. For instance, in
his clipping file on Patty Duke are a note from her thanking him for
a box he sent her, various diary notes, a flattened Jell-O box, and
scribblings about ‘miracle worker,’ ‘Isle of Children’ (a play in
which she appeared), and ‘for young celestials.’ Or for Jeanne
Engels, he includes comments from Proust, two advertisements (one
stating ‘Discover the New Shape of Beauty’ and the other about five
new Lux colors), and an image of Maude Adams on a postcard, with the
reverse noting that she starred in many of Sir James Barrie’s plays
including Peter Pan.
In fact, one of his early pieces, ‘Portrait of Ondine’ (1940),
literally is an album of ephemera.
with women and certain scenes of magic do not result in the same
sort of collecting and arranging as occurred in Van Vechten’s
absorptions. While Cornell seems to have wanted to keep every
example of those sorts of objects he collected, he did not put all
of the collected objects into public display. Additionally, his
organizational arrangement -- while topical -- is more totemic. A
retouched photo of Greta Garbo in Anna Karenina serves as
central point for a theme from which radiates other items associated
in his private schema -- the reason to call this a constellation or
nodal point approach to arranging a collection. This approach is
much closer to a fetish where the treasured item stands in for the
lack of the original object and takes central stage in the theater
of his box.
Despite this isolation and propping up
of objects as fetishes, like ordinary sexual fetishes a certain
indexical quality does control his productions. He encountered the
women or men whom he would then memorialize in a box or collage
either through the printed page or on the movie screen that he
The women included movie stars Hedy Lamarr, Deanna Durbin, Margaret
O’Brien, Marilyn Monroe, Sheree North, Yvette Minieux, and Duke.
However, his adoration would move to direct contact if it were
possible. Cornell would send a box to someone he admired as an
Four of his most extended engagements
were with Lauren Bacall, Garbo, Jennifer Jones, and Rose Hobart, as
examined by Jodi Hauptman in her recent book on Cornell’s
‘stargazing.’ Hauptman argues that Cornell saw himself as a
‘caretaker’ of these female stars, particularly ‘their well-being,
reputation, history, dignity, or innocence.’
Indeed, in one of his rare essays, ‘Enchanted Wanderer,’ published
in 1941, Cornell speaks of Lamarr as able to ‘evoke an ideal world
of beauty.’ Her ‘visage’ indicated a ‘gracious humility and
spirituality’; he notes approvingly (as others have observed) that
she has a ‘masculine name’ in one film and wore ‘masculine garb’ in
He accompanied the essay with an image of Lamarr dressed as a
Renaissance boy. This ‘boyish girl’ figures throughout Cornell’s
work, according to Marjorie Keller, who notes that Cornell’s
favorite writers included Nerval and Goethe who constructed romantic
scenes in which ‘the protagonist is in love with a young woman who
is sometimes elusive, sometimes unapproachable. The desired woman
is often an actress. She is boyish. Sometimes she is dressed as a
The boyish woman is also associated with other themes or objects --
‘travel, Europe (particularly France), hotels, the theater, birds,
Using psychoanalytical theory, Keller
hypothesizes that Cornell associates these girls with ‘phalluses’
and argues for an underpinning of homosexuality to Cornell’s
preferences. Cornell’s personal life seems quite contained
sexually, and while he certainly was friends with many gay men (he
knew Van Vechten), biographers note that his diaries consistently
discuss fantasies about women and surmise that his first intimate
encounter was quite late in his life and with a woman.
Of course, Keller is only talking about a psychoanalytical dynamic
that derives from a complex underpinning of everyone’s sexual life
and subtends any fetish theory. I make this digression merely to
underline that what I consider relevant is the normal dynamics of
the use of objects as a fetish and not any claims about Cornell’s
This fetish approach to his collecting
and arranging is very clear in the development of Penny Arcade
Portrait of Lauren Bacall. Hauptman writes that Cornell
disliked the ‘sexual hoopla’ around Bacall but was taken by the
photograph of Bacall in publicity for To Have and Have Not.
He decided to do a box, collecting and continuing to rearrange that
box via associations until his death. ‘Cornell called these “paths
ever opening up,” “extensions,” chains of associations made visual
in the work’s box structure.’
