Actors Are People
WHAT are actors really like in their
relationships with the other members of the industry? How does
Hollywood's own stereotype of actors compare with the glamorous
one which the world has?
In Hollywood, actors are not regarded as ordinary people, either. But instead of being admired, they are looked down upon as a kind of subhuman species. No one respects them. The clich_ that there are three kinds of people-men, women, and actors-is heard over and over again. They are often described as children who do not know what is good for them, immature, irresponsible, completely self-centered, egotistical, exhibitionistic, nitwits, utterly stupid. Part of this description is reminiscent of white at-titudes in the Deep South toward Negroes. Hollywood attitudes towards actors range from pitying condescension to contempt, hos-tility and hatred. It is difficult to find anyone who has a good word to say for them. Usually one hears, in belligerent tones, "I can't stand actors." The star system has decidedly boomeranged in Hollywood.
The actor is regarded by the studio as a valuable but synthetic product of make-up department, cameraman, publicity agent, director, producer, and front office. Rarely is he given credit for having any ability, and the front-office executive, who thinks of him-self as the creative source of everything from stars and scripts to the final movie, sincerely believes that it is he who created the star. Did he not bring him from Broadway, or, according to the legend, snatch her from the soda-fountain stool? Provide the script, the director, the publicity and all the resources of the studio-not to mention the negotiations with the bank for the necessary capital? An executive often talks as if his was a disinterested act of creation,
in which his own rewards were quite secondary.
There is, how-ever, the disconcerting fact that his object of
creation is human and, worse, not always grateful, and even at
times impertinently critical and resentful. Over and over, almost
like a refrain, is heard, "Look what I did for the s.o.b.,
brought him over from Europe and paid his passage"-or, "Took
the bitch from a night club floor"; or: "Look what I've
made them into; look at their swimming pools, at their popularity
rating, and do they ever say Thank you? Do the bastards
know what gratitude is? No! They dare tell me that the story I
paid seventy-five thousand for is no good, that they are tired
of playing the same role-telling me, who made the s.o.b.'s famous
and spent a fortune building them up!"
To make life even harder for the executive, this ungrateful cre-ation must be pampered and kept in good humor with all kinds of blandishments. For if he is in bad humor, it may be reflected in his acting. Or, if he gets mad, he may feign illness and stay home causing great financial loss to the studio. It is reported the actor may even go to a hospital and have his appendix removed merely to spite the studios. The executive's attitude is a combination of cracking the whip to the tune of the contract and at the same time cuddling and wheedling with endearments. Terms of address are always "darling" and "sweetheart" between males as well as males and females, followed by the most exaggerated compliments. These and costly presents, parties, and week ends on a yacht or in the desert seem to be like the oil which the mechanic uses to grease his machinery and keep it running smoothly. Underneath all the blandishments, the executive regards the star as not only his creation, but as his property, legally owned for seven years, which he can use as he pleases or loan out for a profit, and on whom demands can be made continuously, away from the studio as well as on the set. And the stars, talented and untalented, in-telligent and stupid, know this and resent it. As they recline in an easy chair on the patio facing the swimming pool, or converse over the lunch table at The Players or Romanoff's restaurant, they give their reaction in no uncertain terms. They hate their bosses, whom I they regard as ignorant and stupid fools.
It is the big stars who tell, with malice aforethought, the biting tales to expose, what they consider, the stupidity and naivet_ of ex-ecutives and producers for whom they work. One tells how the head of a major studio was entertaining at luncheon a European diplomat and had invited a number of top stars and producers to be present. The diplomat had given an informal talk, saying how im-pressed he had been with the way people could think as they chose in the United States and with the high degree of diversity per-mitted. When he finished his speech, the head of the studio arose and said that if anyone did not think the United States was the best place in the world he should be either shot or deported. The diplomat's face was red. Another kind of story which stars gleefully tell is that concerned with the past back grounds of the big executives. Many, according to the tales, were bankrupt failures from small businesses before they came to Hollywood. One had been a notorious gambler. Another never learned to read and must have a story told to him. Another knows more about horses than movies. All have made many and costly mistakes. And these are the men, the stars continue, who are paid enormous salaries and who have the power to make the actor toe the line. The feeling is shared by the character actors, the second leads, and the bit players. One star recalls her feeling of resentment of five years ago when no one in the studio thought of phoning to tell her she had her first big part, for which she had been so anxiously waiting. She learned about it through an an-nouncement in the trade press. The same bitterness comes out in the discussion of the way a studio loans them out. Even though it is to the actor's professional advantage, they resent not being at least told in advance, and to being given no share in the studio s profit.
Important in the buying and selling of actors is the agent, a middleman who handles negotiations between them and studios and, in return, receives 10 per cent of the actors earnings. Although he is usually regarded by them as the manipulator of a horse trade he, too, fancies himself playing God, a lesser one than the executive and producer, but still important. Every agent
has a tale to tell of how he is responsible
for making a certain star. He discovered him, or he secured the
role which made him click with the public, or he arranged a deal
by which the star got his first big picture, and so on and on
to the same tune.
The agent is supposed to be working continuously
for his clients' interests, by securing better roles and creating
a demand for him. Actually the agent's role is not on such a simple
level, but is very complicated and becoming more so. His activities
consist of a clever and skilled juggling of many factors. This
is particularly true when he is connected with a large agency
which owns a block of stock in one or several studios. The agency
therefore has two interests, one, its clients', and the other,
the clients' bosses. The actor may be a pawn in a very complicated
game and can never be sure whether the agent is working for or
against him. There are wheels within wheels and the "package
deal" is becoming more and more common. The agent may sell
to the studio a num-ber of people-an actor or actors, a director,
and sometimes a writer-assembling the various ones necessary for
a picture in one package. The individual actor's gain is not,
therefore, the sole goal; he is arranged with other pieces of
property and sold at the largest profit to the agent.
