Saturday, April 05, 2008

Old Hollywood Style

So this is a trend people are noticing, particularly in female names - that a lot of popular and rising female names, especially in the US, are names borne by Hollywood actresses of the 1940s and 50s. The most obvious is Ava - Ava Gardner, though one can accredit the popularity of Audrey to Audrey Hepburn, Grace to Grace Kelly, Olivia to Olivia de Havilland and Sophia to Sophia Loren.

I wanted to see if this trend held true, so I've taken the female Oscar winning and nominated actresses from 1935 to 60, and mapped their names' popularity. The results are below, and yes, you're going to wish I hadn't (I certainly do):

You see, there are lots and lots of Oscar nominated and winning actresses from 1935 to 60. Even when some of the names are repeated (and not all of the names are shown on the left hand side, but I included all the names on this list), such as Judy (Holliday and Garland) and Joan (Fontaine and Crawford), it still adds up to 57 names. So this is a hard graph to analyse because there is a lot going on. I'm not going to go in-depth, and I have a feeling this is one of those graphs that I will see one trend, and someone else will see another.

Ok, so the top left are popular names in 2006 - eg #1 in 2006 (and I know it's better go by % but I would have to look it up for every single year for every single name = long time), bottom right are #1000 and below. Names that went off the top 1000 I put as 1000. So what I am seeing here is a trend of names falling in popularity from the 1970s to 2006, with a few names bucking the trend and rising (Ava, Olivia, Grace, Audrey, Anna) but these are certainly in the minority.

Attempt #2 to look at this trend: the particularly prominent actresses. Using the Oscar winners from 1935 to 60 ignored some recognized 'old Hollywood' actresses such as Marilyn Monroe and Sophia Loren (won 1961). So I'm going to look at the popularity of the names on this list. The list is the American Film Institute's 100 Years...100 Stars, top 25, which was compiled in 1999. The 'stars' on their list had to have died prior to the list being made, or have debuted prior to 1950, and so it is weighted towards 'old Hollywood'. It also usefully allows me not to have to pick and choose as to who is 'old Hollywood'.

A few things to start with - the graph doesn't have the name that for me is the epitome of 'old Hollywood' style: Ava. However, the rest totally fit that category. As the labels aren't particularly clear, the fairly stable, highest at the beginning line is Elizabeth. The two mid-century high peaks are Judy (peach) and Barbara (blue). The light purple one that rises close to the end is Lauren, and the one that has risen and is now declining in blue at the end is Grace. That leaves the risers as Sophia, Lillian and Audrey (as Olivia and Ava are not in the graph). Note that this graph is different from the previous one (and easier to read) as all the percentages have been put in, that took a very long time.

So...what does it tell us?
1) The 'old Hollywood' trend seems to be limited to a few names - Sophia, Lillian, Audrey, Ava, Olivia, with Grace and Lauren as precursors.
2) The majority of 'old Hollywood' names are declining, or have declined so far that they are no longer in the US top 1000 (meaning they could be rising again).
3) The names that are peaking now did not really rise to popularity at the time that their star was famous - whereas Judy and Barbara did, and so now suffer for it as they have a somewhat 'dated' feel.

On a wider scale - there are other names that are quite 'old Hollywood' but are not the names of actresses - one can cite 'Gone with the Wind' as responsible for the sharp increase in the popularity of Melanie and to a lesser extent Vivien and Scarlett in the 1940s - Scarlett has now been revived and Melanie has never been so popular.

Is this post too early? I'd love to look in 5 years and see if Ingrid has made a comeback or Bette - neither were really popular in their 'heyday'. At the moment, we are not having a full scale Hollywood revival, what we are having are names with glimpses of past glamour being found again.