Arcade Portrait of Lauren Bacall'
The fetish approach is also apparent in
his moving boxes -- those few films that Cornell produced either by
re-editing a found movie or by directing the shooting of new
footage. The most famous example is Rose Hobart, dated as
1939, created out of a 1931 Universal picture East of Borneo,
starring Rose Hobart.
Pulling out many of the shots of Hobart, and only shots with her in
it, Cornell produces another collection -- here the best (from his
point of view) images of Hobart in the film, casting a blue filter
over the black and white film (much as he retouches the Garbo
photo). What he does not include is important. For one thing, he
eliminates the film’s dialogue and adds an evocative musical
soundtrack. For another, he does not include scenes he must have
felt were distasteful or distressing, such as the death of a monkey
that the heroine frees or the scene in which the local Borneo ruler
pulls the heroine down onto a couch and she shoots him.
Moreover, by using the frame as a
container, created in part by images of the heroine glancing
off-screen but not always following up on those glances to see what
she sees, Cornell creates a non-chronological accumulation of
moments into an enigmatic and orientalized atmosphere. ‘Othering’
Hobart by decontextualizing her from the film and yet locating her
in the jungles in which everything else is ‘other,’ Cornell’s
arrangement produces a withdrawal of meaning while investing
Hobart’s image with new sense and sensuality. This film is
certainly an early example of the sorts of film and video re-editing
that contemporary fans now do aided by video recorders.
collection and arrangement of materials around stars met standards
of artistic practice within mid-twentieth-century America. While
Van Vechten’s and Smoot’s collecting likely engrossed them equally
and for which they took as much care, Cornell’s activities earned
him international esteem.
Smoot and Souvenir Collecting
‘In souvenir collecting, the
object is prized for its power to carry the past into the future.’
For Jane Smoot, this was the function of her collection of materials
related to Jeanette MacDonald. Of the three individuals studied in
this essay, Smoot most obviously typifies what is generally thought
of as the film star fan.
Smoot was an Austin, Texas schoolteacher
who began her collection of MacDonald materials, ‘gathered with care
and enthusiasm since Naughty Marietta  first crossed
Donated to the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the
University of Texas at Austin, her MacDonald collection includes
fifteen boxes of scrapbooks, souvenirs, and MacDonald vinyl sound
recordings. When Smoot joined her first MacDonald fan club is
unclear, but the collection has the first issues of the Jeanette
MacDonald International Fan Club journal, ‘The Golden Comet,’ and
Smoot is a founding club member in 1937. Smoot’s collection
contains club issues through spring 1977.
includes a four-page typescript essay, apparently prepared in 1949
for a bulletin for one of the three MacDonald fan clubs to which she
belonged at that time. Entitled ‘Collectionitis -- MacDonald
Species,’ the essay expresses much about her sense of her own
activities. Her most obvious purpose is associated with what
Pearce and Windsor describe as the souvenir style of collecting,
using the collected items to recall her past encounters with
MacDonald and supporting her memories until the next convergence of
their lives. Smoot begins her essay:
apologies to Sir Walter Scott:
the fan [MacDonald, that is] with soul so lead[en]
Who never to
himself hath said,
She is my
own, my fav’rite lass,
certainly intend to hold on to every picture, clipping,
and other souvenir of
her special sparkle and tender
This might appear to be
like the fetish collection, and, indeed, Pearce and Windsor state
that overlaps in types appear in actual gathering of materials.
