When the 2000-2009 decade of television is reviewed by historians, one word will stand out -- "reality." Beginning with "Survivor" in 2000, then followed with "American Idol" and the like, so-called unscripted TV has become the dominant force in prime time, at one point nearly leading to the sitcom's extinction. (Unlike sitcoms, however, reality shows don't have much of an afterlife, which is why you still see "Frasier" and "Seinfeld" in syndication.) Some reality TV can be absorbing and illuminating; for instance, "The Amazing Race" has won some critical praise, and a devoted core of fans. But other series respond to the more base, prurient aspects of the human condition...or do that to their participants. (It appears the Colorado "balloon boy" hoax last Thursday may have been perpetrated by the parents in order to return to reality TV.)
Above is another perfect example of such changes -- Jon and Kate Gosselin, a Pennsylvania couple whom none of us would've heard of had Kate not had twins, and then sextuplets. A cable TV channel thought it might be interesting to see how the family coped with its unique situation, and thus "Jon & Kate Plus Eight" was born. It became a major hit by cable standards. Unfortunately, the Gosselins proved to have problems with their newfound fame -- the couple began bickering, their spats becoming a frequent topic for celebrity magazine covers. They've now separated, are going through a messy divorce, and the cable channel plans to rename the series "Kate Plus Eight."
There was no reality TV, or even reality radio in the 1930s, but exploitation of multiples was being done then, too. Take, for example, this magazine, with Carole Lombard on the cover:
It's the January 1937 issue of Movie Mirror, and one of the stories inside is titled "Day by Day with the Dionne Quints." The Dionnes were five girls born to a rural Quebec family in 1934 who became a media sensation, regularly appearing in newsreels. They were promoted heavily, so much that the town they lived in became a de facto tourist trap. All this eventually led to all sorts of psychological traumas for the girls, problems we hope the Gosselin children (or those of the California "octomom") will never face.
Fortunately, this magazine also has real movie-related stories. Titles include "How Thelma Todd Is Haunting Patsy Kelly," "Myrna Loy Reveals Her Own Mysterious Life" and "Cupid Upsets Movie Land's Maddest Household -- Jimmy Stewart and Henry Fonda." (Not having read the issue, I can't vouch for the quality of such stories, but they sure sound interesting.) Irene Dunne also models fashions and Eleanor Powell provides some dance tips.
The Lombard portrait was from James N. Doolittle (1886-1954), one of the era's top photographers and a pioneer in using color. As an eBay seller of a Jeanette MacDonald portrait wrote, "In the 1930's, color photography was in its infancy and therefore color work by history's greatest photographers of that period is seldom seen. To produce color work during that time required enormous efforts but, the results could be absolutely stunning -- even by today's standards."
And here's that MacDonald portrait:
The Movie Mirror with Carole on the cover is currently being auctioned at eBay. As of this writing, one bid has been made, for $9.99; bidding closes just after 9:10 p.m. (Eastern) on Tuesday, so you don't have much time. Go to http://cgi.ebay.com/MOVIE-MIRROR-MAGAZINE-1937-Carole-Lombard-DIONNE-QUINTS_W0QQitemZ390105816755QQcmdZViewItemQQptZLH_DefaultDomain_0?hash=item5ad41e5eb3 if interested.
Oh, and perhaps Jon and/or Kate should bid. One of the stories is entitled "Hollywood Children of Divorce."