STARS are, of course, part of all theater.
But the star system appears to dominate Hollywood to a greater
degree than it does the theater. Nor is its effect restricted
to Hollywood, since movie stars are among our most admired folk
heroes and heroines. Considerable mythology has accumulated about
them, and as in any society, myths, true or false, influence behavior.
They leave their impact on stars, would-be stars, those who work
with them, and the audience.
While the star system has long been a significant part of movie production, it was not initiated by the studios. In the early days, the names of the leading actors were not even publicized and members of the audience wrote to the studios for information about their favorites. The studios did not at first encourage this spontaneous fan mail because they feared that actors would demand more money if they knew about their popularity. Soon, however, the studios realized that the popularity of a star could be exploited, even if salaries did go up. From this small beginning grew a Gargantuan system which has deep repercussions on the making of movies and leaves its effect on American society.
From a business point of view, there are many advantages in the star system. The star has tangible features which can be advertised and marketed-a face, a body, a pair of legs, a voice, a certain kind of personality, real or synthetic-and can be typed as the wicked villain, the honest hero, the fatal siren, the sweet young girl, the neurotic woman. The system provides a formula easy to understand and has made the production of movies seem more like just another business. The use of this formula may serve also to protect the executives from talent and from having to pay
much attention to such intangibles as the quality of story or of acting. Here is a standardized product which they can understand which can be advertised and sold, and which not only they, but also banks and exhibitors, regard as insurance for large profits. The studios can promise exhibitors a Bing Crosby picture, one with Bob Hope, one with Ingrid Bergman and, until very recently, all were confident about their profits. The use of this formula may also give a psychological security to men who know little about the art of storytelling. It is, therefore, logical, from the point of view of studio executives, to build up and exaggerate the star system.
Stars do not fall into any single category. Among them are handsome men and beautiful women and those with just pleasant, everyday faces, tough heroes and gentle ones, straight comedians and song-and-dance ones, character actors, all ages from children to those past middle age, actors with great talent and those with very little. To stay on top for a long period, the actors must appeal to both sexes and male stars do this more often than female. Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby are among those who have enjoyed unusually long tenure at the top. Wallace Beery probably attained his top position primarily through a male following. Both Ingrid Bergman and Shirley Temple have also enjoyed a long term of popularity. The popularity of child actors such as Margaret O'Brien, Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland before they grew up, may be due in part to the fact that their fans included both sexes and all ages. It is impossible to know exactly why any particular actor makes the top bracket in popularity. It may be his personality, his acting, his role, and the amount of exploitation by the studio, or any combination of these factors. Claudette Colbert may have achieved her position in the past because of the success of the picture It Happened One Night, and to being teamed with Clark Gable. Jane Wyman later became very popular because of her poignant role in Johnny Belinda.
There is considerable mythology concerning how stars are made, particularly the female ones. Many of the myths are concerned with Cinderella tales of how a beautiful girl is snatched from some humdrum position by a perceptive producer, wins a contract, and be-
comes a star overnight. In a primitive society it is difficult to determine the degree of truth in myths and folk tales. But in Hollywood it is quite possible to find out how stars are actually made, and to contrast this with the mythology. Most everyone concerned with the making of movies is aware that the quickest and surest way to become a star is to be asked to come to Hollywood after being successful on Broadway. This means being an actor of distinction, or at least, of considerable ability. But there are many movie stars who have not come from Broadway, and it is about them the myths circulate. The success tales are, of course, not the same for each star. A combined list of the success ingredients in all of them would include photogenic looks, a personality that clicks, sleeping with the right person or persons, publicity, knowing the right people and playing the social game, perseverance, ability, good roles, and breaks.
While looks are important, great or classical beauty is not essential. Much emphasis is put on being photogenic, but it is impossible to get any consensus of agreement on what this quality is. Opinions range from its being due to the bone structure of the face to sexiness. It is a fact that individuals vary considerably in how well they photograph, and those who depend primarily on their vitality or some indefinable charm may not come off as well as others who rely on the shape of their features. But make-up, lights, and skilled camera work are often as important as features. It is difficult to define the sexy quality which comes through on the screen and which is necessary for all movie actors, whether hero or villain. Figure, gait, voice are important, but the real personality may have little to do with the matter, because some actresses known for their sexiness on the screen have a reputation for being nymphomaniacs, and others for being virginal. Even more difficult to define is what makes a personality click. Why did one of the earliest stars, Mary Pickford, become "America's Sweetheart"? Why do adolescents rave about Frank Sinatra? Why has Bing Crosby become a universal favorite? Neither their looks nor talent are outstanding, but the camera has caught some quality which the audience loves.
The Cinderella story of winning a beauty contest and immediately becoming a star is practically never true. Usually stardom is not attained by the contest winner, and when this does occasionally happen, it is after a long period of ups and downs. One young woman who had won a beauty contest in her home state waited seven years for a big part which made her into a star. She was extremely beautiful but was given only very minor roles when she first came to Hollywood. She was married at different times to two movie stars, but still did not get a big role. Finally she attained a good second lead in which she was successful. From here she went on to playing the lead and now she is a star. She had beauty, good marriages from a professional point of view, some ability, and the capacity to learn under good direction. But it took her seven years.
