line Personality, Celebrity and the Mass Media

spacer Will Rogers spacer George Herman (Babe) Ruth spacer George Gershwin

spacer Walter Winchell spacer Mae West spacer Noel Coward

In the early twentieth century, caricature exploited the new appetite for celebrity whetted by the developing mass media. The nature of fame had already changed profoundly. Notability was no longer based solely on achievement; one needed a compelling "personality," public commentators agreed, or the ability to attract a public audience. Consequently, celebrity was no longer tied to traditional areas of attainment: the baseball hero, the striptease star, and the mother of quintuplets could now compete with the warrior prince and the theologian in the pantheon of fame.

The mass media ensured that all Americans would recognize the faces and reputations of each emerging star. Through technological innovations, information about the famous became increasingly standardized. Newspapers and magazines increasingly relied on syndication services and press agents for non-news features. Motion pictures, newsreels, recordings, and radio also publicized identical celebrity images. Caricature built upon this recognition, providing a way to laugh at well-known quirks and eccentricities without destroying these larger-than-life heroes, geniuses, bad boys, and ingenues.

1. Will Rogers/ Miguel Covarrubias
2. George Herman (Babe) Ruth /Paolo Garretto
3. George Gershwin/William Auerbach-Levy
4. Walter Winchell/Al Hirschfeld
5. Mae West/Miguel Covarrubias
6. Noel Coward/William Auerbach-Levy

Past Exhibitions | National Portrait Gallery Home
Introduction Personality Celebrity and the Press Experimental Portraiture Stage Folk The Smart Magazines The Algonquin Round Table Around the Town empty