In one situation an actor with star billing, playing second leads, was under contract to a studio, which was not using him at the time when he was in demand by several others. The actor preferred one of the studios who made a bid for him, because he liked the script and the role it offered. But he did not get what he wanted, because the agent found it more advantageous to sign him up with another studio which was also bidding for his services. The agent was trying to get into a good relationship with this studio, in order to place another client. The first actor was used as part of a trade, to help place the second one, and this took precedence over the first one's personal interests and preferences. Sometimes when various deals are in the offing, the actor may not know whether he is coming or going, and is constantly on the phone trying to learn where he stands. It is this function of juggling men's pro-fessional lives, making deals and various combinations, that makes the agent feel he, too, is God. He also considers his role a paternal-
istic one, guiding the steps of the immature actors and advising the older ones; and one agent even mentioned casually that he was sending a client to a psychoanalyst. But most of the actors feel that their agents would sell them down the river if that were profitable. The essence of the actor's attitude is the acceptance of the agent as a necessary evil. He usually thinks that the agent is really helpful only after success has already been attained. There are, of course, the exceptions. An occasional actor trusts his agent and there are several agents who are trusted by all who know them, including their clients.
The actors probably have less contact with the writers than with any other group in Hollywood, but each group talks with great emotion and in the most unflattering terms about the other. The writers join the chorus of how utterly stupid all actors are, how their only aim in life is to exhibit themselves, how adulation has gone to their heads spoiling any ability they might have had. One writer describes the actors' status in Hollywood as that of foul--smelling cattle. At best, they are said to be puppets, unintellectual and emotional. Columnist Frank Scully writes:
I view the crediting of brains to such people [actors] with something like encroachment.... Thinking is a writer's property-right, not an actor's. The greater the thinker, the greater the writer, and the greater the imitator the greater the actor.1
The actor returns the compliment by saying that writers are good-for-nothing hack men, and, even if they have some ability, are too lazy to use it.
The strongest mutual hostility exists between actors and publicity men. "All actors stink" is the practically universal attitude of Hollywood publicity men, and the detailed descriptions of their clients as arrogant, vulgar, and completely stupid make the actors seems almost unhuman. When this is pointed out the answer is, "Well, they aren't human! " Publicity men grant that there is
an occasional exception: perhaps three
or four actors out of the four thousand belong to Homo sapiens,
but that is all.
The publicity men of course join the Hollywood chorus of "I made the star what he is." They feel they are the ones who have created the glamour, and pulled the strings. They are the ones who arrange for and accompany the stars on their personal appearances, who get them out of jams, and who, in the publicity men's own words, act as nursemaids. When the stars are making personal appearances away from Los Angeles, for the opening of their movies, they are accompanied by publicity men. If one of the stars drinks too much and there have been several occasions when he has been too drunk to make his appearance, the publicity man never lets the actor out of his sight, arguing, coaxing, and sometimes forcibly keeping him from drinking. Or, an actress comes in after a long day of public appearances on an out-of-town junket-tired, with wet feet-no curl left in her hair-and he has to persuade her to see a press representative who has been waiting for her. It is part of the publicly man's job to see that the junket gets as much space as possible in the papers and therefore that the actress is nice to the press. Or an actor to whom the publicity man is assigned has a fight in a cafe, which has potentialities for unfav-orable publicity. The nursemaid gets him home as quickly as pos-sible and then passes out drinks to the reporters who swarm about for news of the brawl, keeps them from taking pictures and, as far as possible, from writing about it. A publicity man may be as-signed to an actress whom the studio is priming for stardom. He corrects her clothes, tells her with whom to go out, builds up interesting stories about her past, arranges some of her dates, and sits by protectively guiding the conversation when she interviews re-porters and columnists. All this is just part of the daily and nightly job of publicity men, whether on a junket or in Hollywood.
What they gripe most about is when the actor goes highhat on them. Every publicity man tells of the stars who, he says, without him would still be playing bit parts, and who were nice and co-operative before becoming successful. Then the story changes. They appear to believe the publicity about their importance, and become difficult, rude and arrogant. They keep the publicity man
waiting for hours, and treat him as if
he were an infectious plague. Nevertheless, he has to grind out
stories. A good one can usually get some kind of story from even
an unsuccessful interview. The actor will have said at least one
little thing which can be built up. But, the publicity man complains,
once the actor is a star he refuses even this, although the studio
expects the publicity to go on. So, when the star is difficult
or refuses an interview, the publicity man writes a story from
his imagination. Being human, after he finds out how much easier
this is than trying to get interviews, he is not apt to bother
about them. Most of the publicity men think that the reason the
stars are difficult to interview is not because they do not like
publicity, but simply because they are too lazy to grant an interview.
According to the publicity man, the stars consider themselves
as "personalities" rather than real people, and they
can-not see why the publicity man should not dream up stories
about the "personality" and not bother them. And the
publicity men, who do not really regard the actors as human beings,
cannot under-stand why these synthetic creatures should not want
to have their so-called private lives publicized in magazines
Some actors get quite excited on the
subject, calling publicity men "dishonest parasites."
All resent the publicity men's claims that they have "made"
them, since they say that publicity cannot make an audience like
an actor or make him into a popular star, which, they contend,
is due to the actor's own personality and ability. One of the
top stars says that publicity men do not make fans, but simply
cater to the latter's never-ending desire to hear more and more
about their beloved heroes. He says that the fans come into existence
because thousands of people all over the world like an actor when
they see him on the screen. Publicity, he adds, cannot make this
happen or make an actor good, although he does admit that even
an able actor may be helped by publicity.