Another contest winner has succeeded, after many disappointments, in playing the feminine lead in Westerns. She is attractive-looking, considered photogenic, and had taken singing and dancing lessons from early childhood. Her background was comfortable middle-class. When she had worked up to amateur musical comedies and radio programs, a studio talent scout saw her and she was asked to come to Hollywood for a test. She and all her friends were much excited, and at the farewell parties they took it for granted that it would be just a short time before she became a star. She arrived in Los Angeles and the studio gave her six weeks of training in diction, posture, standing, and so on. Finally, it was time for her to take the test. She did not pass. She felt she was a complete failure and the most horrible part was the memory of all the going-away parties and presents from friends who were so sure that she would be a star. She could not go home....
The casting director, with whom she had become friendly, thought the test good, and on his own initiative sent it around to three other studios, one of which sent for her and offered her a contract. For a couple of years she again took the studio training in diction and singing, and did a few bit parts which led to nothing, and eventually her option was not taken up. Then came the war and she began to sell bonds on the radio for the United States Treasury Department. A major studio sponsored a bond-selling contest and the prize was a role in one of its big pictures. She won the contest-
and now, she thought, this was her real
break. According to all the publicity the role would have star
billing, and so she expected her own and her friends' delayed
expectations would come true. But again she was humiliated because
she came off with only a very small part and no billing at all.
She says, "The studio has no concern for your feelings at
all. They just used me and exploited the contest publicity and
then did not come across with the promised big part. It was only
a small part to begin with, and then it was so cut that it became
still smaller. The studios don't care what they do to a person;
anything for the sake of publicity. You know how awful I felt
before my friends-all this publicity about a big role and then
I come off with such a little one." The role might have been
cut for any number of reasons including lack of ability, or for
other causes completely unconnected with her. But her hu-miliation
and resentment are still strong after five or six years have passed.
This small part, however, was her break,
because she did go on to bigger roles. She is still not a star,
but has recently been signed to play feminine leads in Westerns.
She is the outdoor type of girl and loves to ride and swim and,
because of her early training, she dances and sings well. In the
Westerns she is able to play herself and to use this early training.
But she says that she wants to get away from these singing-dancing
parts and become a "real" actress. In all likelihood
she has reached her greatest success and will dis-appear from
movies after she becomes too old to do young girl parts in Westerns.
These two actresses are exceptions among
the contest winners. Most of them never get further than making
a test. Some manage to get bit parts but that is their limit.
Most of them have to be content with showing off their figures
in tight pants as waitresses in the Los Angeles drive-in restaurants.
But whatever they do, they feel it is impossible to go back home
and face family and friends with the fact that they failed and
that the Cinderella myth did not work for them.
Another Hollywood myth is that a young actress can get ahead by sleeping with the right men. The use of sex, overtly or other-
wise, by women to further their ambitions
was not exactly in-vented in Hollywood, nor is the custom of men
sleeping with young women over whom they have authority restricted
to that community. Businessmen have been known to have sex relations
with their secretaries and folk tales circulate about male college
professors who make passes at their female students. Nor are extramarital
relations unknown in either the folklore or behavior of our society
from Tobacco Road to "the 400" groups. The theater
world also has its particular traditions of bohemianism and defiance
The situation in Hollywood, however,
might seem to lend itself particularly to a breaking of sex taboos.
In one community there is concentrated more pulchritude than probably
in any other place in the world. Here are all the young girls
who have won beauty contests in their home towns, and thousands
of others with exceptionally good looks, with and without talent,
all unswervingly intent on stardom. Only a very few out of the
thousands can be successful and competition is keen. As in most
industries, those in executive positions with decisive power are
usually middle-aged or older men. Directors and agents, young
or old men, also have power; and attractive stars might likewise
further a girl's career. Since there are so few women with executive
power, the situation for the large number of handsome or attractive
young men, as avid as the females for success, is a bit different.
These men can only use their wiles on female stars who might help
But strange to say, success via the bed formula frequently does not work. The reason may be that in Hollywood, more than in most modern communities, sex behavior, particularly that outside of marriage, is so often limited to the instinctual biological act, un-associated with love, tenderness or affection; and sex there is frequently just part of the manipulation of human relationships for one's own advantage. These two attitudes do not always merge to produce success for the hopeful aspirant. The young girl is often willing and eager to use the bed to advance her career. But the man whom she thinks she is using for her own purposes is frequently through with her after the episode. For him it was simply a biological release, much the same as going to a prostitute; but
in this situation the kind of payment
the girl wants cannot be collected, because the affection or tenderness
which would prompt it is lacking. One big executive who slept
with an actress, in this case a talented European, when approached
on why he had not given her a part said: "Is it not enough
that I, Mr. Terrific, slept with her?" He had soon tired
of her and then did not want her around. Even if some feeling
is there, or a desire to keep the girl as a bed partner, it is
difficult for the man to give her any major role unless she has
ability which will be effective at the box office. The bank casts
its shadow even over the bed. The executive is ac-countable to
the banks, and it is difficult for him to explain losses to them
in terms of sexual desires. What many girls do not realize is
that profits are more important to these men than any particular
girl. Sexual needs can be more easily satisfied than the urge
for large returns on a picture.
Even before the bank steps in there are
difficulties. A small in-dependent producer was living with a
young girl and seemed to have really fallen rather hard for her.
Although she had neither acting ability nor experience, she was
ambitious and the producer gave her a leading role. Her lack of
ability was so glaring, and the protests of the male lead and
director so strong, that in less than two weeks the producer was
forced to permit them to substi-tute another actress for his girl
friend and to reshoot what had already been done.
