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Why celebrities are called ‘Stars’

Stars: fusions of person and persona, of the fleshy human and the flinty image on the stage and screen.

Taking cues by Africans from the Western world dates way back to ancient days and it’s not a new to millennials.

The broad use of the word “star” to indicate a leader among us dates back, Peter Davis, a theater historian at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, told me, to the Middle Ages. Chaucer, who was also the first recorded user of the word “celebrity” and one of the first to use the word “famous,” also hinted at the lexical convergence of the human and the celestial.

By the 1820s, it was common to refer to actors as “stars”—for purposes of salesmanship as much as anything else.

Theater touring became popular during that time, in both England and America. British actors, in particular, Davis told me, were often promoted as “stars” for their tours in the U.S. as a way to ensure that large audiences would come to witness their performances.

The term carried through as theater acting gave way to movie acting—as silent films gave way to talkies. “The observable ‘glow’ of potential stardom was present from the very beginning of film history, the earliest films didn’t name the actors who starred in them. That was in part because the actors, many of whom had been trained in the theater, were initially embarrassed to be putting their hard-won skills to the service of this strange new medium.

The earliest films didn’t bother to name the actors who starred in them.

As early cinema developed in the early 20th century, bulky and unwieldy cameras made it difficult for cinematographers to capture anything beyond full-length shots of actors.

“Because viewers couldn’t see the actor’s face up close,” Petersen writes, “it was difficult to develop the feelings of admiration or affection we associate with film stars.” As cameras improved, though, close-ups became more common, emphasizing actors’ faces and humanity. As sound became part of the cinema experience, voices, too, substituted full personas for lurching images. The “picture personality” had arrived. The “star,” yet again, was born.

It may be quaint, today, to talk of “movie stars.” This is an age defined, after all, by that other Chaucerian term: the “celebrity.” It’s an age of actor-founded lifestyle brands and internet-famous felines and people starring in reality itself.

But our current celebrities, too, suggest something similar to what “star” has long evoked: orientation, transcendence, a kind of union between mortals and the gods they have chosen for themselves. “Celebrity” comes from the Old French word for “rite” or “ceremony”; it suggests that even the most frivolous of the famous are filling a role that is, in its way, profound.

In conclusion “stars” cannot be referred to as “celebrities” rather celebrities turn into stars.

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