Although all actors resent the publicity man's claim that he has made them, their reasons vary. For the talented actor, secure in the knowledge of his own ability, training, and experience, and for whom publicity has been relatively incidental to success, there is a natural resentment at the publicity man's claim to credit. Others not conspicuous for their talent and who do owe much of their
success to publicity, cannot afford, psychologically, to have the belief in their own ability threatened by the publicity man's claim. It is human for anyone to want to believe that his success is due to his own ability, beauty, charming personality, or combination of them, rather than to the stories a publicist has dreamed up. For the actor whose profession meets such deep personality needs, this is probably even more necessary than for other people. So, regard-less of the truth, or lack of it, in the publicity man's claims, he is resented by all actors, talented or merely photogenic. The ac-tors are also exasperated by the kind of publicity that is turned out about them. Stupid or intelligent, they do not like having their pri-vate lives, from the state of their marital affairs to the kind of cereal they eat for breakfast, either truly or falsely broadcast to the public The premise on which such publicity is based is that the whole person of the actor is the property of the studio to be exploited for its benefit. The fact that it may redound also to the actor's profit does -not negate his deep and bitter resentment to being so exploited.
The business managers, whom most actors and other Hollywood people making over $25,000 a year employ, do not participate in the refrain of "I created the stars," but they share in the general attitude of treating their clients as children. The institution of business manager has become increasingly popular partly because of high and complicated income taxes. However, this is not the only reason. For almost all the top successes in Hollywood, great wealth is a new experience. They are without training in the handling of big money as compared to those whose wealth goes back at least a couple of generations. Also, among these, the control of wealth is usually in the hands of the older members of the family, while in Hollywood the stars are relatively young. Again, the star has not as much assurance of continued income as has the big industrialist, and there is hardly a star who does not have at least a twinge of anxiety when he sees a former star of the old silent films now working as an extra. The business manager has therefore become an institution. He works out a budget for his client and family, with specific amounts to be spent for running the house, for clothes, for personal allowances for husband, wife
and children, for payments to dependents,
for contributions to causes, and for other expenses. After the
agent has deducted his 10 per cent, he sends the actor's salary
checks directly to the business manager who pays the bills, makes
out the various allowance checks, and saves or invests the remainder.
This means that there is very little about the actor's life the
latter does not know. If a mistress is being supported or there
are large losses at cards or on horses, the manager knows it.
Most business managers are deeply earnest
about their work and see themselves in the combined role of guardians
as well as business men who handle money. They tend to regard
their clients as chil-dren, to whom they give allowances. A business
agent may refuse to allow a client to spend too much money on
expensive presents for a boyfriend or girlfriend and argue him
out of what he con-siders other foolish extravagance or scare
him with stories about what happened to a star who did not save
his money. Interestingly enough many of the clients seem to forget
that it is really their money which is doled out to them. One
business manager who han-dles top-bracket people says he will
not keep clients who lie in an attempt to wheedle money out of
him. The $100,000-a-year star who tries to get some cash on false
pretenses just does not remain his client.
Another business manager, who takes his
role equally seriously, is accustomed to receiving phone calls
at all hours to come to the aid of his clients. One phones at
six in the morning that he is in trouble at a gambling joint and
will the business manager come quickly. The trouble may be money
or a fight. Or the wife of a client calls him, angry and excited,
to tell him that her husband came home drunk at four A.M. and
crawled into bed with the Negro maid, and she is never going to
sleep with him again and is going to start divorce proceedings
at once. The business manager rushes over and effects a reconciliation.
The wife remains, but the maid leaves.
The star is thus regarded as the ward, property or creation of business manager, agent, publicity man, producer and execu-tive. Besides all these, the technical crew, including carpenters and electricians, has a power of its own to bring an actor to heel. Al--
though this group is low in the social
hierarchy, on the set it can sabotage and disrupt an actor's work.
If a "grip" (handy man) does not like an actor, he can
drop a monkey wrench or make some other seemingly accidental noise
just when the actor is at the height of a climax, and then the
scene has to be shot again. A ''gaffer" (electrician) may
drop a sun lamp next to the actor and terrify him, and the lights
can likewise be used to the actor's advantage or disadvantage.
When an actor is rehearsing a sequence, a carpenter can look at
him in a peculiar way, or make unflattering re-marks under his
breath, the purport of which the actor gets and which is disturbing.
Or, the crew can carry tales to a newspaper columnist about a
star who loses his temper and has a tantrum on the set, tearing
off his wig and flinging things about, which is bad publicity.
What do the crew of workers have against
actors, that they should want to sabotage them? Electricians and
carpenters are self-respecting, middle-class skilled workers,
who in traditional American fashion do not accept a class system.
They do not like the high-hatted, and so they do not like a star
who emphasizes social distance between them or who is not hail-fellow-well-met.
They have also the conventional morality of the middle class and
do note like actors who they think are too free and easy with
young girls or who make obscene jokes before the latter. One actor
was hated because his idea of a good time was to indulge in the
goosing, or tackling the posterior of a person and causing him to jump in a startled fashion. The technical crew often serves as a kind of moral control over the actors' behavior on the set.
The long waits which occur every day provide many oppor-tunities for the tone of such relationships to be set. Most of the actors are friendly with the crew, either because they actually enjoy joking and kibitzing with them or because they think it is necessary. Of course, this hail-fellow-well-met relationship ends abruptly when the working day is over.
The field worker is struck with the intensity
of reactions to actors by everyone from the front office down.
So rarely does anyone have a good word to say for them!