Usually the young aspirant for stardom
does not even have the opportunity of going to bed with important
people. Over the years and through experience these men have become
scared of paternity suits and blackmail, as an aftermath of their
indulgence, and so they prefer using a high class call-house.
If they have an affair it is with someone who is already successful.
One man said he would not think of going out with an actress who
earned less than $1000 a week. This was not due to snobbishness
but was based on the theory that a girl in that salary bracket
would not have the finan-cial incentive for a lawsuit and is interested
also in protecting her own reputation.
The going-to-bed opportunities for the girls on the bottom of the ladder are usually limited to "little men" such as first, second and
third assistant directors. In return
the girls may get work as extras or bit players, but this is as
far as they go. Agents, too, may take advantage of their position
to obtain sexual favors, but a job does not always follow.
While the bed may be and sometimes is
the way to secure a test or a bit part, this is the end unless
the girl has some objective qualities which would tend to make
her success as an actress prob-able. However, very few girls realize
this. The majority say `'yes" very easily to men at the studios,
some for a combination of reasons including career ambitions and
sex desire, others purely for ambition, only very few just for
pleasure, and still fewer because of emo-tional involvement. At
one studio three girls under stock contract were known to be exceedingly
promiscuous. One of them, who had unquestioned ability, is now
on the way to becoming a star, but the general opinion is that
she would have been successful whether or not she slept around.
One married a wealthy business-man and left the movies, and the
third disappeared when her con-tract expired and no one knows
what happened to her. There are also an appreciable number of
successful young actresses-though definitely in the minority-whose
private lives are unconnected with the studio and who do not use
the bed as a means to further-ing their careers. But many believe
in and act on the myth, jumping into bed with anyone on even a
half-promise of help to stardom. It is probable that more men
have to refuse girls who make ad-vances than the other way around.
Can the handsome young men, the masculine equivalent of star-lets, use their sex appeal to get ahead? Top executives, directors, and cameramen are male, and there are very few women producers. Of course, an occasional homosexual actor can exploit this situation, if he finds a producer with similar interests. In Hollywood, as else-where, the ratio between the sexes is disproportionate, and there never appear to be quite enough attractive young men to fill the needs of divorcees, unmarried girls, or married women who are looking for fun on the side. Some of these women have a reputation of wanting a continuous succession of different young men. If the ambitious young actor becomes the boy friend of an important star, he is invited to parties with her, meets the right people who have
power over jobs, and gets an enormous
amount of free publicity. His name is constantly in the columns
of the trade paper as being seen with Miss Big Star at a night
club or restaurant, all of which may be to his advantage. It is,
however, not possible to gauge accurately how often the boyfriend
technique brings success. One young actor had a whirlwind social
life and became intimate with a famous star, a divorcee, and later
with another who had the reputation of being "on the town,"
but he still has not had a big part. Such a man may ride high
for a while and then suddenly be left out in the cold. The star
may have a rapid turnover in boyfriends and she might find it
embarrassing to work with him in a picture once the affair is
over. So if the casting director suggests him for one of her pictures,
she might say, "Oh no, he's no good," or "I don't
want to work with him." It then gets noised about that she
does not think he's good. His former relationship with her acts
as a boomerang.
Other times it may work out better, and
the actor may get his opportunity through escorting and being
seen with a glamorous star. But, as in the case of the young girls,
he too must have some degree of ability or box-office appeal if
he is to cash in on his op-portunity. Thus one often hears that
some handsome young man, who is now playing second leads, has
been escorting the big-time glamour girls, and, according to gossip,
sleeping with some of them. For some time he has been keeping
himself well in the public eye, particularly the producer's eye.
Luck may come if, as in one case, he is undeniably handsome with
a crude and obvious sexiness and possesses some talent.
The female stars do not have to worry about maternity suits or blackmail and so need not be cautious about bestowing their favors. But the situation in which a young man sexually uses a female as a steppingstone for success is a reversal of our customs, and some of the stars, particularly younger ones looking for a husband, resent being so used. They would like to have the feeling that a man takes them out because he likes them rather than for publicity. One young unmarried actress who has recently received star bill-ing says: "I prefer to go out with businessmen because they are more sincere. They'll take you out because they like being with
you, while one of the Hollywood men just
wants to be seen in your company. Besides, I think a businessman
would make a bet-ter husband."
On the whole, with whom one sleeps is
not the crucial element in success today. It may have been more
important in the early days of the silent movies, when ability
was not as important and when life in Hollywood, sexual and otherwise,
was on a cruder level. But the myth still persists, partly out
of the past emphasis and partly because of the sexy atmosphere.
There is an obsession on sex in conversation and in print, which
is somewhat similar to the attitude of adolescents when they first
become sexually aware. The gossip columns in trade papers give
spicy items and innuendoes about who was seen with whom at a night
club on Sunset Strip and whose marriage is in the process of breaking
up. The whole industry revolves around sex. Hollywood knows that
it is a sex symbol for the world and does its best to live up
to the reputation.
This extends to the set and off it. While
one picture was being shot, two stars made no secret of their
attachment. They would emerge from the actress's dressing room,
obviously enamored with each other, play a sequence, and then
return to her dressing room. Real or phony the same atmosphere
continues after the day on the set is over. A publicity man insists
on circulating romantic stones about two leads in a film and having
them photographed dining and dancing together as advance publicity
for the movie.