However, note that while Smoot expresses an intent to ‘hold on to
every picture, clipping, and other souvenir,’ elsewhere in her essay
she declares the function of this holding is not to redefine it in
terms of the collector’s fascinations but to recreate MacDonald’s
‘presence.’ She concludes the essay by writing that:
Every person who admires Jeanette
MacDonald deeply knows a certain unhappy period of --- well,
longing, which descends upon him [sic] when he has seen and heard
her in the last showing of a movie (until it comes back weeks hence)
or in the last glorious moments following a concert. To speak of
UNhappiness [sic] in this connection is not the rank heresy it may
at first seem, for it is occasioned by the fact that we are faced
with a routine existence, suddenly drab without Jeanette’s
loveliness. That’s where our collections of photographs, clippings,
records, and other MacDonald treasures enter. We hold these
mementoes in trust until we can come close to the real Jeanette
Thus, as in André Bazin’s remarks about
the power of photographs to serve as a means of embalming the past,
Smoot’s collecting is about substitutions for the loved object’s
presence but not about remaking those objectified treasures into the
right kind of phallus, which is what Cornell tends to attempt. At
one point in the essay, Smoot even shifts vocabulary so as to make
MacDonald the agent. Smoot has been describing how her wardrobe in
one of the spare rooms is filled with MacDonald mementos and how her
father made her a record cabinet for all of the MacDonald sound
recordings. She then writes, ‘Miss MacDonald also owns an
old-fashioned cut-glass glove case on a what-not cabinet in my
room.’ This shift in subjectivity is, as it were, a telling slip --
for Smoot cedes possession of the items to MacDonald. Also telling
is that the cut-glass glove case contains the most prized and
personal items of Smoot’s collection, each having actually been
touched by MacDonald: ‘one pair of dark brown suede gloves,
authentically identified as her own by a personally signed card sent
by the agency from which I bought the gloves, a delicately-sceneted
[sic] handkerchief which was hers . . . , and a dried red rose which
she offered me from her bouquet while she was here in Austin some
This may not sound like souvenir
collecting for the purposes of the autobiography (also how Pearce
describes this type of collecting). However, Smoot’s arrangements
of the objects collected display that. Smoot organizes her print
and photographic holdings into four categories, with each group
organized chronologically as far as is possible in a record of
Smoot’s historical encounters with MacDonald. The first print and
photographic group is notebook collections of eight-by-ten-inch
stills from movies. Once segregated into the specific films, Smoot
then orders the stills ‘according to the sequence arrangement in the
movies so that one gets the feeling of seeing the movie through the
stills as he [sic] turns the pages.’ Such a display seems to
indicate a desire to replay the experience of seeing MacDonald in
The second group is ‘miscellaneous
snapshots and stills.’ Some of these were pictures she took on
‘clan’ trips to witness MacDonald in concert or visit her Los
Angeles home (and later to put roses on her crypt) or were
duplicates of similar trip photos sent by other club members.
By the 1950s, Smoot includes photos of MacDonald appearing on
television, including an episode of ‘This is Your Life.’
Smoot even has pictures of her special visit to MacDonald in a
Houston hospital when MacDonald fell ill on a concert tour.
As with the movie stills, ‘All of them are arranged as nearly in
time order as possible.’ The third group is ‘magazine and
newspaper clippings’ -- which presented Smoot with more problems in
maintenance of temporal order since Smoot was industrious in seeking
old copies of magazines published prior to the start of her
collection as well as ordering runs of newspapers in all of the
towns where MacDonald was appearing. The final group is ‘concert
reviews’ in which she also included letters and programs from
friends who attended the event, adding a ‘real local color to the
sometimes impersonal newspaper review!’
Beyond the printed and photographed
holdings, the cut-glass glove box, and the sound recordings, Smoot
also collected every issue of the journals of her three fan clubs:
‘These boxes are labeled and numbered so as to make reference
easy.’ The fan club journals look like contemporary ‘zines:
hand-crafted issues are devoted to news of MacDonald, her husband
Gene Raymond, and her skye terrier Stormy Weather; creative work by
fans such as poems about MacDonald or drawings of her in concert or
in a film scene;
pleas for collective action such as talking local exhibitors into
showing older MacDonald movies; letters, interviews, and
question-and-answer columns with MacDonald; correspondence and
reports from other fan clubs; and words to songs MacDonald sang.
Smoot spent some time describing the
layout of the various pages of her scrapbooks in terms of her
aesthetic preferences. She liked a ‘balanced pattern, avoiding
crowding.’ She even bought two copies of each magazine so that she
could paste down clippings and not worry about having to turn over
articles that continued on the reverse. One thing she did not do
was ‘decorate the pasges [sic] in any way [because Jeanette is
surely enough decoration for any page].’
drive to reproduce the original encounters on their own terms also
permeates the instances of reproduced versions of the films. At a
time prior to videotape, the fans were forced to prose adaptations
of the movies, accompanied by hand-drawn reproductions of special
moments in the film or whatever publicity stills the studios
provided. For the film Rose-Marie (1936), Smoot owned a
mimeographed rendering of the narrative.
