Nose Evolution

Last March I suggested that the emphatically carnal, thick-lipped Scarlet Johansson wasn’t a great choice to play the thin-lipped, somewhat rigid-mannered Janet Leigh in Sacha Gervasi‘s Hitchcock. I failed to mention another disharmonious element: Leigh came up in an era in which all Hollywood actresses had smallish, slender noses — it was pretty much absolute law — while Johansson’s nose is slightly wider and thicker, which blends with (or has been permitted by) today’s less Anglicized aesthetic.

About 14 years ago I wrote a piece about slightly bulbous, bee-stung noses becoming slightly more noticable among younger actresses of the day (Kirsten Dunst, Claire Danes, Chloe Sevigny), but my Mr. Showbiz bosses said “no, no, no…that will push the envelope and anger people.” People get irked whenever I remind that beauty standards were narrower and stricter and more white-bread in the old days. You can throw spitballs and stamp your feet all you want, but noses had to be fairly small and narrow or button-like in the big-studio era, the ’50s and the ’60s. That’s one reason why Barbra Streisand was such a breakthrough phenomenon when she starred in Funny Girl in ’68.

11 thoughts on “Nose Evolution

  1. You’re not wrong (although one wonders how many of those noses were the result of nature). Just a quick look at the thumbnails on this site pretty much proves your point.

    http://www.moviemaidens.com/

    Oddly enough, the silent movie stars seemed to be less generic than later actresses. But of course back then, all they had was their “faces.” No voice to distinguish between one or the other.

  2. Good grief.

    Okay, sure … you might be right I guess. But I’m more interested in seeing if Johansson can capture Leigh’s slightly angry and tense sexuality. Judging solely from that picture, I’d say she hasn’t.

  3. @Ray, part of that might have something to do with the actresses relative age. Leigh was 33 when Psycho came out. Scarlett is not yet 28. Those five years (and passing 30) can be a lifetime in the career of an actress, particularly in late-50s Hollywood. I imagine some of Leigh’s performance came from the fact that while she wasn’t over the hill (in terms of the era), at 33 she could definitely see the crest.

  4. Good call on the tense sexuality, RayDeRousse. That’s going to be the thing to capture. Jamie Lee Curtis once wrote that her mother always had her fists clenched. I’m not sure what that meant, but I enjoy thinking about it.

  5. Also notice how people back then had names like Leigh and Streisand, while people today have names like Johansson and Dunst. It’s totally scientific. Makes you wonder how Nicole Kidman has a career.

  6. As Peter Biskind said, the Hoffmans and Pacinos replaced the Tabs and the Troys. Scarlett looks more like Janet Leigh in that shot than I would have expected.

  7. First, casting is mostly a gaydom whose choices on what is ‘female beauty’ are unfathomable to us hetero men, both then and now.
    Second, segregation played into those aesthetics.
    Third, demographics and the modern world changed all that to the point the nose distinction would be unnoticeable by most audiences.
    Fourth, they’re premiering a Hitchcock-esque cable movie with Hitchcock as the baddie for sex harassing a mediocre model, making you pine for the good old 90s when you had to abuse and sleep with Julia Roberts to qualify as The Enemy.

    So, in that context, bad nose is not a problem.

  8. Although Janet Leigh was not the Scarlett Johansson of her day. That would be Katie Holmes, but if we’re going down that path, Helen Mirren does not look like Alma Hitchcock at all, and for all I know, her ‘power’ over Hitchcock had little to do with her expertise as editor, she hadn’t cut a film since the 1920s. It was more the psychological power of marital partners, and the known fact she was an editor when he was an errand boy so he was forever trying to please her. And yes, she could have the ‘eye’ to spot whether Janet Leigh was blinking when dead in the shower, because, well, I guess you never lose ‘the eye’, but I don’t think she was what she is built up to be in the trailer — though I understand why this is done – the same way they did it with Clementine in the HBO Churchills — first, to give drama and second, let us not kid ourselves, the audience for this is women.

  9. You DO know that Scarlett Johanson doesn’t have the same DNA as Janet Leigh don’t you? And you DO know that it is 99.999% impossible to find an actress (a good actress, especially) who looks EXACTLY like Janet Leigh, don’t you?

    A good casting director looks for the best choice of actors who look slightly like the real person, and then hope for the make up to do the job. I don’t need to compare these two photos side by side to know that the casting director did its job well. Johanson resembles janet leigh. Period.

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