Silly Analysis from Fan Magazines - Phrenology

John Barrymore, the Great Profile.
The 1920's fan magazines were not what you'd call scholarly journals. Some were better than others when it comes down to it.  Most were pure fluff and pretty amazing in the stuff (and pure bunk) they published.  They were as entertaining as the films and stars they were reporting on.  Read the Letters section in any of them and you will see the filmgoers were not fools.  In searching an issue of Photoplay for a film review, I happened upon an examination of various male film stars based on the lost and totally impractical science of phrenology.  It was so great I had to share it.

To get you up to speed, here is a concise explanation of Phrenology from the illuminating website The Victorian Web:

Phrenology was a faculty psychology, theory of brain and science of character reading, what the nineteenth-century phrenologists called "the only true science of mind." Phrenology was derived from the theories of the idiosyncratic Viennese physician Franz Joseph Gall (1758-1828). The basic tenets of Gall's system were:

1.The brain is the organ of the mind.
2. The mind is composed of multiple distinct, innate faculties.
3. Because they are distinct, each faculty must have a separate seat or "organ" in the brain.
4. The size of an organ, other things being equal, is a measure of its power.
5. The shape of the brain is determined by the development of the various organs.
6. As the skull takes its shape from the brain, the surface of the skull can be read as an accurate index of psychological aptitudes and tendencies.

In this particular article A Phrenological Study of Some Famous Stars by H.H. Faulkner, we are helped along with this wonderful chart.  Try this on your friends, you will be amazed!

The first star profiled that caught my eye (naturally) was Rudolph Valentino.  This is his profile, showing the shape of his head, jawline, etc.  Let's see now what H.H. Faulkner has to say about him. My commentary is in [sqaure brackets].

Valentino's profile

The head of Rudolph Valentino with its pyramidal structure (massive and broad at the base and sloping inward toward the top), combined with his somewhat heavy features, and the distance from his ears to the back of his head—places him at once in the Physical-Romantic type. [Really?  Your ears can reveal this? I wonder about mine, now.] He is fond of romantic and dangerous action. [This was generally true, he loved adventure and outdoor sports.  When he could, he did his own stunts and riding.]

He is not interested in the sedentary sciences [True, he had many books, but preferred to spend his time outdoors], although his head is sufficiently balanced in its physical contours to indicate a keen sense of purely bodily rhythm, and a pleasurable physical reaction to music in which the tempo is evenly accentuated. [Duh, he earned his keep early on as a dancer.]  His long, pointed, slanting ears, and his oval eyes with their long, centrally arched brows, reveal a nature which loves pleasure and diversion, and is fond of luxury and material comforts. [Truth, he spent fortunes of cars, horses, dogs and other diversions.] His strong, heavy chin and jaw indicate aggressiveness combined with an accentuated ego and a marked self-esteem. [His ego bruised easily, especially when his maleness was questioned]
Valentino's features, his mouth and eyes.
His features (especially his eyes and mouth) show that he is strongly attracted by the opposite sex [and vice versa!], and that his emotions are ardent but inclined to be short-lived because too intense. [Referring to the future affair with Pola Negri, perhaps?] His nose reveals gregariousness; [He had more of a sense of humor and lightness than history has painted him.]  but, with all his contact with people, the vertical structure of his backhead does not permit of his being influenced or taking on impressions easily. [Not true, he was easily influenced by those he trusted, and not always to his best advantage.  He was stubborn, headstrong, and was driven by his emotion sometimes more than his common sense.]

So there you have it, a fairly balanced assessment of Rudolph Valentino based on the lumps on his head!  Take it as you will!

Other stars profiled were Antonio Moreno, Eugene O'Brien, Wallace Reid, Charles Ray, Bert Lytell and Thomas Meighan.  I'm going to have to revisit this researching each of them.  


Hamlette said…
Hahaha! That is most amusing. The whole phrenology thing just cracks me up, especially how seriously people would take it! Thanks so much for sharing this :-)
James Brannan said…
Phrenology is an interesting study. It is mentioned in several movies and books from the old days. It may not be entirely true, but at least it is based on some sort of sciene.

This is a fine, interesting article. I enjoyed reading it, and I look forward to reading more of your articles in the future.

By the way, I would like to invite you to join my blogathon, "The Great Breening Blogathon:" It is celebrating the life and work of Joseph Breen, the enforcer of the Motion Picture Production Code between 1934 and 1954. As we honor his birthday, which is on October 14, we will be discussing and analyzing the Code era, breening films from other eras, and writing about our own ideas for classic movies. One doesn't have to agree with the Code and Mr. Breen to enjoy that! I hope you will do me the honor of joining. We could really use your talent!

Yours Hopefully,

Tiffany Brannan

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