In this case, Smoot did a little decorating. The school ring-binder
notebook has a green cover with two roses pasted on it and several
of the stenciled pages. For every song, a special page includes the
lyrics to the song and a drawing mimicking the camera angle, set,
Image: Smoot (2)
Where Smoot had an
actual production still, as in the case of the song ‘Indian Love
Call,’ this ‘better’ image replaces the drawing.
Smoot’s collecting and
arranging provides an example of the souvenir approach to engaging
with Hollywood stars. Her scrapbooks, memento boxes, and
indexically traced objects of MacDonald’s once presence, stored in
what she considered to be a ‘cabinet of transgression’ -- ‘an
old-fashioned walnut wardrobe in one of the spare rooms’ -- did
create for Smoot a ‘romantic life-history,’ her chronology of
encounters with a star whom Smoot considered the epitome of ‘tender
loveliness’ and for whom life in between those encounters was
‘suddenly drab without Jeanette’s loveliness.’ The souvenirs she
collected helped ‘carry the past into the future’ until she could
once again gaze upon MacDonald.
As I noted, I prefer
the definition of collecting offered by Camille who considers
collecting to be ‘“a socially creative and recuperative act.”’
While collecting is consumption, it is also self-fashioning and
authorship. Identities and authorship can be expressed in quite
diverse ways. A more extensive analysis of the biographies of Van
Vechten, Cornell, and Smoot would be necessary before leaping to
specific conclusions about the places of their collecting behavior
within their identity formation. However, even these beginning
remarks indicate that for all three their collecting was very much
bound up with their self-fashioning. Van Vechten as a closeted gay
seems to be saying in these scrapbooks -- there’s plenty more men
like me! Cornell’s livelihood was his collecting and arranging.
Smoot’s involvement in her clubs and eventual depositing of the
collection with a major archive suggest that no matter what else she
did this activity was at least one of the attributes by which she
wanted to be remembered.
In terms of authorship,
beyond my use of Pearce’s typology to make some distinctions, other
stylistic and formal differences are apparent. Van Vechten’s work
seems connected to queer modernism and to advertising; Cornell’s to
his variant of symbolism (and hints of surrealism despite his
protestations); and Smoot’s to mid-cult. Van Vechten and Cornell
did not consider chronology as the key organizing principle but
Smoot was obsessive about that. Smoot respected the historical
context of her collected items; for some things, Van Vechten did as
well; but Cornell had little regard for temporal context, and often
fought against straightforward meanings if they disrupted his
preferred fantasy. Van Vechten and Cornell had no qualms about
writing over an object to make it mean what they wanted it to mean;
Smoot specifically declared that such a reworking would violate her
rules for her collection.
Each of these people
did share one important feature: they had a sense of the extension
of their collections beyond their lives. The gestures of Van
Vechten’s donations of his various collections has been noted;
Cornell obviously hoped for post-death admiration of his boxes;
Smoot even bothers to write a four-page essay on her practices. She
had thought out her aesthetics. All three put their collections
into larger collections. Finally, although these collections
display self-fashioning and authorship, I would still want to
acknowledge the creators’ fandom and the function of the collections
within their everyday lives. Each collector used the objects to
attempt to come closer to their objects of desire. If I follow
Camille’s definition that collecting is ‘“a socially creative and
recuperative act,”’ I have perhaps still slighted the recuperative
half of the equation. I can only imagine that the disappointments
of everyday life for each of these people faded when they turned to
their collections. Then the pleasures of their collecting and
arranging pushed to the background the mundane as they enjoyed their
cabinets of transgression.
As media studies
participates in social and cultural history, it offers evidence of
the functions of popular culture within everyday lives. One way
into the arguments about the effects of media within culture is to
examine the restructurings of media texts by viewers of film,
television, comic books, and so forth. Certainly collections by
fans, and nearly all fans will have some sort of cabinet of
remembrances, offer a very material site for such investigations.