Sex may also serve in Hollywood, as elsewhere,
as an outlet for frustration, as a means of excitement, or as
a way of making life seem less empty. At the top of the success
ladder are some people with more than enough money to satisfy
all material desires, with neither creative drive nor the capacity
for deep human relationships, nor any meaningful goal which would
give significance to their lives. When not working, and often
even when working, these people are basically bored, and sex relations
are one means of re-ducing boredom. Their lives are dull or unsatisfying
and hence the constant quest for an opiate whether it be sex,
drink or drug.
What is relatively rare in Hollywood is the bohemian kind of sex life, so often associated with artists, for whom the conventions do not have the customary binding force, but for whom the emo-
tions of love and affection are important. In other words, in Hollywood sex is regarded as a means of getting ahead, a form of excitement and fun, a function of power, a biological act. Far more rarely is it associated with love or affection, or given meaning in human relations.
Besides sex, publicity, good or bad,
free or paid for, false or true, is regarded as an essential ingredient
to the success story. This publicity may be directed to audiences,
limited to the industry, or reach both. Each studio has its own
publicity department with manifold functions, one of which is
to continuously publicize the stars and build up those whom the
studio is planning to make into stars. The department pays relatively
little attention to character actors and supporting players. In
addition there are a large number of publicity agencies apart
from the studios, which actors (and also producers, directors
and others) use. Among the actors who employ their own publicity
men are those on their way to be-coming stars, who want to speed
up the process; those who are anxious about maintaining their
high positions; those who have started to slip and need to regain
their former positions.
A major part of the outside publicity agent's work is to make the actor more desirable to the studios, and one of his techniques is the spreading of gossip and rumors. The agent may spread tales that a British studio wants his client, or that a deal with a Holly-wood one is in the air. A competitive bidding situation, real or fictitious, for the services of an actor is naturally to the advantage of the actor, as it is to anyone in our society, including college professors. They, however, usually have to show evidence of a real offer for their services, while in Hollywood a rumor quoted in the gossip columns of the trade papers is sometimes enough to pro-duce results. Another rumor about the enormous size of a client's fan mail is usually helpful. So also are the planted items, real or fictitious, in the columns about the client spending a week end on the yacht of an important executive or star, or going to a night club with one of them. One successful actor in his late twenties has been reported engaged by columnists five times during the last two years. None of the reports was true and he did not even
know two of the girls to whom he was
supposedly engaged. The premise underlying the use of this kind
of planted item is that the reader will assume the actor is successful
because he is in the company of successful people. Interestingly
enough that premise is correct, even though everyone knows many
of the items orig-inate in the publicity man's imagination. Producers
have even been known to believe fictitious publicity turned out
by their own studios. The magic of the printed word still operates
Another technique is a build-up in the
press and magazines through the gag of an award by a false company.
Miss Enter-prise, playing in serials at a salary of $250 a week,
employed a publicity agent to help her along. He invented a nonexistent
fashion institute and covered himself by giving the phone num-ber
of a New York friend who was willing to say that he was a representative
of the institute. It then gave an award to Miss Enterprise as
the best-dressed movie actress off the screen. The news angle
of the story was that while she earned only $15,000 a year, she
spent almost all of it on clothes. Magazines and papers sent out
photographers to take pictures of her in the clothes- which, of
course, she had to borrow from girl friends. Stories and pictures
appeared in a large number of national magazines, includ-ing one
enormous-circulation weekly which made her its cover girl and
gave her three or four pages. Shortly afterwards she was given
her first star role in an A picture at a major studio and today
she is one of the big stars. The executive who gave her the role
might never have heard of her, if it had not been for the build-up
by the publicity man. However, even he says that the build-up
would not have been successful if Miss Enterprise had not been
very attractive, photogenic, and possessing a sexy quality which
comes across on the screen.
At first the publicity agent was so pleased with the results that he thought he could make anyone into a star. But it did not always work. Some of the little-known actresses with whom he tried similar schemes did not become stars-for lack of sufficient ability, or good looks, or the kind of personality that clicks, or for some other unknown reason. Then he became more discriminating about
choosing the actress for the build-up.
He did a good job for one I whom he described as a "lush,
sexy" person who had somehow been passed over by the studios.
He planted a large number of photographs of her in bathing suits
and other scanty attire in magazines, and she became a cover girl.
In this way she was brought to the attention of producers.
All publicity is not based on hokum. The publicity man in the studio or in his own agency is quick to exploit anything that has a news or story angle from the actual life of the actor. Larraine Day, before her divorce and marriage to Leo Durocher, had never been able to get good publicity, because she was regarded as a "cold personality without sex appeal," "too nice," "too conven-tional"-in other words, a dud from the publicity angle. Then she became notorious and front-page news as a possible bigamist in 1947 when she flew down to Mexico to marry Leo (The Lip) Durocher. She had obtained a California divorce from her hus-band, Mr. Hendricks, with the usual legal stipulation requiring a year's wait before she was free to marry again. But the next day she flew to Mexico, obtained a second divorce, and married "Lippy" there. Now the "cold" personality became "hot." She had thrown over husband and children and risked a charge of bigamy, all for love! Newspapers and fan magazines clamored for interviews. Typical of the way the movie columnists in the newspapers handled the actress's difficulties was the following: "Larraine Day in the seventh heaven of bliss because Leo Durocher is flying all the way from Havana on Wednesday, to fly back with her on Friday to Havana for her two weeks visit with him! If ever I saw love, this is it." 1 Earlier the same columnist wrote:
Larraine Day's telephone bill to Leo Durocher in Havana, and Leo's to her, are reaching an all-time fabulous high. "Leo's bill for 10 days," says Larraine dreamily on the set of Tycoon, "was $600! And I expect mine to be even higher." Love is an expensive commodity.
