A long time ago, Hollywood movie studios developed a method to hire actors for a long-term period, with the goal of guaranteeing success for their movies, called the Star System, those contracts were huge and complex, ending up controlling the actor’s life.
And how did it work?
Well, let’s check the background first, in the 20s sound was introduced to film, and the industry was booming. The Patent War against Edison encouraged the producers to move to California, which gave birth to Hollywood, a place where they intended to produce films in high scale and develop a production standard pipeline.
That pipeline was created by the owners of the Big Six companies: Paramount Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros, Metro Goldwyn Mayer, Universal Studios and the disappeared RKO.
This also inspired on the Broadway method to develop actors in theater in the 19th century, and was named the Studio System. It had a lot of success and kicked off the Golden Age of Hollywood, it was based on the principles of business efficiency, economic rationalization and hiring employees for a long-term period under exclusivity contracts.
If an actor was signed, it meant that he or she was introduced to the Star System, which meant changing his or her life. Examples here are actors like Audrey Hepburn, Greta Garbo, and Rock Hudson.
After an actor was hired, the studio crew began to work with the actor to develop them into true celebrities. The intention was to spread an idealized image of the actor to the audience.
Back then, a movie success depended on the popularity of the cast much more than on the story itself, for that reason, studios wanted to have a cast with demigod fame in their movies, to use them as the primary tool to promote the film. This is when names of actors started appearing prominently on posters.
Florence Lawrence was the first actress signed for that purpose and audiences began to flock cinemas to see her.
Companies used to come up with background, origin stories for their stars, and even changing their names, like the case of Michael Landon, born as Eugene Orwitz, and Norma Jeane Baker was renamed to Marilyn Monroe.
The company monitored the actor’s life and public behavior to keep the preferred reputation. Women were expected to behave like ladies and have a neat appearance with stylish clothes; men had to act like gentlemen in public spaces.
Also, the studios arranged sham dates between single celebrities, and then gossip columns and tabloids were tipped off about it, so a lot of photographers went there to capture the romantic moment. It was free advertising!
All this because the audience didn’t use to expect a great story on the screen, they just wanted to watch their stars reflecting their reputation in their movie role. For example, Joan Crawford often played roles of hardworking young women who found romance and success, so her public life had to reflect that too.
Same with Michael Landon, his roles as Joe Cartwright in Bonanza and Charles Ingalls in Little House in the Prairie had something in common, it’s about a good-natured family countryman, his community and his noble job, so the actor’s lifestyle should fit into that.
Another significant example was Monroe and her roles as a femme fatale. Same with Greta Garbo, Marlon Brando. We can spend hours showing examples.
Charlie Sheen comes to my mind when we talk about actors which behavior reflects their roles, haha! The case of Robert Downey Jr. and his Ironman role is an excellent example of that in this years.
If an actor failed against a morality clause and was caught on drug use, divorce, adultery, or drinking problems (hello again Charlie Sheen); the companies used to fix the problem paying hush money to the witnesses and promising future exclusive stories to the gossip journalists.
Casting put more emphasis on their image rather than their acting skills. The contract included acting, singing and dancing lessons, and after a few years, studios had shaped a team of triple-A actors working exclusively for that studio.
Truth be told, the Hollywood industry encouraged the creation of the film school concept along the US, and the filmmaking industry burst thanks to that, making the Star System a key episode in film history on times where important classic movies were filmed.
Olivia de Havilland....
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