There are a number of
reasons for what seems to be this overreaction. First, there is a deep well of envy-envy of the actors' enormous salaries, envy of the way they are glamorized, envy of their publicity. To the public Hollywood means the stars, and the names of even important producers, directors, and writers are frequently unknown. In the movie advertisements in many small-town newspapers, only the names of the actors appear along with the title of the movie and even the studio's name may be omitted. All Hollywood has concentrated on selling its product through the stars, and now seems to be resentful of its success. The constant negation of the actor's ability and the chorus of "I made him what he is" has a compensatory quality for the godlike position the stars occupy. The executive, the producer, the publicity man try to get some comfort through the refrain, "Without me he would be a nobody." With the exception of the top executives, the stars also earn more money than anyone else in Hollywood. Even though the level of earnings for everyone in the movie industry is higher than anywhere else, this does not lessen the envy of the stars' fabulous income.
Some of the envy may be on a deeper level
than jealousy of salaries and adulation from the public. Resentment
of the exhibitionistic quality of the actor's personality is stressed
over and over again. Now, some degree of exhibitionism is part
of being human. But our culture frowns upon any excessive display
of it and has very strong taboos against sexual exhibitionism.
Probably most members of our society have at some time or other
in their lives, in infancy or later, been frustrated in not being
as exhibitionistic as they desired. In Hollywood, and the whole
show business world, there is a higher level of permissiveness
for exhibitionism than in most other areas of living. But no one
in all Hollywood can compete in exhibitionism with the actors.
And, groan the envious ones, these actors are paid huge salaries
There is probably a selective personality factor underlying the choice of acting as a profession. This is true for many professions. Philosophers and theoretical physicists tend to be rather introverted. The reformer and crusader usually have another type of personality, and the doctor still another. Some of these may be strongly exhibitionistic, too, but they do not literally cash in on it
as do actors. Even in Hollywood, where
almost everyone struts and where boasting is carried to superlative
heights, the actors are the only ones who receive hard cash for
exhibitionism. Hollywood has created a mammoth machine to exploit
the exhibitionistic quality of its actors and the people who have
done the most to build the machine appear deeply envious that
they are not the objects exhibited.
There is a particular intensity in the venomous feelings which the publicity men have towards their clients. For this there are additional causes. The men who write publicity are more anonymous than anyone else. In one studio the publicity department has a sign, "Anonymity Department." The publicity men are also much less well paid than other Hollywood people and refer to themselves as the poor relations of the industry. Both these reasons add to their hostility. Then, too, many publicity men are highly intelligent and superior to the work they do. Some are ambitiously writing novels, plays and scripts on the side. They do not respect their publicity work, whether directed towards the industry or the public, and are generally contemptuous of the kind of hocus-pocus they spend their days turning out. But they stay on the jobs because these provide higher salaries than they can earn elsewhere. It may well be that the publicity men deflect at least part of their scorn and contempt from what they write to the objects about whom they write. This is a rather common psychological mechanism which helps make the job more bearable. Another possible reason for the extremity of the publicity men's scorn for their clients is that they are with them so continuously in the role of valet nursemaid, which traditionally does not lend itself to an attitude of respect.
The general contemptuous attitude of Hollywood to actors is based on a stereotype, that of the star without any ability, unintelligent, chosen almost entirely for some photogenic quality, and earning a fabulous salary. He is considered to be a puppet made by the various studio departments and this is strengthened by "type" casting. This stereotype does exist, but it is not representative of all actors. There seems to be as much diversity in intelligence and ability among them as there is among Hollywood writers or any
other group of people, in and out of Hollywood. The character ac-tors are almost uniformly talented and many of them intelligent. But the publicity men hardly ever come in contact with them Their work is almost entirely among the stars. Among these, too, are intelligent and gifted men and women, as well as stupid people whose only aim in life is sheer exhibitionism. But it is these who have become the stereotype for the entire actor group. Only the directors, who work closely with all kinds of actors and who really are concerned in their success, have a more realistic concept of their diversity and are less hostile to them. For most Hollywood people, the thinking is confused, as thinking always is when based on a stereo-type and motivated by envy. Many actors are quite aware of the contempt in which they are held. A few have accepted the stereo-typed picture as some members of a minority group accept the posi-tion accorded them by a dominant group. One actor and his wife boasted that they did not go socially with other actors, but they were an exception. Most of the actors react with bitterness to the scorn which underlies the "darlings" and "sweethearts."
To answer the question, What are actors
really like? it is neces-sary to know that while they share
certain traits in common, there are also wide differences among
them. Many are extroverted in nature, exhibitionistic, generous
and warm. Some are gay but quite a few, particularly the comedians,
are serious. Some are gifted, highly intelligent, and keenly alive
to the world they live in, while others have very little talent,
are stupid, and might as well be liv-ing in the Middle Ages for
all the understanding they have of con-temporary society. For
these, the disparity between earnings and ability is particularly
glaring, although the discrepancy is present for the gifted, too,
when compared to the earnings of equally gifted people outside
Some stars have remained relatively unaffected by the synthetic glamour and idolatry so carefully nourished by the publicity de-partment, although it is not easy for anyone to be completely untouched by it. Others seem actually to believe the publicity cir-culated about them and to accept the built-up synthetic person-ality as their real one. The ballyhoo publicity acts as a kind of
self-poison and is reminiscent of the situation in Nathaniel Haw-thorne's story, "Rappaccini's Daughter"-in which a doctor patho-logically interested in experimenting with poisons feeds his daughter on them until she becomes immune and is unable to live on any-thing else. A normal existence would cause her death. So, too, for some stars: synthetic glamour has become essential for their con-tinued existence.