But was it really so expensive? Net gains were high even after the reported $600 phone bill. A trade paper had the following item in its gossip column:
. . . You're off the beam if you think that Larraine Day has been the butt of bad publicity in her current legal marital dif-ficulties. She's combing magazine interviews out of her hair - and her price for an outside picture [off the RKO lot] has gone to $150,000.2
At her own studio, her price per picture was said to have gone from $50,000-$60,000 to $100,000. Nor was the actress the only one to benefit. The studio immediately planned to release her latest picture, The Locket, ahead of its scheduled date to cash in on the publicity, and one executive is reported to have said, "It should increase the picture's box office take by $200,000." 3 A Brooklyn theater running a previous picture, Mr. Lucky, changed its billing to read, "Starring Mrs. Leo Durocher and Cary Grant." The studio even considered reissuing a two-year-old movie, Bride by Mistake, in which she had been featured. The Hollywood proverb that "The only bad publicity is no publicity" would seem to have con-siderable truth behind it, even if publicity alone is not generally sufficient to make a star.
Playing the social game and going to the right parties is also al-ways helpful on the road to stardom. It is important to keep literally within the range of executives' and producers' eyes. One young man, now playing featured parts, who has his eyes set on star roles, says: "I go to big parties not because I particularly enjoy them or have nothing else to do, but because it is good to be seen by the producers and directors who are there. Someone is bound to say, 'Who is that handsome guy?' and then think of me for some part." Eating and drinking together, playing cards, going to the races and to parties, and week-ending with important people, is emphasized much more here than in other places, for a number of reasons. There are a large number of people with very little ability, but with no limits for their ambitions; for them, knowing the right people is most important. Also, the movie industry is one in which there are few standards of measurement and in which personal tastes and hunches therefore play an important role. Social ties can in--
fluence both and they likewise give a feeling of stability in a very uncertain situation, in which there are many elements beyond the actor's (or writer's, director's or producer's) control. A gifted actor may be in an unsuccessful picture or in an unsuitable role through no fault of his own, in the same way that a talented writer or director may have had to work on a poor picture. Social ties can carry the actor over the period of the bad picture. If he is still O.K. with the powers that be, he is more economically secure; and if his good social connections are publicized, his standing in the industry is also more stable.
Getting a strong role which gives an actor a chance to display his ability is naturally highly important in the climb to stardom, and the difficulties and maneuvering to secure these good roles have already been described. Even a distinguished actress with a record of Broadway success talks about getting the breaks in such roles. They do not come, she says, because of her reputation.
Persistence and hard work are usually necessary ingredients of all success stories, but by themselves not enough. Ability and talent are very important too; but they do not always find their way to the top in Hollywood, particularly if they have not first been recognized on Broadway.
Miss Purposeful, in her late thirties, with some but not out-standing talent, is a star after long years of hard work. She had the advantage of a comfortable middle-class background in Los Angeles; and her mother, who had given up stage ambitions for marriage, was determined that her daughter should have what she missed. Accordingly, Miss Purposeful took dancing and singing lessons almost as soon as she could walk. Then the mother pushed her into child parts. But the parts were always small and she never achieved any real recognition. By the time Miss Purposeful was seventeen, she was still unknown, working hard to get a part in Westerns, for which she earned about $100 for a week or ten days' work. Since she lived at home, she did not suffer as other actors in the same circumstances. She was lucky, too, she says, in having a small independent agent who worked hard to make her
successful. Today he works for one of
the biggest agencies and would not bother with people at
the bottom. Through him, seven or eight years ago, she got her
first big break, a leading role in an A picture, which was a box-office
success. She enjoys reminiscing about how much it meant. Her first
premiere, the first requests from fans for autographs,
the first interviews with the press, all had an exciting quality
which is considerably lessened now that they have become part
of a routine.
Miss Purposeful is exceptional in that she does not regard her-self as a great actress. She says simply that acting was what she had been trained for since childhood, what she had experience in, and that it is very lucrative financially. She also likes to act and cannot imagine herself doing anything else, but she does not think of her profession as a glamorous one. She knows too well its monotonous routine and the hard work involved, even after one is a star. She gets up at five or five-thirty to be at the studio in time to have her hair washed and set, to be made up, and so on. Then there comes the long day, which may end as late as seven or eight o'clock, if there is overtime. She does not consider great talent necessary to becoming a good actress but she emphasizes that one must have a personality which comes across in the film, be able to follow the directions of the director, and work very hard. She says that a good director is responsible for most good acting. With his help she thinks through her parts, plans them carefully and gives a polished performance. Miss Purposeful is far more realistic in her appraisal of herself and of her career than are most actresses.
It is not possible to determine with any accuracy the relative significance of luck, ability, hard work publicity, sex behavior, beauty, perseverance, playing the game, in attaining stardom. Even if it could be found out, it would not be the same for each star, and the emphasis would vary widely. It has been said that at least part of Lana Turner's success was due to either the planned or accidental factor of her becoming known as the "sweater girl." The preceding styles had emphasized the flat-chested, boyish figure, and she started a new trend by showing off her rounded bosom to
its best advantage. Men liked the change from the flat-chested heroines, as well as her obvious good looks, and she clicked at the box office. As we have seen, sex behavior is not today the important element it is supposed to be by most of the young female aspirants. Publicity and playing the social game are always good, but alone are not sufficient. Perseverance and a drive strong enough to survive many disappointments are essential ingredients but again do not necessarily bring success by themselves.
