Hollywood's Movie Star System: A Historical Overview
In addition to being a social phenomenon, which reflects a particular ideology, the Hollywood star system is a business strategy designed to generate large audiences and differentiate entertainment programs and products, and has been used for over seventy years to provide increasing returns on production investments. As a marketing technique and business strategy, the system was first used in the theater industry. Between 1910 and 1948 Hollywood borrowed and expanded the star system and stock company approaches from the stage;4 and through the simultaneous exhibition of films throughout the world, the industry eventually established movie studio stables of stars and earned profits well in excess of those of the largest theatrical companies.
Significant historical changes in the status of movie stars have paralleled decisive technological, economic, and social changes that have affected the American film industry as a whole, such as the coming of sound, the Great Depression, and the rise and fall of movie attendance. The contractual terms and salaries for movie stars have also been affected by the same factors.2 In the highly competitive and expanding market that existed between 1910 and 1920, the most popular silent-movie stars eventually obtained contractual terms that equalled and possibly exceeded their individual contributions to box-office success, and some of them also became involved in film production themselves, although the development of sound and its demand for experienced stage and radio performers ended the careers of many silent film stars. Those working during the early 1930s, when movie attendance declined and industry power was concentrated in the hands of a few studios, were placed in a poor bargaining position, and studios began exercising near autocratic control over the star system.