Miss Manifest Destiny is one of the people who has become a victim of her own publicity. She is now in her mid-twenties, with limited ability, and, after many years' struggle, has recently be-come a star. Her background is one of poverty, with a father who died when she was an infant and a mother who had once been ambitious to be a dancer and had become a waitress. As a child Miss Manifest Destiny's formal schooling was spotty but her mother insisted on dancing lessons. Growing up meant working long and hard to become a successful dancer. When old enough she began dancing in night clubs, and eventually came to one in Hollywood. Someone from a studio saw her and she was given a contract. But nothing much happened. She made many tests but got no parts. She says that while she learned a little about acting during the two years at the studio by playing with others who were also making tests, it was a depressing period. Her roles were limited to bit parts in B pictures and she did not even have many of these. She had just about decided that it would be better to go back to night club dancing, when her agent took her over to another studio to make a test. There, a producer happened to see her sitting in the casting director's office and said he would like to consider her for a role. He had a big name and the picture he was planning was in the A class; the role, while not the star one, was featured and im-portant. It was her first opportunity at something other than bit parts in B pictures and she felt that if only she could secure this role she was made. For two months she made all kinds of tests, eager but worried about the outcome, and finally she was given the part. She was still on a relatively low salary but at the end of the picture she was given a $5000 bonus and her salary went up fast, as she became a star for A pictures.
The effect of success on her personality
is of interest. Although she had been quite successful as a night
club dancer, she now looks down upon all dancing and her goal
has completely changed. She fancies herself as a serious dramatic
actress and as a great singer, and talks about how she would like
to sing the title role in Carmen and be a soloist with
a symphony orchestra. Her regret is that her mother sent her to
dancing school instead of to dramatic and sing-ing schools. She
is absolutely sure that if she had been given this training, she
would have been a great dramatic actress and singer.
Now she takes singing lessons and musical
composition to enable her to read music, and she goes to one of
the best dramatic schools in town, for all of which training the
studio pays. Her comment on the studio paying the bills is: "I
am box office for them and they make lots of money from me. So
the better they make me, the better it is for them." She
thinks she is doing the studio a favor when she gives her time
for these lessons, particularly since some oc-cur from six to
seven in the evening after a day's work. Although she talks very
seriously about the dramatic school and their use of a modification
of the Stanislavsky method, she gives the impression that she
is learning words rather than acting. For instance, in explaining
this method, she says: "If you are tired, you must be tired
during the entire scene; that is, if you are sitting in a chair
and supposed to be tired you must not spring up out of the chair
as though you are not tired, but must get up languidly. You must
not put the tired feeling on and off."
Combined with great ambition is a belief
that she is fated to be great. She says, "I believe people
are destined to be great actors or commonplace mechanics, that
people are meant to be small or big. Some people are just born
to be important and others not to be." However, she continues,
although she is destined to be a great actress, she knows she
has to work hard to achieve this. She thinks that all the talk
about equality is nonsense; if she is fated to be suc-cessful
and also works hard to achieve it, then she deserves a big house
on top of a hill with lots of servants and a swimming pool, and
horses to ride. The people who are born to be mechanics are doomed
to live in little houses at the foot of the hill.
She describes herself as a reactionary, and uses the term without
any feeling in her voice. She adds that
she rarely goes to meetings of the Actors' Guild, that she does
not understand "that kind of thing, but hopes to learn about
it some day." She accepts some of the things she has to do
for publicity in somewhat the same spirit as she does the Guild.
She describes her participation in the publicity stunts arranged
in a city, which was the setting of a movie in which she starred.
Although she boasts that she drew greater crowds than some of
the older stars, she does not appear to have really enjoyed the
junket. She was a bit scared at having to meet a lot of people
and resentful of not getting enough rest. "But," she
adds, "I suppose it is necessary and someday I will understand
what it means to these people to see a celebrity." Actually
Miss Mani-fest Destiny would be better described as medieval than
by her own term reactionary. Her theory of predestination, of
success which has been mysteriously ordained but for which she
also has to work hard, is reminiscent of the Protestant Reforma-tion.
Calvinists likewise believed that they were destined for salvation
and the proof that they were of the elect lay in their hard work
and good deeds. But Miss Destiny stresses only the former.
She goes to many big parties and frequents night clubs and has a reputation of being "on the town." She is worried about her present lack of marital status, and says enviously that all the other stars her age have been married, and many divorced and remarried. She feels that the many reports of her engagements and the equal number of reports of the engagement being broken (one engagement was reported on and then off at least six times ) by the columnists, pub-licizes her personal failure on this point. She complains about the dif-ficulty of finding a husband, saying that the actors with whom she goes out are interested only in themselves and their careers and that they go out with her because it is good publicity for them, and this isn't fun for her. In the next breath she says, "And I don't want to settle down and be a little wife looking after a man. I must have my career." She thinks the difficulties with an actor would be insurmountable. Now she is looking for a cattleman or, perhaps, she hints, the anthropologist might know a likely doctor who would be a good husband.
It is unlikely that Miss Destiny's career as a star will last longer than ten years, since she has little real ability outside of dancing, and not enough intelligence to learn how to become an actress. She is amenable to direction, has a capacity for hard work, and is concentrated completely on herself and her ambition. But it is unlikely that these will be enough to maintain her status after she loses her youthful looks. She gives a sense of pathos, of an un-happy person straining for something unreachable, of being manipu-lated by a system of which she has no understanding.
While Miss Manifest Destiny represents a large number of ac-tresses in her age group, there are many others who are quite dif-ferent personally and professionally. Miss Serious has a Broadway background. Her father and mother were actors and she began her career by understudying on Broadway. Occasionally she was lucky enough to be given a part. She rose to being a lead in a play which, however, flopped after a week or so on Broadway. But be-fore it closed, the head of a major studio was in the audience, and, impressed with her performance, signed her up with his studio.
Shortly after her arrival in Hollywood
she was given a part she describes as "medium good."
She got fine notices and people at the studio considered her good.
