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Julia Rank

MA work

The Chorus Girl’s Progress: The iconography of female stardom and consumption in interwar British magazine culture

My dissertation explores the imagery of the chorus girl-turned-star in interwar Britain through the case studies of Gertrude Lawrence, Jessie Matthews and Anna Neagle, in which I argue that in order to succeed as a star, a female performer had to cultivate both a distinctive persona and be able to conform to archetypes of idealised femininity. Using society magazines that are rich in photographs and advertisements, I analyse the kind of material that Jacky Bratton observes is often dismissed as ‘background noise’ by researchers in order to explore how celebrity was constructed through visual and commercial mediums. The first chapter looks at the contrast between the ‘Cinderellas’ who succeed and those who do not, and the communication of stardom as a lifestyle. The second chapter explores the actress’s presence in advertising and the way in which it was an opportunity for her to sell her own image as well as the products in question. The third chapter diverges from the society press to explore fan club journals that were produced by non-professionals who nevertheless ran these organisations in a professional manner, negotiating a friendly and mutually beneficial relationship with their chosen star. Ultimately, print culture allows the upper and middle-class reader to engage with the fantasy of theatrical life from the safety of her participation as a consumer to observe the fluidity of the actress’s position in society in which she lives in both the earthly world and the public imagination as a vessel of escapism within an artificial landscape of pleasure.


  • MA Degree


    School of Arts & Humanities


    MA History of Design, 2019

  • I am a theatre historian and theatre journalist with a particular interest in ephemera, collecting practices and the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, in particular popular performance and musical theatre. I am also interested in dress, social, London and women's history.

  • Degrees

  • BA English Literature, University of Warwick, 2009; MA Victorian Studies, Birkbeck, University of London, 2015
  • Experience

  • Volunteer cataloguer, V&A Theatre and Performance department, London, 2018; Volunteer editorial assistant, V&A Fashion, Textiles and Furniture Department, London, 2018–2019; Volunteer Researcher, Islington Museum and Local History Centre, 2019; Freelance theatre critic and journalist, 2010-ongoing
  • Awards

  • Gillian Naylor Essay Award, 2018