All actors stress the importance of breaks. These are emphasized more in Hollywood than anywhere else because of the lack of apprenticeship, or any specific path leading to success. The little girl who has won a beauty contest in Iowa and been spotted by some enterprising talent scout, sees only the final end, stardom, and is lacking in awareness that there is any process in becoming one. Most aspirants in other fields-doctors, engineers, musicians, manu-facturers, and others-are aware of the years of preparations which precede success. The heads of studios share the point of view of the young starlets, believing in the breaks whether it is for their own careers, for the success of a movie at the box office, or in the making of a star. There is rarely a well-thought-out program of how a studio could make a good star. It is taken for granted that suitable roles are a matter of accident or fought for by the actors. Real training is absent, and the studio either relies on Broadway for established stars or on accidentally having someone brought to their attention through a publicity build-up.
However stars are made, their effect on the quality and nature of movies is all-pervasive: a movie and a particular role are often conceived and made only as a vehicle for a star. Sometimes the front office suddenly tells a producer that he must have a movie ready quickly for a particular star under contract: they are paying her an enormous salary and she is not working. So a movie is written in a hurry and tailored to fit her. Other roles are of little importance. Almost any movie produced in this fashion, no matter how gifted the people concerned with it, is poor. The system also works negatively in sometimes preventing a good picture from be-
ing made, either because it is not the
proper vehicle for any star under contract and the studio cannot
borrow an appropriate one, or because the script does not call
for a conventionally starred role.
The star system is responsible also for
many drastic changes during the shooting, which are not necessarily
dictated by the needs of the movie. Once an A movie of the psychological
mur-der type was being shot and the first lead was played by a
well-known female star. The second lead-a male-who played the
role of the murderer, was the more gifted actor, but not as well
known. When the picture was about one-third shot the producer
decided that the actor playing the murderer was being featured
too much and detracting from the prominence of the star, on whose
build-up the studio had previously spent so much money. So, the
producer suggested that she become the murderer. Rumor
has it that the star herself was the one to suggest the change,
and that the producer, who has a reputation for good judgment
but weak character, was dominated by the star and front office.
Re-gardless of from whom the suggestion first came, it was put
into effect, but without reshooting the third of the picture that
had al-ready been done. Reshooting, the studio decided, would
be too costly and make the picture go over the estimated budget
and there was only some quick rewriting of that part of the script
which had not yet been shot. In the final picture the motivation
for the murder is completely confused and the picture seems to
fall apart in the middle. Neither one of the two major roles comes
off. When the second lead suddenly had to shift his main motivation,
his role became phony, as did also the star's part. The movie,
as might be expected, turned out poorly, was not very successful
and actually lowered the star's prestige. The mistake in aesthetic
judgment was also a mistake in business judgment. The producer
of this picture happened to have far better than average taste
and judgment, but was apparently dominated by the star and the
In another picture the two leading characters were not young. A secondary part was that of a young woman. This was known when the script was accepted by the producer and the director, and the entire picture was shot in this manner. Then, as is usual, it was
run off for the head of the studio. He
decided that the young woman playing the secondary role should
be made into a star and so he ordered drastic cuts in the parts
of the two older leading characters. It happened that the sequences
dealing with their mo-tivation and making them believable was
in the footage cut out. When the picture was released, the reason
for the behavior of the two leads was completely mysterious. An
executive had sacrificed the meaning of the picture in order to
build up a star. This, of course, could have been done by giving
her a picture in which she would have been featured from the beginning.
But while most executives swear by the star system, it is not
part of Hollywood custom to plan coherently even for stars.
In one picture the star insisted on an ending which was not fitting psychologically or aesthetically, because it allowed her an in-creased footage in certain hysterical scenes. The producer, direc-tor and writer were all in disagreement with her and wanted an-other kind of ending. But the star won out. Sometimes when a star sees the rushes she insists on changes being made because she is not sufficiently prominent and she is afraid another actor has stolen her scene. For this reason, a less prominent actor may be left ly-ing on the cutting-room floor.
The system of accenting so heavily the beauty of the star causes some actresses to become obsessed with their looks. The beautiful heroine who is rescued from drowning insists that at the rescue every hair must be in place and that her looks be perfect as usual. She says, with some degree of truth, that she has been exploited for her beauty, and that this must therefore be maintained regard-less of what the acting situation calls for. In one movie the star, who was supposed to have spent a worried and sleepless night, objected violently when she saw a close-up which showed a few lines in her face. She angrily told the director that she looked simply awful, worse than Miss X who appeared in the same se-quence, playing the role of an older woman. (Actually the two women were about the same age, but Miss X was a gifted charac-ter actress.) The director replied, "But darling, you are supposed to have been up all night, to be very worried-and this must
show on your face. Miss X isn't supposed
to have spent a sleep-less night." The argument continued
and in this case the director, who was a strong and commanding
personality, eventually won at least sufficiently to have a few
lines appear on the star's face.