Indeed, moreover, collectors may carefully guard these material
sites. I have not at all considered the territorial imperative over
materials in collections. Struggles over ownership and claims of
cinephilia authority based on access (or denial of access) abound
among collectors. Analyses of these social and psychological
dynamics merit scholarly attention as well. Certainly, stopping to
look at collections and collecting behaviors will provide insights
into the places of media in social formations and subject self-fashionings.
I wish to thank the
University of Texas Special Research Grants for funding for archival
visits. These archivists and archives also deserve my appreciation
for efficient and effective help: the Yale Collection of American
Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript; Pat Fox, Steve
Wilson, and the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at The
University of Texas at Austin; and the Smithsonian Archives of
American Art, Washington, D.C. I am also grateful to have
supervised the Master’s thesis of Beth Kracklauer who introduced me
so intelligently to Smoot’s collection and the Master’s thesis of
Alison Macor who worked so gracefully on Cornell’s films.
Appreciation for help with illustrations for the oral presentation
of this paper goes to Paul Williams and the UT Instructional Design
Group and to Lynn Lakomski of Women’s and Gender Studies. Finally,
several audiences have provided good feedback: the Harry Ransom
Humanities Research Center lecture series (2003), the Cultural
Studies Association Founding Conference (2003), the Cinema and
Everyday Life Conference (2003), and the conference on Writing Film
History -- Cinephilia and Canonization (2004), and the readers for
Participations -- Susan Pearce and Paul McDonald.
John Fiske, ‘The Cultural Economy of Fandom,’ in Lisa A. Lewis
(ed.), The Adoring Audience: Fan Culture and
New York: Routledge, 1992, p. 44. Susan Stewart considers
scrapbooks (the medium that I will be examining) to be a
‘souvenir,’ with a different psychology than collecting. See
her On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic,
the Souvenir, the Collection, Baltimore, MD: The
Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984, pp. 134-35, 152. I
disagree (see below on theories of collecting).
Michael Camille quoted in Peter Monaghan, ‘Collected Wisdom,’
Chronicle of Higher Education, 28 June 2002, p. A18. See
Michael Camille and Adrian Rifkin (ed.), Other Objects of
Desire: Collectors and Collecting Queerly, Oxford, England:
Susan M. Pearce, On Collecting: An Investigation into
Collecting in the European Tradition, London: Routledge,
1995, pp. 58-85. Like Pearce, my comments are confined to the
Anglo-European traditions, but her limitation marks out an
important area of further research.
Susan Pearce and Ken Arnold (eds.), The
Collector’s Voice: Critical
Readings in the Practice of
Collecting, vol. 2: Early Voices,
Aldershot, England: Ashgate Publishing, 2000, p. 3.
Anthony Alan Shelton, ‘Cabinets of Transgression: Renaissance
Collections and the Incorporation of the New World,’ in John
Elsner and Roger Cardinal (eds.), The Cultures of Collecting,
Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994, pp. 177-203.
Pearce, On Collecting, p. 109.
Marjorie Swann, Curiosities and Texts:
The Culture of Collecting in Early Modern
Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001, p. 2.
Swann, Curiosities, pp. 9, 149-93.
Swann, Curiosities, pp. 6-8, 194-200.
Susan Pearce, Rosemary Flanders, Mark Hall, and Fiona Morton
(eds.), The Collector’s Voice: Critical
in the Practice of Collecting, vol. 3: Imperial Voices,
Aldershot, England: Ashgate Publishing, 2002, pp. 31, 42.
Pearce, On Collecting, p. 124.
Barbara M. Benedict, Curiosity: A Cultural History of Early
Modern Inquiry, Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago
Press, 2001, p. 2.
Walter M. Kendrick, The
Pornography in Modern Culture,
New York: Viking, 1987.
Pearce, On Collecting, pp. 6-7.
Swann, Curiosities, p. 7.
Jean Baudrillard, ‘The System of Collecting’ , trans.
Roger Cardinal, in Elsner and Cardinal (eds.), Cultures of
Collecting, pp. 19-20.
John Elsner and Roger Cardinal, ‘Introduction,’ in Elsner and
Cardinal (eds.), Cultures of Collecting, pp. 4-5.
