Americanizing the Movies and "Movie-Mad" Audiences, 1910-1914

By Richard Abel | Go to book overview

Chapter 6
“The Power of Personality
in Pictures”
Movie Stars and “Matinee Girls”

In early 1913, moviegoers from Des Moines or St. Paul to Toledo, Cleveland, or Pittsburgh could have paused, reading their local Scripps-McRae newspaper, and looked more closely at a story signed by Gertrude Price and headlined “Stunning Mary Pickford.” The story would have heartened those who agreed that Pickford had “probably the largest following among feminine moving picture players,” would have amazed even those who did not know that the former “Biograph girl” was taking in a salary of $10,000 a year, and would have disheartened nearly all with the news that she was quitting the movies—yet not for good—to become a New York stage star in David Belasco’s production of The Good Little Devil.1 Had any of those moviegoers— especially my imagined young working women—had the opportunity, in January, to catch The New York Hat, the last film Pickford made with D. W. Griffith at Biograph before signing with David Belasco, they also might have collected a free postcard of the star at one of their local picture theaters showing licensed films.2 Pickford, of course, was just one of many picture players whose frequent appearances on screen had become so appealing to movie fans. Indeed, the stars and the star system that was being put in place to support them arguably offered an alternative to the strategies guaranteeing audience satisfaction mapped in previous chapters—that is, manufacturers’ or distributors’ brand names, variations on recurring stories and situations (especially those of sensational melodramas), and, eventually, regularized special features. And this strategy arguably may have been the most significant of all for a rapidly expanding fan culture in creating and sustaining the ever-renewed desire to “go to the movies.”

The general outlines of the star system’s emergence in the early 1910s are familiar enough through the historical research and theoretical work of such scholars as Richard deCordova, Janet Staiger, Eileen Bowser, and Kathryn

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