But after this picture she did nothing for two years. She was
on the studio's payroll and did not have to worry economically,
but she says she nearly "went crazy," because she was
not acting. Eventually she was cast in a featured role in an A
production. The producer and casting director had won-dered if
she was old enough for this role, but everything was be-ing done
in a great hurry and the person for whom the role had originally
been planned was not available. So Miss Serious was given the
part and sent on location where some of the scenes were being
shot. However, when the front-office executive looked at the rushes
he decided that she was too young and could not be made up to
look old enough for the role. She was out of the picture. This
was a great disappointment although she was assured that it had
nothing to do with her acting.
A short time later she was again selected for a good part in a
big production. This time she thought
it was sure and that this was her big break. She had been measured
for her costumes and everything was in readiness. Just before
the shooting was to be-gin, a new director was assigned to the
picture and another actress was brought in to fill her role. Once
more she was out. She never did understand the reason, but as
far as she could learn from the grapevine, it was not the new
director who insisted on bringing in another actress. The change
had been made by someone in the front office. Now she thought
there must be something wrong with her and that she was a failure.
A bit later she was given a small part in a picture and she was
so nervous over her fear of failing that it affected her acting;
but the director was understanding and reas-sured her that she
After these disappointments and three
years of feeling that she was getting nowhere, she was glad when
her agent mentioned an opportunity in another studio. Here she
was given a good role with star billing which she played with
considerable ability, re-ceiving excellent press notices. Now
she is under contract to this studio, which she likes much better
than the first one. She had been surprised when she arrived in
Hollywood from Broadway to find no one at that studio willing
to help her. On Broadway, she says, it is customary to receive
help from older and more experi-enced people, but at this studio
everyone seemed afraid of some-one higher up. She commented also
that no one seemed to take acting very seriously. At the actors'
lunch table, there was never any serious talk, just funny, and
off-color, stories and gossip. It was all very impersonal and
there were no real friendships. She felt lost. At the studio where
she now is, she is impressed with the seriousness of the people
and their concern about the film on which they are working. She
adds that they consider the script more important than make-up.
Miss Serious has been married to an actor for the past two years and he agrees that she should continue her career. She lives quietly and does not move in any gay Hollywood circles. When she and her husband are both acting they have little time for social life. She is, of course, a member of the Screen Actors' Guild, but rarely goes to meetings. She has no interest in social problems although she
has some vague rather inarticulate feeling that underpaid people should get more money and that the "poor carpenters" suffered when they were out on strike. Her whole being is centered on acting; she is seriously concerned about becoming a distinguished dramatic actress. She is intelligent enough to know that she can-not continue too long to play the young-girl romantic leads which she now has, and so she tries hard to get a strong role which will offer dramatic opportunities.
Miss Manifest Destiny and Miss Serious have both been success-ful. Miss Frustrated, after seven years, is still not even within sight of success. She has had no formal training and before coming to Hollywood her acting was limited to amateur theatricals and a small local stock company. But, she is completely convinced that she has the makings of a great dramatic actress and all her life is cen-tered about this intense ambition. Now in her late thirties, she knows she cannot play young-girl parts and so she concentrates on trying to get character roles. Her acting record during the last six years has been no more than twenty-five weeks of work, of which three were in one small part, fourteen in her biggest role, a character part, and the rest in odd days when she was called in for bit parts. She has managed to earn enough to live on through occasional radio work, clerical and other odd jobs. She thought the character part in the A picture, for which she was paid $400 a week, was her break, and tried to capitalize on it. Her agent, a small one, refused to help with any publicity; the studio had no interest in publicizing her since she was not under contract and they had no plans for using her further. At her own expense, she put an advertisement about herself in a trade paper and sent her photo-graphs to local newspapers. But there were no results. She was offered nothing but a few bit parts in B pictures. Several years later she still struggles on, lives very economically, and takes odd jobs. She is not exactly unhappy because she is convinced that she is a great actress. It is not possible to know whether she has confused her intense personal need to act with ability. Since she has no train-ing or accepted dramatic experience, no financial reserves, is no longer young and knows none of the right people, her breaks appear
to lie in some never-never land. There are many others like Miss Frustrated.
Starlets are a group of young hopefuls
under stock contracts at the major studios. The traditional policy
has been to sign any pretty face in sight, give them training
in diction and posture, and occasional bit parts. Their salaries
range from $100 to $175 a week at the beginning, with increases
of $25 to $50 at the end of each six months. Rarely do they go
beyond the bit parts. One starlet was a pretty girl in her early
twenties, from a middle-class background in a small Midwestern
town. She had long wanted to be an actress and took part in amateur
shows in high school and in a small local college. While still
a student she began to earn her living as a model, and it was
on one of these jobs that a studio talent scout saw her and ar-ranged
for her to come to Hollywood on a contract. She hung around for
a number of years, doing an occasional bit part. When her contract
was not renewed she went back to modeling.
Another stock contract actress is very different. She has a seri-ous kind of beauty that is not the usual Hollywood type. She is a farmer's daughter and very early was ambitious to be a dancer. When still young she took dancing lessons in a town near her father's farm, and later gave lessons in the same town. She saved her money and went to New York. There she had the usual ups and downs with jobs as a model and dancer, and knows well the experience of being broke. Eventually she went on the road with a dancing and singing show which performed for two-week periods throughout the country. This was an extremely lonely life, spent in hotels in strange cities, but all the time she was trying to make herself into a better dancer. She never gave up her idea of dramatic dancing, even though she was not doing it at the moment. One of the Hollywood talent scouts saw her in a night club show and she was given her present contract with the studio. She came in at a higher salary than most of the other girls-$175 a week. She lives very simply in a rented room and saves as much money as she can, because there is always the fear that she will be broke again. She regrets that she cannot save as much money as she would like, because she has to spend so much on clothes, as she is ex-
pected to dress well. Her ambition has changed to becoming a dramatic actress. She is intensely earnest, working constantly on her lessons. At the studio, she is regarded as a person with ability. However, after a year there in which she has not been given any parts, she is impatient and she has decided to leave and try to get into an Eastern summer resort theater.