Elsner and Cardinal, ‘Introduction,’ p. 2.
Eilean Hooper-Greenhill discussed in Swann, Curiosities,
Shelton, ‘Cabinets of Transgression,’ pp. 184, 186.
Swann, Curiosities, p. 7.
Walter Benjamin, ‘Unpacking My Library: A Talk about Book
Collecting’ , trans. Harry Zohn, Illuminations, New
York: Schocken Books, 1968, pp. 59-60.
Benjamin, ‘Unpacking My Library’, p. 67.
Swann describing Pearce’s approach, Curiosities, p. 8.
Pearce, On Collecting, p. 32. This is her version of the
schema in 1995; she originally expressed it in 1992, and it is
that version that informs John Windsor (see note below).
John Windsor, ‘Identity Parades,’ in Elsner and Cardinal (eds.),
Cultures of Collecting, p. 50. Daniel Cavicchi also uses
these three categories to discuss the types of collecting of
Bruce Springsteen fans; see Tramps Like Us: Music and Meaning
among Springsteen Fans, NY: Oxford University Press, 1998,
Bruce Kellner, Carl Van Vechten and the Irreverent Decades,
Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1968.
Edward G. Lueders, Carl Van Vechten and the Twenties,
Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1955, pp. 48-9.
See ‘Music for the Movies’  in Music and Bad Manners,
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1916, pp. 43-54 in which he promotes
a ‘futurist’ rather than sentimental music; ‘The Importance of
Electrical Picture Concerts’  in Red: Papers on
Musical Subjects, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1925, pp.
60-9. Also see ‘Movies for Program Notes’  in Red,
pp. 70-83, in which he urges the setting of famous pieces such
as ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ into film with visual
Carl Van Vechten, ‘Fabulous Hollywood,’ Vanity Fair, 28,
May 1927, pp. 54, 108; ‘Hollywood Parties,’ Vanity
Fair, 28, June 1927, pp. 47, 86, 90; ‘Hollywood Royalty,’
Vanity Fair, 28, July 1927, pp. 38, 86; ‘Understanding
Hollywood,’ Vanity Fair, 28, August 1927, pp. 45, 78.
Van Vechten, ‘Hollywood Parties,’ p. 47.
Kellner, Carl Van Vechten, pp. 258-61, 270.
Jonathan Weinberg, ‘“Boy Crazy”: Carl Van Vechten’s Queer
Collection,’ Yale Journal of Criticism, 7, no. 2,
Fall 1994, p. 27.
Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Collection, Yale Collection of
American Literature, Van Vechten Scrapbooks [see Uncat 2a,
Mss.]; hereafter VV papers.
Weinberg, ‘“Boy Crazy,”’ p. 28.
Weinberg, ‘“Boy Crazy,”’ p. 31.
Weinberg, ‘“Boy Crazy,”’ p. 44.
James Smalls, ‘Public Face, Private Thoughts: Fetish,
Interracialism, and the Homoerotic in Some Photographs by Carl
Van Vechten,’ Genders, no. 25, Spring 1997, p. 146. Also
see Beth A. McCoy, ‘Inspectin’ and Collecting: The Scene of
Carl Van Vechten,’ Genders, no. 28, 1998 [WWW document].
Windsor, ‘Identity Parades,’ p. 50.
Unlabelled volume in box 2, VV papers.
For example, in volume 10, an article, ‘Hectic Harlem,’ dated 7
March 1936, describes the ‘odd fellows’ ball.
Joseph Cornell Papers, Microfilm reel 1066, Smithsonian Archives
of American Art, Washington, D.C.; hereafter, JC papers.
Hilton Kramer, ‘Collages of Joseph Cornell -- The American
New York Times,
9 March 1980, Sect. D, p. 27.
Dore Ashton, ‘Joseph Cornell,’ in Dore Ashton (ed.), A Joseph
Cornell Album, New York: DeCapo Press, 1974, p. 73.
Ashton, ‘Joseph Cornell,’ pp. 10-19; Mary Ann Caws (ed.),
Joseph Cornell: Theater of the Mind: Selected Diaries, Letters,
and Files, New York: Thames & Hudson, 1993.
