Early Hollywood Star System

The Star System was a common practice between the 1920s and 1960s and led to the immense success of Hollywood. Under this system, the stars of Hollywood were hired by the studios and were associated with them under contracts. A screening test was conducted, and as a result, promising young actors were hired. After this, hiring came to the process of image building, which did not necessarily have to do with the real image of the actor. For example, Marilyn Monroe was given the image of ‘blonde bombshell.’

Efforts were taken to maintain these images. Contracts of these actors had morality clues. These morality clues protected the actors from drugs, adultery, and other indiscretions that could sabotage their image. Men were supposed to behave as gentlemen, and women acted like ladies. Women had to dress all the time appropriately and had to put on their makeup every time they left the house. They had to be all prim and proper round the clock. If the contract was violated by the actors/actresses, they had to pay the price for it. They were either blacklisted or suspended without pay.

Early Hollywood Star System

Star System – Filmmaking

The star system was the method by which stars were created in Hollywood. Studios were responsible for the grooming and publicizing of actors and actresses and creating images for them. Cary Grant went through the Star System, as well as Joan Crawford and Rock Hudson. The star system puts focus on image building rather than acting alone. 

Studio executives etc. worked along with the actor to create a persona for him/her. Fake dates were also a part of the entire process and were set up between single males and females to generate free publicity. Tabloids and Gossip columnists were involved, and photographers took romantic pictures of the couples.  At the same time, stories related to drug addiction and drinking, etc., were hidden up with hush money for eyewitnesses or assurances of exclusive stories.

Star System - Filmmaking

The Beginning

Early years of the cinema (the 1890s-1900s) gave no identification to the actors in the films. There were two reasons behind this. Firstly, the actors were trained to work in theatres and, therefore, found it embarrassing to work in movies and dreaded that it would destroy their reputation. Secondly, from the perspective of film producers, they feared that the actors would gain more fame and publicity and, therefore, demand more money and prestige.

‘Star’ was a term that meant a highly paid performer before 1910. More than any other art form, the movies had the charisma to appeal and lure the emotions of the audience. Filmmakers like Cecil B. DeMille took advantage of this phenomenon with the close-up, filling the screen with what would become synonymous with Hollywood—really terribly gorgeous faces. 

In 1910, Independent Moving Picture Company not only acknowledged but advertised ‘stars’ Lawrence, Baggot, and other studio actors, a stroke that generated publicity with its astronomical ticket sales. A year later, Photoplay and Motion Picture Magazine were published, and by 1916 the combined circulations of the two fan magazines approached a half million. 

The Decline of the Studio System 

It was a widespread practice for studios to arrange for the contractual exchange of talent (directors, actors) for prestige pictures, from the 1930s to the 1960s. Sometimes, stars pursued these swaps themselves. Studio heads often punished the stars, and yet several stubborn stars refused certain parts that they didn’t think were right for them. 

The studio system manipulating images eventually began to reach a downfall. By the 60s and 70s, an innovative, more effortless style of acting came into being. By the 1970s, the star system had disappeared.

The Decline of the Studio System 

Contemporary Stardom

The phenomenon of stardom had always been known and familiar in Hollywood because of its ability to attract spectators into the theatre. With the downfall of the studio system in the 1950s and 1960s, the Star System became the most crucial aspect of the movie industry. It is due to the reason that stars provided filmmakers with built-in audiences who wanted to watch movies in which their favorite actors/actresses appeared. 

The California Labor Code is used to license Contemporary Hollywood talent agencies, which defines an agent as ‘any person or corporation which engages in the occupation of procuring, offering or attempting to procure employment for the artist or artists.’ Talent Agencies such as International Creative Management (ICM), William Morris Agency (WMA), Creative Artists Agency (CAA), and many more started to take form in the mid-1970s.

New actors were initially signed to a seven-year contract, but the studio had the option to terminate the agreement every six months.  The salary was fixed between $75-$250 per week. It was frustrating for big stars like Marilyn Monroe, who shot to fame in a jiffy but still made the same salary as they were making at the start. 

Contemporary Stardom

Studios sometimes loaned out their stars to other studios. Upon refusal by a star to act in a particular film, he/she was suspended without pay for some time. Stars felt that they were owned by the studios and could not even choose their work. As early as 1919, four major movie stars, Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and D.W. Griffiths, embarked on a company of their own so that they could take control of their careers. 


The Star System is by far the most critical and well-known contribution of the film industry in the history of acting and drama. Theatre, opera, and other performing arts have indeed created massively famous stars as well. However, the influences of cinema have been extremely significant.