Interestingly enough, when any of the starlets do have success it is usually at a studio other than the one that first invested in them. A studio often seems to lack the necessary confidence in its own judgment. Recently there has been a new trend to fill small roles in A pictures with Broadway actors who are tested for the particular parts. One of Metro's Eastern talent scouts says:
U. S. film makers are becoming increasing hep to the fact that fresh faces in minor roles add a special kind of excitement to pix. British and Continental producers regularly employ this stratagen with good results.2
It seems that if a number of the foreign films had not been profitable, it would have never occurred to the U. S. film makers that well-acted minor roles are important in making a good movie. Even now is it regarded as a "stratagem," or a new gimmick.
On the whole the male actors in Hollywood seem to have more ability and experience than the females. Looks, being photogenic and sexy, count for them too, and they need the same perseverance and faith in themselves as do the girls. But there appears to be no male equivalent of arriving in Hollywood through winning a con-test, real or fictitious. Most of the men have come to Hollywood with some kind of theater experience. Those who were stars on Broadway are naturally stars in Hollywood, and the stories of their struggles for stardom belong to Broadway. But some did not arrive in Hollywood as stars.
Mr. Qualified, in his forties and a successful character actor with featured billing, has been in Hollywood about eleven years. He had always wanted to be an actor as far back as he can re-
member, and after being in high school
and college theatricals and local stock companies, he went to
New York. Over the years there he managed to get only minor roles
and was never in any of the long-run hits. He and his family came
to Hollywood because they found it increasingly difficult to live
on his earnings from the Broad-way stage.
During his first year in Hollywood he was pleased when he earned about $5000 and assumed this was just the beginning and that he would go up quickly to the higher brackets. So he saved nothing, although the $5000 was considerably more than he had ever averaged in New York. But he earned practically nothing the second and third years, and for no reason that he could understand. He was able to secure only bit parts and these only occasionally. How-ever, Mr. Qualified did not lose faith in his ability and eventual success. Besides, there was no other place for him to go. He and his family managed to live during these two lean years through the help of friends. Then Mr. Qualified played a bit part so well it was expanded to a larger one. From there he went on to a number of small but important parts, and eventually into bigger, featured roles. Now, after eleven years, he has a very good income, lives in a beautiful home, and is regarded by everyone as quite successful. But he does not feel secure, and he is always talking about buying a farm-not because he is interested in rural life, but because for him a farm spells security. Mr. Qualified has never played the Hollywood social game or done the usual night-clubbing and parties. He and his wife choose their friends, many of whom are not con-nected with movies, on the basis of congeniality. He is regarded as liberal and his interests cover social and political issues of the day. He is an active participant in both the Actors' Guild and com-munity life.
Mr. Apollo, a handsome young man of about twenty-six, is quite different in background and personality from Mr. Qualified. He, too, always wanted to be an actor, but he never played on Broad-way. He went to a good dramatic school and later played in the theaters of his home town. When he came to Hollywood, he had little difficulty in getting a good start and was making fast progress,
which was interrupted by the war. After
that was over, he re-sumed his career. Mr. Apollo knows just what
he wants. He turned down the male lead in a big A production because
he considered the role weak and ineffectual. He tries to get strong
roles, which permit him to show off his ability. When not working
he takes lessons from a distinguished dramatic coach to keep in
trim and im-prove his acting. He regards both his career and private
life as a business. He employs a publicity man whose main function
is to keep unfavorable publicity out of the papers. He goes to
premieres and other public rites because he thinks it is good
to have his pic-tures taken at them, and to big parties in order
to keep constantly within the vision of executives and producers
who, he says, can see only as far as their finger tips. However,
he rarely frequents night clubs, partly because he does not enjoy
them and partly be-cause he thinks it is bad business. He says
that today producers do not want an actor to be a gay man about
town or a heavy drinker, but rather do they want a hard worker
who knows his responsibil-ities and whom they can count on to
do the job.
A striking aspect of Mr. Apollo's personality is his complete and humorless seriousness. He compares himself to the President of the United States, saying that both must comport themselves in public with great dignity. He cannot afford to dissipate his body which is the vehicle of his talent, nor his reputation which is tied up with his career. He feels very strongly that his life should be aloof, dig-nified and circumspect. When he makes a public appearance and gives autographs, he never feels that he is one of the crowd or part of it in any way. He is conservative in his opinions and uninter-ested in politics. Although a member of the Screen Actors' Guild, he is not active in it. Mr. Apollo's colossal seriousness might be labeled in different ways. Some would call it conceit. Others might think of it as consecration to a profession, not unlike that of a reli-gious man to a noble cause. He is typical of a whole group of very serious young actors and actresses who are a long way from the Fatty Arbuckle type of old days.
Mr. Bitter, in his middle thirties, and good-looking, has not yet been successful. He grew up on the West Coast and says he has
wanted to be an actor ever since he was fourteen and took part in a school play. When he finished high school, however, he went into the real-estate business with the idea that he would quickly become rich and important. Instead he was bored. He happened to meet one of his former schoolmates, who was acting in a local playhouse and receiving dramatic training. Mr. Bitter begged his friend to help him get in, and he was given a walk-on part. From this he progressed to bit parts, and eventually to leads.