Reel 1066, JC papers. Also see Jodi Hauptman, Joseph Cornell:
Stargazing in the Cinema, New Haven, CT: Yale University
Press, 1999, p. 17 on the preparation for Portrait of Ondine.
Hauptman, Joseph Cornell, p. 12.
Hauptman, Joseph Cornell, p. 48.
Ashton, ‘Joseph Cornell,’ p. 35; Joseph Cornell: Worlds in a
Box, 1991, Mark Stokes/BBC Production.
Hauptman, Joseph Cornell, p. 209.
Joseph Cornell, ‘Enchanted Wanderer’ [1941-42], rpt. in Ashton
(ed.), Joseph Cornell, p. 150.
Marjorie Keller, The Untutored Eye: Childhood in the Films of
Cocteau, Cornell, and Brakhage, London: Associated
University Presses, 1986, p. 101. Also see Jonas Mekas, ‘The
Invisible Cathedrals of Joseph Cornell’ , rpt. in Ashton
(ed.), Joseph Cornell, p. 167.
Keller, Untutored Eye, p. 105.
Caws, Joseph Cornell: Theater of the Mind, pp. 358, 426.
Hauptman, Joseph Cornell, p. 50, describes Cornell’s
boxes as related to ‘necrophilia, a tendency to transform
objects “into dead possessions.”’ Personally, given his
consistent rearrangement of boxes, as well as his taking and
giving of boxes to people, this is not my sense of logic. The
objects are stand-ins for the people who are certainly distant
and untouchable, but totally animate. In fact, Cornell’s other
actions suggest, as I note above, his interest in using his art
works as a means of contact with the celebrities.
Hauptman, Joseph Cornell, p. 61.
See Annette Michelson’s intelligent discussion of Cornell’s work
in ‘Rose Hobart and Monsieur Phot: Early Films
from Utopia Parkway,’ Artforum, 11, no. 10, June 1973,
pp. 47-57. Also see Alison Grace Macor, ‘The Woman in the Box:
Style and Representation in the Collage Films of Joseph
Cornell,’ Unpublished Master’s Thesis: University of Texas at
See Henry Jenkins, Textual Poachers: Television Fans &
Participatory Culture, New York: Routledge, 1992.
Windsor, ‘Identity Parades,’ p. 50 (emphasis mine).
Georganne Scheiner describes the larger scene of film fandom in
the 1930s and 1940s in her Signifying Female Adolescence:
Film Representations and Fans, 1920-1950, Westport, CT:
Praeger Publishers, 2000, pp. 122-23. According to Scheiner,
the earliest fan club was one for Joan Crawford, founded in
1931. By the mid 1930s, the studios and stars supported (even
financially) these clubs, and national ‘consortiums of fan
clubs’ met yearly in Los Angeles. Scheiner examines scrapbooks
created by Deanna Durbin fans; her descriptions indicate their
similarity to those constructed by Smoot. The potential
lesbianism involved in women’s attraction to female stars has
not been addressed. Certainly this is a possible understanding
of the fascination (especially insofar as the MacDonald fans
actually followed her from concert to concert; see below).
However, both heterosexual and lesbian women were fans of female
stars. Thus, sorting through the sexual dynamics is work to be
done. I have no information regarding Smoot’s sexual
orientation, and so I am not speculating about this.
Jane Smoot, TS, ‘Collectionitis -- MacDonald Species,’ Box 11,
Envelope 1, Jeanette MacDonald Papers, Harry Ransom Humanities
Research Center, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas;
hereafter, JMD papers.
Andre Bazin, ‘The Ontology of the Photographic Image’ ,
trans. Hugh Gray, What is Cinema? Vol. 1, Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1967, pp. 9-10.
Smoot indicates a very directed ambition. She writes, ‘For
SMILIN’ THROUGH, THREE DARLING DAUGHTERS, and THE SUN COMES UP I
have complete collections of all stills in which Miss MacDonald
appears; I don’t want those without her.’ Smoot, ‘Collectionitis.’
The use of the term ‘clan’ here refers to MacDonald’s Scottish
heritage. Box 3, Envelope 3, JMD papers. The various fan clubs
often had overlapping memberships and networks of associations.
