Star System and Its Development of Hollywood PR and Advertising Term Paper

Pages: 6 (1922 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 5  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: Film

Star System and its Contribution to the Development of Hollywood PR and Advertising Strategies

The Hollywood star system was developed prior to the 1920's, but perfected by the 1930's as a way to develop a studio 'brand,' and keep people coming to the cinema week after week. By finding, training, developing and promoting talent, Hollywood's studio moguls were able to control product and insure on-going success.

The purpose of this paper is to explore how the star system was created, and how it contributed to Hollywood's enduring success. This contrasts with European cinema, which tended to be far more personal, director- (rather than star-) driven and less oriented to developing a 'brand,' other than for the specific director.

Advertising and PR were intimately connected to the star system -- without "promotional offices" and advertising, the film industry as we know it would never have developed.

The Impact of the Star System on Film

The star system is so intimately intertwined with Hollywood of the pre-World War II era that celluloid and stars cannot be separated. Indeed, the Star System is what created an American dominance in a medium that was, after all, developed by the French and Germans, and in which the Americans were relative latecomers to the genre.

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The Star System is about more than the actors who played in Hollywood films. The stars were those special beings who created a link with their audiences. In many cases, and particularly during the silent movie era, the stars' draw was universal: Charlie Chaplin (a British native but naturalized American) was a universal "brand," known as Charlie around the world (and "Charlot" in the French-speaking world), equally powerful in Berlin or Miami.

Term Paper on Star System and Its Development of Hollywood PR and Advertising System Assignment

There is only one Hollywood in the world. Movies are made in London, Paris, Milan and Moscow, but the life of these cities is relatively uninfluenced by their production. Hollywood is a unique American phenomenon with a symbolism not limited to this country. It means many things to many people. For the majority it is the home of favored, godlike creatures (Powdermaker).

Thus the star system was initially a draw for viewers to the cinema, one which propelled producers and studio moguls to riches. As this paper will demonstrate, it also created the incentive for those same moguls to make the stars "their property," which would insure that the drawing power of those stars stayed with the studios. The studios 'invested' in their stars, creating a back-story, an on-going set of publicity 'stunts,' and feeding the growing fan magazines and their readers. The studios recognized the power of the star system, and used their power to create, promote, and sometimes destroy, stars of their creation.

Origins of the Star System

It is difficult to know which came first, the PR agency or the star. The first accepted development of a 'star persona' was in 1909, when Moving Picture World, a cinema magazine, featured its first "star,' Ben Turpin (Botnick). New fan magazines developed during the 'teens, and circulation exploded. Motion Picture Story had a circulation of 270,000 by 1914, and Photoplay grew due to its actor biographies to be a major fan magazine of the period.

Movies offered a closeness to the stars that no previous medium could offer. Viewers felt a special relationship to the stars, as if they were friends (although idealized). For that reason, fans wanted to learn more about their on-screen heroes.

There were stars before film. Enrico Caruso sold many "Edison" phonograph players, and moved to a star status around the world. But despite his fame, the fans could not develop the same close, personal relationship to Caruso as they could to movie characters. The immediacy (for the time) and intimacy of film provided an opportunity for the film viewer to develop an ideal friend and companion.

Movie studios recognized the psychological pull of these 'relationships' with movie viewers, and created publicity departments to feed details to the waiting public. Thus the notion of 'star power' pulling viewers into the cinema took root during this decade.

In 1909, a number of studios formed the Patents Company, which tried to develop the first 'star system.' This was far from a monopoly, however, as a number of independent film companies still competed for viewers. Some stars who had developed their own pulling power were able to compete against the Patents Company and help the industry to remain vibrant and competitive during the teens and 1920's (Kindern).

1920's: Rise of Star Power

Some movie stars became so popular that they were able to wrest negotiating control away from the studio moguls. In the 1920's, some of the most popular stars in the world included Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin. Tired of the 'cut' taken by the studio owners, and the encroachments on their freedom to make movies, these three stars combined with DW Griffiths, one of the best-known directors of the time, to form United Artists. Mary Pickford, who had married Douglas Fairbanks in 1920, was the business dynamo behind the creation of a new studio. She had long insisted on not "bundling" her films with other films, which increased distribution (but took away studio power). These stars, who were not under tight contracts to their studios, were able to use their star power to ensure that they could draw in customers to their theaters even without marketing and distribution support from the established studios (Bellanger).

As a result of United Artist's success, the studio owners took drastic action. They Went on a buying binge, purchasing existing studio chains and adding to them. This practice was stopped decades later on anti-trust grounds, as it ensured that studios could show only their films, and block out independent films from distribution.

Tightened the contracts of their 'stable' of stars, in order to insure that it would be difficult for those stars to leave the studio. The seven-year and 'lifetime' contracts became de rigueur for studios in the 1920's and 1930's.

Started a strategy of finding unknowns and growing them into studio stars.

This became the archetypal "star system," in which the Jack Warner's and Louis B. Meyer's of the studio world "owned" their stars.

1930's: Decade of Studio Power, Heyday of the Star System

The studios were able to weed out the independents through the above-named actions. They were helped by the environment and technology as well. Specifically, the coming of the 'talkies' in 1927 made it more expensive for studios to produce competitive films. This helped to weed out the less-competitive independent studios. Secondly, the Crash of 1929 and the subsequent Depression had a negative effect on weekly film attendance, making it more difficult for less widely-distributed or financially weaker films to survive. As a result, the studios were able to consolidate their movie-making and -distribution strategies, and to increase their bargaining power with their stars.

There were monumental battles between the stars and their studio heads -- but only where the stars felt that they could withhold their services and do real damage to their bosses. The battles between Jack Warner (Warner Brothers), James Cagney and Betty Davis provided both an exciting and cautionary tale for other stars of the period. If an actor refused to appear in a film, as directed by their studio, their pay was docked and they fell off the 'publicity machine.' James Cagney, for example, left Warner Brothers three times from 1931 to 1936. Cagney was the best-paid actor at the time, but he complained that he was unable to share in the profits of his films that did particularly well. Cagney sued to exit his contract, and went to an independent studio -- Grand National. This studio's distribution woes and lack of capital had Cagney back at Warner Brothers (Gallagher).

The studios, comfortable with their strangleholds on 'their' actors, were in a position to 'invest' in PR and advertising in their stars. They realized that star power put viewers in theater seats, and fed a diverse PR and general-interest reading publicity machine.

As with the modern recording industry, the studio heads found it more profitable to find non-entities and make them into stars. Previous acting talent was not a prerequisite, but "star quality" was. The studios created most of the stars of the 1930's and 1940's, from Lana Turner and John Wayne to Greta Garbo (whom even the studios couldn't control for long) to Humphrey Bogart. While some stars rebelled against the studio system, most notably Bette Davis, Katherine Hepburn and Clark Gable, most succumbed the studios' stranglehold on capital, film-making expertise and distribution.

In the 1930's, the most powerful studio was MGM, under the direction of Louis B. Meyer. By 1934, MGM had sixty actors in its "star system," including top-drawing actors such as Clark Gable, Joan Crawford (her real name was Lucille Le Sueur), Clark Gable, Myrna Loy, William Powell, Greta Garbo, Norma Shearer, Jean Harlow, Robert Montgomery, Judy Garland, Katharine Hepburn, James Stewart, and Spencer Tracy. Thus MGM was a "star conglomerate" which could rely on… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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Star System and Its Development of Hollywood PR and Advertising.  (2007, October 29).  Retrieved October 29, 2020, from

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"Star System and Its Development of Hollywood PR and Advertising."  October 29, 2007.  Accessed October 29, 2020.