This playhouse was not far from Los Angeles and a studio talent scout saw him and offered a contract. He started at a low salary, but he was sure that his great ability would soon be recognized and that he would go up quickly. However, he was disappointed by going no further than small parts in B pictures. Then the war came along, and for three and a half years he had important roles in army training films. When the war ended and he returned to Holly-wood, a studio offered him a contract. During its first year he acted in only one film, which was four or five weeks' work. The rest of the time he drew his salary, but did not act. This was most frustrating. He would go to the studios two or three times a week, have lunch with people who might be of help in getting him a part, such as a casting director, but nothing happened. He says it is terrible to have nothing to do. When asked what he did while he was not working, he replied. "Nothing." Later, he said, "Well, nothing constructive," and mentioned that he went to the races a great deal and made considerable money. He did odd things such as painting his car and looking for a new place to live.
Finally he landed a small part in a big picture. Desperately and with great emotion he begged the director to let him do his part on the sympathetic side so that he would get favorable notices. "For God's sake," he said, "give me a chance; I must get ahead; I can't stand this any more!" The director was willing. But although Mr. Bitter did get good notices, he has been unemployed. However, his belief in his own talent is unshaken as he awaits his break. But he is resentful; he says that he has been passed by because he has not been aggressive and because he has not played the part of "wolf" with young actresses who are stars. Instead, he lives rather quietly with his wife. Politically he is conservative and seems al-
most a-political, although he is vaguely for the "common man. " He goes quite regularly to Guild meetings and thinks it has done wonderful things for the actors.
The social life of most actors is usually limited to those in the same financial bracket. At the top are the stars with their beautiful homes and swimming pools, symbols of Hollywood success. Some of the stars are in the process of forming a new aristocracy. They send their children to the best private schools and a preferred marriage is into an old, established family of wealth. Some members of this new aristocracy make a cult of normality, as they understand it. The women have children, differing from the stars of the past who feared babies might reduce their popularity. Today, the ac-tresses are merely careful to space their babies between pictures. What is considered normal is, of course, always conditioned by the group. In some communities it is normal for a businessman to get drunk on Saturday nights, go to church on Sundays, and carry on a secret affair with his secretary during the week. In Hollywood the normal in social life is now quite different from what it was in the early days. Wild parties and late nights are completely out during time of production. The hours required by the studio are so long and exhausting that no star would have the energy left for a late night, after a day on the set. Besides, the night-before dissi-pation shows up in the face and voice of the actor and neither he nor the studio desire that. Parties, gaiety and late nights are re-stricted to the periods between pictures. Vacations are frequently spent in the desert resorts, on a yacht, in Hawaii, Mexico, or Europe. Racing and gambling may be major interests, or it may be some-thing quite different such as painting or acting in "little theater." Or it may be sex and extramarital affairs which take up spare time. Of course, one hobby does not preclude others. While pub-licized parties are lavish and ostentatious, the tendency is to make them respectable. Publicized immorality may not lessen a star's popularity with his fans and has been even known to increase it, but the studios fear the clamor raised by self-constituted censors of actor's morals. The trend is, therefore, for indecorous and loose sexual behavior to be private. Some actors are also personally
anxious to dispel the traditional concept
of unconventionality con-nected with their profession and long
to be considered normal rather than different. Actually, the personal
lives of many actors, when they are not working, are not too different
from those of any other very wealthy group. These are the playboys
and play-girls, who are seen at the night clubs and whose flirtations
and doings are subjects for gossip columns. They may be unmarried,
or between marriages, or married, but gay night life (when they
are not doing a picture) is an important part of their existence.
Another group of actors with a certain coherence because of a similarity of background is quite different. They come from the Broadway stage and received their training in the old Theater Guild, the Eva Le Gallienne group, or some such theater group. These people, mostly character actors and a few stars, regard themselves as professional artists. They do not go in for lavish social life but spend much of their free time in something con-nected with the theater world. Among them is found more of the bohemianism usually associated with artists. There are other actors who do not belong to any group, who live fairly quiet lives, either happily or unhappily on the personal side, and have various outlets for their free time-politics, Guild activity, or a "little" theater. But for most, big and little, what to do with their spare time is a problem. When employed there are the long hours of activity, which meet personality needs. Then the picture is finished and a period of inactivity follows. Even if the actor is under contract and there is no financial worry, the situation is not an easy one. There is the well-known lost feeling when not acting; they do not really enjoy the substitutes such as rounds of parties, flirtations, sex orgies, drinking, betting, racing, painting or working for a cause. For them, the only really satisfactory way of living is acting. All other activities are poor makeshifts.
These are the actors-successful or unsuccessful, stupid or in-telligent, merely photogenic or very talented, untrained or ex-perienced, those who will ruin a film to increase their footage and those with the integrity of an artist, those for whom the publicity ballyhoo has had a malign effect and those who have survived it.
For all acting is a way of life as well
as a means of earning a liv-ing. They work in an industry which
exploits to the utmost their personal need for exhibitionism,
and at the same time views it as one the darkest iniquities. They
earn more money than any other group of people in the country,
but work under serf-like condi-tions and in a system geared to
the mediocre rather than to the talented. They are regarded as
property, to be bought and sold at a profit. They are pampered,
flattered, and glamorized for the public, and at the same time
scorned, and hated by those who give the flattery and do the glamorizing.
They live in luxury and have considerable power, but are treated
as adolescents subject to the many controls of contract, front
office, agent, business manager, publicity man.
If proof were needed that the actors
are people, it would be their deep resentment to this situation.
For all members of our species, not to be regarded as human is
a severe threat.
These then are the actors, glamorous stars and folk heroes to their admirers all over the world; inhuman pieces of property, scorned, hated and envied in Hollywood.
1. Variety, April 30, 1947.
2 Variety, July 6, 1949.
Link to Chapter 14