The type casting of stars is detrimental in many cases to the de-velopment of talent and to a long career. If a girl is cast only to display her youthful beauty, she is finished as an actress when she is no longer young. It is somewhat pathetic to see women in their late thirties and early forties still trying to play the young-girl parts in which they were originally typed. Of course some of the stars cast for their looks have really nothing else to offer and would be finished in any case when their youthful beauty faded. But it can happen that a good-looking actor also has ability. In one such case the studio exploited only the looks of a handsome young actor, although everyone who knew him agreed that he had real ability and need not have depended purely on his appearance. But the studio was not interested in giving him the kind of role which would use his talent, and did not seem to understand that a strong role would not destroy his good looks.
Sometimes it is the effect of the star system on the personality of the star, rather than any definite studio policy, which prevents his development. This was so in the case of one actor who, while not great, did have certain gifts which could have been developed further. He was, however, influenced too much by success, which had come rather easily and which included the usual big publicity build up, very large salary and enormous fan mail. He was also unduly impressed by the polls which seemed to indicate that a picture would be successful if he was in it. He thought the public had fallen in love with him, that the publicity built-up person-ality was really his own, and that all he had to do was to exhibit himself. He lost any desire he might have had earlier to create a role, and became difficult to direct. The gifts with which he had originally started functioned no longer. As an actor he was undone by the system which had made him. The fact that a number of stars with ability do constantly struggle to improve them-
selves, to avoid being typed, and to
get diversity in roles, is a tribute to their artistic integrity.
The influence of stars on movies and Hollywood is only one part of the story. They are heroes and heroines of modern society and bear some resemblance to the heroes of primitive and pre-industrial societies which also had cycles of stories revolving around highly stylized characters. The hero was always the same, as was the villain, and no one ever expected any of the characters to change their role. The plots, too, tended to be standardized. In the movies this folk tradition persists in the framework of the most advanced technology and alongside of more sophisticated forms of acting and storytelling. It would be as unthinkable for a front office to consider Bing Crosby for a villainous part as it would be for a primitive society to change the heroic role of a totemic ancestor. Most stars are so typed that it would be possible to ex-change close-ups from one film to another without noting the difference. Since the star usually plays the same type, this becomes his personality for the fan. Charlie Chaplin was, until recently, the little man buffeted about by fate. Spencer Tracy is the honest--to-God well-meaning man. Bette Davis is the neurotic woman. Edward G. Robinson is usually the sinister type. Jimmy Stewart is a nice, simple guy, on the naive and idealistic side. Jeanne Crain is the sweet, innocent, small-town girl, while Eve Arden is comic and sophisticated. Humphrey Bogart, with an occasional exception, is from the underworld, and Lauren Bacall is the gunman's moll. Susan Hayward is spoiled and headstrong or bitchy, and Katharine Hepburn is always upper-class and usually brittle. The premise is that the audience comes to see the star, rather than to watch him act.
The relationship of fans to their stars is not limited to seeing them in movies, any more than primitive people's relationship to their totemic heroes is limited to hearing a myth told occasionally. In primitive society there is a deep biological tie between the people and their mythical heroes, since these are also their ancestors. They are important to all members of the clan or tribe, young and old, and the myths and folk tales about them serve as sanctions for behavior and customs. In our society the identification of fans with
their movie heroes may be equally intimate,
but for different reasons.
Fan magazines give details of the star's domestic and so-called private life, with pictures of his home, his garden, his swimming pool, his family, his dogs and his cats. The columnists in the daily paper expand this with what type of underwear he wears, whether he prefers noodle soup to tomato. The fan is permitted to have a peep show into night clubs and into bedrooms, and knows with whom the hero dines and dances, to what parties he goes and to whom he is engaged, a ritual term for "affair." Through the close-up on the screen the fan knows every intimate physical de-tail of the hero's face-the eyebrows, the lines around his eyes if the star is male, the quiver of his lips, the expression of his mouth, the whiteness and shape of his teeth, how he sets his jaw, and many more. Likewise, he knows every tone of the hero's and heroine's voice, whether it be a husky monotone or one of many inflections. The star need not be perfect. In fact, it is easier for the audience to identify itself with a hero with some blemish. In a discussion of their favorite stars, in themes by an English class, a group of Freshmen indicated that they could identify best with someone whose figure was not too perfect, or who was not too, too handsome and beautiful. They felt more at home with such a star, in whom they could see some of their own imperfections. Part of Bing Crosby's popularity is often attributed to his being so much like an everyday, average kind of person.
Certainly no folk hero or god has ever been known so intimately by his admirers as are the movie stars. But, of course, none of the ancient gods had publicity departments. The fan clubs organized throughout the country strengthen this intimacy, as the star sends their members his autographed photograph. In our society the autograph appears to be a kind of magical symbol for the person. In primitive societies, where writing is unknown, hair combings and fingernail parings have an even deeper symbolic quality.
When stars transgress some of society's rules and even come into contact with the law most of the time their popularity does not diminish and may even be increased. In the past, Errol Flynn's trial
on girl charges seems only to have endeared him more to his fans, particularly the female ones, perhaps because his strength as a symbol of male virility was increased. The judge is reported to have said during the trial that he received many letters from women who were mothers, coming to the actor's defense. Triangle matrimonial situations which make the headlines do not necessarily diminish the popularity of the principals, nor does an arrest in a marijuana raid. Rita Hayworth's charm seems only to have been increased by her publicized battles with an ex-husband, Eddie Judson, her separations from Orson Welles, and her travels around Europe with a royal prince, who later became husband number three. Often, there is the attitude that a movie hero or heroine can do no wrong, when they appear to indulge their instinctual life more than is customary. Perhaps the fan would like only the chance to do the same. What young girl would not get secret satisfaction out of a fantasy of traveling through Europe with an enormously wealthy nobleman lavishing her with attentions? However, this is not al-ways the case. The clamor raised over Ingrid Bergman's broken marriage and her relationship with the director, Rossellini, indi-cates that she was a very different symbol to movie fans than was Rita Hayworth. But in general the studio's worry about actors' indiscretions is not because of their effect on fans, but because of fear of organized pressure groups who are self-constituted censors of morals.
