Stars that twinkled in Hollywood's heavens

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Today we would call them "celebs." In cinema's heyday, they were "stars." The star system was alive and well in the 1930s, '40s, and '50s. Yet the glamour associated with these celluloid "idols" was only one side of it. The escapist world of films was not only fantastic and luxurious (as were the cinemas in which they were shown), but the movies were also frequently lighthearted, funny, and almost inevitably ended happily (or so it seemed to me as a child).

Actors of great comedic skill, like Danny Kaye or Alec Guinness, were stars. So were beautiful actresses whose talents were not only decorative but richly comic as well. Glynis Johns ranked high among them in my 9-year-old judgment.

There is no doubt that from the 1960s on, film began to change, sometimes in unexpected ways. In Britain, it was wrongly, yet widely, assumed that the arrival of universal TV would soon spell cinema's end. It didn't. But in Glasgow, for instance, where I live, there are few movie theaters left - and those are multiscreen.

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Glasgow city boasted more than 130 traditional cinemas in filmgoing's glory days - and for a population of less than 1 million.

Today the multiscreen cinemas that remain are brimming with mostly young enthusiasts. Some old film buffs I know almost proudly tell how they "haven't been to a cinema in years." They regret the demise of an era in which, they believe, films were gentler, more sophisticated, and less crude than more recent pictures. To them, movies from recent decades have seemed too blatant or shocking. Yet I think there are many lighthearted new films that would delight them if it weren't for their insistent nostalgia.

The large screen, the pitch darkness, and the lack of domestic distractions make cinemas as compelling as ever. Today's stars, both funny and beautiful, aren't bad, either.

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