In Golden Comet, 1, no. 1 (for the international club),
after names of the club’s leadership was a list of other clubs
and their presidents. This listing included clubs for male
stars as well, including ones for Nelson Eddy and Dick Powell.
Presidents were both male and female for each star. Box 4,
Envelope 3, JMD papers. For a good example of photos from a
trip, see Box 9, Envelope 2, JMD papers.
Box 9, Envelope 2, JMD papers.
Box 9, Envelope 2, JMD papers. Mary Elizabeth Kracklauer
describes the special privileges accorded fan club members;
‘Jeanette’s Girls: Fan Clubs in the 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s,’
Unpublished Masters Thesis: University of Texas at Austin,
2000. Over the years, MacDonald established a relation to them
including access to her dressing room after a concert. Part of
the thrill of being in the clubs was this honored and intimate
status. So when MacDonald was sick, having fan club members
visit her -- while a special event -- was not highly unusual.
I did not read many of these journals. Whether any fictional
narratives equivalent to contemporary fan activities were
published is something worth investigating. See Jenkins,
I am focusing here on Smoot’s collecting behavior. Kracklauer’s
master’s thesis details the general fan club activities.
Smoot, ‘Collectionitis,’ interpolation hers.
Box 9, Envelope 1, JMD papers.
‘Joseph Cornell,’ in Dore Ashton (ed.), A Joseph Cornell
Album, New York: DeCapo Press, 1974, pp. 1-111.
‘The System of Collecting’ , trans. Roger Cardinal, in
John Elsner and Roger Cardinal (eds.), Cultures of
Collecting, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994,
Bazin, Andre, ‘The Ontology of the Photographic Image’ ,
trans. Hugh Gray, What is Cinema? Vol. 1, Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1967, pp. 9-16.
M., Curiosity: A Cultural History of Early Modern Inquiry,
Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press, 2001.
‘Unpacking My Library: A Talk about Book Collecting’ ,
trans. Harry Zohn, Illuminations, New York: Schocken
Books, 1968, pp. 59-67.
and Adrian Rifkin (ed.), Other Objects of Desire: Collectors
and Collecting Queerly, Oxford, England: Blackwell, 2001.
Tramps Like Us: Music and Meaning among Springsteen Fans,
NY: Oxford University Press, 1998.
Caws, Mary Ann
(ed.), Joseph Cornell: Theater of the Mind: Selected Diaries,
Letters, and Files, New York: Thames & Hudson, 1993.
‘Enchanted Wanderer’ [1941-42], rpt. in Ashton (ed.), Joseph
Cornell, pp. 150-53.
Elsner, John and
Roger Cardinal, ‘Introduction,’ in Elsner and Cardinal (eds.),
Cultures of Collecting, pp. 1-6.
Fiske, John, ‘The Cultural Economy of Fandom,’ in
Lisa A. Lewis (ed.), The Adoring Audience: Fan Culture and
New York: Routledge, 1992, pp. 30-49.
Joseph Cornell: Stargazing in the Cinema, New Haven, CT:
Yale University Press, 1999.
Textual Poachers: Television Fans & Participatory Culture,
New York: Routledge, 1992.
Joseph Cornell: Worlds in a Box,
1991, Mark Stokes/BBC Production.
The Untutored Eye: Childhood in the Films of Cocteau,
Cornell, and Brakhage, London: Associated University
Carl Van Vechten and the Irreverent Decades, Norman:
University of Oklahoma Press, 1968.
Kendrick, Walter M., The
Secret Museum: Pornography in Modern Culture,
New York: Viking, 1987.
‘Collages of Joseph Cornell - The American Surrealist’, New
York Times, 9 March 1980, Sect. D, p. 27.
Lueders, Edward G.,
Carl Van Vechten and the Twenties, Albuquerque:
University of New Mexico Press, 1955.
Grace, ‘The Woman in the Box: Style and Representation in the
Collage Films of Joseph Cornell,’ Unpublished Master’s Thesis:
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and Manuscript Collection, Yale Collection of American
Literature, Van Vechten Scrapbooks.
Jeanette MacDonald Papers, Harry Ransom
Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin,
Papers, Microfilm Reel 1066, Smithsonian Archives of American
Art, Washington, D.C..
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