The relationship between the stars and their admirers is further strengthened through other mass communications. Many of the popular movie actors and actresses are heard regularly on radio programs. Much fiction in popular magazines deals in some man-ner with movies. In a syndicated Sunday magazine section there was a story of a girl who did not marry because she could not find a man who fulfilled her glamorous ideals However, at the age of thirty-five she became scared that she might forever remain single, and married a nondescript, unglamorous person whom she did not love. After a few years of this loveless marriage (on her part),
she grew frightened one evening that her husband might have been drowned on a sailing trip when he did not return at the ex-pected time. When he comes home a bit later, she is much relieved and very happy to see him. Love has finally come to the heroine because, the author writes, she suddenly noticed that, when her husband smiled, he looked like Ronald Colman.
There is an important major difference between primitive so-cieties and our own in the relationships of folk heroes to their fol-lowers. Movie fans are mostly adolescents and young people, and statistical studies have recently revealed that a majority of the audience is under thirty years of age. This is in sharp contrast to primitive societies where the admirers of folk heroes are of all ages and represent the entire tribe. The stereotypes of our movie stars seem to meet the personality needs primarily of the young and of adolescents, and perhaps, of front office executives. The oft heard statement of a studio head, "If I don't like a picture, no one will," is true today for only a small part of the potential movie audience. What many executives do not yet realize is that large sections of the population are more grown up than they themselves are.
But the sure potency of the star formula is now being questioned even in Hollywood, and an occasional executive expresses skep-ticism. Mr. Selznick says: "It is much less public taste than tradi-tional and outmoded thinking in the industry itself that keeps the illusory stellar names working." 5 Variety has a story with the head-line Stars Ain't What They Used to Be, and continues:
Overturn of many long-accepted ideas on the value of stars to pictures is, in fact, one of the most significant results of Hollywood's disturbed state. Aside from the established lure of a handful of these, perhaps, twenty-five at the most, who provide producers with "insurance"-or the "illusion of insurance" as David O. Selznick put it last week-many stu-dents of the industry are coming to the conclusion that there are mighty few players who count for a dollar at the b.o.6
A number of months later, the paper had an article under the headline Hot Stars with Cold Yarns Give Hollywood Lukewarm Profits, and gave the following account of the situation:
Film stars proved no longer enough to "insure" pix pro-ducer profits-the role in which they have been traditionally cast. Weighing stars against stories in a survey of top gross-ing films of the year, balance appears definitely on the story side in terms of profit to the producer. In other words, he has a much better chance of turning a fast buck with a hot yarn and a lightweight cast than with a top marquee name and not much of a script. Top profits, of course, generally lie in the perfect combo of a solid script backed by players powerful at the b.o. But a surprising number of top-grossers of the year owe their coin almost entirely to the story and a cast that is competent but not highly marquee worthy.7
Until the Rossellini affair, Miss Ingrid Bergman has been at the top in almost every poll for popularity. She rated as being able to make a picture a box-office success on her name alone,8 but the Arch of Triumph, in which she starred, was not successful, gross-ing only $1,700,000 according to reports. Other pictures with stars who had been considered as sure insurance for big profits which disappointed their studios in returns were: 9
Mr. Blanding Builds His Dream House with Cary Grant and Myrna Loy
The Paradine Case with Gregory Peck
It Had To Be You with Ginger Rogers
So Evil My Love with Ray Milland
Winter Meeting with Bette Davis
Time of Your Life with James Cagney
Saxon Charm with Robert Montgomery
On the other hand there have been a number of large profit--making films in which the leading roles were played by actors not regarded as having box-office pull, some of them having previ-ously played second leads only. Among these are Naked City with
Barry Fitzgerald, Red River with
John Wayne and Montgomery Clift, T-Men with Dennis
O'Keefe, Sitting Pretty with Clifton Webb, Street with
No Name with Mark Stevens and Richard Widmark. Only recently
has effort and money been put into sell-ing pictures without star
names. This is one of the new trends, run-ning parallel with the
strongly intrenched star system which is still regarded as an
essential part of the formula in making movies. Only a few have
dared to question its efficacy.
Stars are obviously one of the essential ingredients of all theater, including movies, but it need not be taken for granted that they have to dominate and supersede every other element in production. Nor is there any reason why movie stars should not work in a sys-tem which gives them training and emphasizes the quality of act-ing. The problem is tied up with the general Hollywood attitude to movie production.
1 Sheilah Graham, in Hollywood Citizen News, March 17, 1947.
2 Hollywood Reporter, February 7, 1947.
3 Los Angeles Daily News January 28, 1947.
4 Jessica Wellner, "The Blinding Moment," in This Week Magazine. Los Angeles Times, March 9, 1947.
5. Variety, March 10, 1948.
7 Ibid., Dec. 22, 1948.
8 Ibid., May 21, 1949.
9 Ibid., Dec.
Link to Chapter 13