Did actors under contract have to do the movies that the studio wanted them to do? Did they have any choice in parts?
[quote]Did actors under contract have to do the movies that the studio wanted them to do?
A few of the biggest stars got to choose their own roles, but that was rare.
Most actors had to do whatever crap they were assigned, even if it was intended to ruin their careers. Yes, that happened.
If stars who didn't have project approval written into their contracts refused a role the studios would put them on suspension. They wouldn't get paid and couldn't go to work for another studio. Suspensions weren't that uncommon, especially in the post-war period.
Basically any actor from the past 50 years can thank Bette Davis for being the first major star to openly rebel against the system. She was suspended for refusing one dull part too many and lost her case in court but it set a precedent nonetheless (which her friend and co-star Olivia De Havilland picked and ran with when she pointed out that the studio's binding lifetime contracts were illegal under California law.
Why didn't Bette just get project approval written into her contract then? Seems like Joan did.
The studios were constantly competing for titles from Broadway and books for their stars just to meet the demands of the enormous product they were producing by the 1930s. The bigger studios wanted to produce as many as 50 big films every year.
They needed to keep their contract stars working because they were paying them a weekly salary whether they were acting in a film or not. I don't think the studio heads always had the brains or the forethought to know which of these properties would make the best films. It was essentially a crapshoot.
So many were tired of being typecasted. Tyrone Power wanted to actor in more in depth meaty roles and the studio wouldn't allow him to because they wanted him to continue to act in swashbuckler roles ,which he was getting tired of doing.I knew this older lady who saw him act on stage away from the studio's control, and she said she was astounded by his incredible acting ability because he was allowed to control the character and project the character the way he thought he should be.She said he was amazing and an actor's actor.
Marilyn Monroe tried so hard to get away from the dumb blond roles that the studios kept putting her in.
The poster mentioned Bette Davis. Bette Davis was a true actor,and she was just fantastic.In Baby Jane, the makeup artists tried to put makeup on her to make look good, and she said look! I'm supposed to look like an old lady so stop the extra make up and let the wrinkles show. In other roles if she was supposed to look bad, she allowed herself to look bad verses many other actresses wanted to look good no matter what role they were playing because they were more movie stars than actresses.
There were many, many others who were excellent actors and actresses ,but the studios tend to trap them to be one dimensional.
BTW, even thought the studio system had a lot of control over the actors and actresses, many true actors and actresses, blossomed in some roles showing their acting abilities now and then.
OK,R7, but on the other hand I dare say that I could make an equally compelling list of truly disastrous decisions actors have destroyed their careers with when free from the studio system.
Would Louie B Mayer have let a rising star like Ben Affleck do Gigli or John Travolta do Battlefield Earth?
And as far as making actors do crap pictures, the ratio of garbage to jewels is probably not much different today than it was under the studio system. Samuel L. Jackson and Michael Caine come to mind here.
It's crazy they used to be able to force actors to film crap they hated. Film must not have been fully understood as an art form at the time. And it wasn't just movies, the Brady Bunch father was contractually forced to be in that show, he hated it and pleaded to be replaced before it went to series, no dice.
If only we still had a studio system...
[quote]Why didn't Bette just get project approval written into her contract then? Seems like Joan did.
Joan didn't. A newcomer who has just signed to a studio can't just make demands.
Joan Crawford quote:
[quote]If you think I made poor films at MGM after A Woman's Face, you should have seen the ones I went on suspension not to make!
I think most of them had to do whatever the studio wanted. They worked all the time, leaving one film set and the next day going to another. All their publicity was staged and set up by the studio...nothing seemed to be by accident. If an actor was drunk and rolling around on the sidewalk pictures would not be in the press.
When Bette Davis threatened to break her contract and leave Warners, Jack Warner tried to entice her back saying he was trying to secure the rights to a sensational new novel about to be published called Gone With the Wind.
Bette laughed in Warner's face at the silly title and shrieked "Yeah, and I'll bet it's a pip!" and stormed out of his office and set sail for England.
The stars didn't always know what was best for them, believe me.
Irene Mayer Selznick
Many of the functions of the studio system have essentially been passed on to the agencies, in particular the Creative Artists Agency. Most people don't know how much influence the agencies have in packaging and casting films, and why some actors are always cast in this role and why other actors always seem out of the loop. Management companies also package films with their own clients, with the managers earning producing credits.
Even stars that had project approval (and that was extremely rare until the final years of the studio system in the mid-50s), rarely got material that best suited their talent.
The fact is most of the box-office stars were paid huge sums of money while under contract and the studio had an incentive to find the right material to keep the money rolling in. But when audiences declined due to television, it didn't work any more.
Well, but it only took about three weeks to make a damned movie back then. So if an actor made six movies a year it wasn't as if it was slave labor. They rarely went on location, and there was very little in the way of special effects necessary. Pretending to drive a car on the Pacific Coast Highway with a movie screen as background, was as adventuresome as it got.
A great shame, R12. Davis would've made a perfect Ellen O'Hara.
[quote]The fact is most of the box-office stars were paid huge sums of money while under contract and the studio had an incentive to find the right material to keep the money rolling in.
[quote]But when audiences declined due to television, it didn't work any more.
If only they had the foresight to embrace television.
[quote]Well, but it only took about three weeks to make a damned movie back then. So if an actor made six movies a year it wasn't as if it was slave labor.
Yes, and still few even made six movies a year.
R15, the stars had to do a lot more than make movies. They were much more involved in PR back then, including having to tour to major cities for theater and radio appearances as well as meet print media. Many also had morals clauses in their contracts so, even though the studios could cover up some messes close to home, if the artist was on the outs with management they could not only get the boot pretty easily but also be tainted enough no other studio would pick them up. They essentially end up out of the movie business (see: Garland, Judy).
Judy was booted by MGM in 1950 after over twenty years as a box-office star. The studio was losing money and Mayer was being forced out. They just couldn't afford to keep waiting for her to show up and perform anymore.
Which contract stars had project approval? Garbo and Gable are the only two I can think of and I'm not even sure about Gable.
This was surely the main reason Barbara Stanwyck, Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell and Irene Dunne chose to free-lance for so many years.
Even in the early days, the stars had issues with the studio system. Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin and director D.W. Griffith formed United Artists as an alternative that would give them more control. That was in 1919.
It worked for them but there were only so many films they could make. The rest continued to be made by the larger studios with their absolute control of the talent.
Most actors preferred the security of a studio contract, you had to be a star of a certain magnitude to freelance.
Kay Francis tried to refuse a role and sue Warner Bros. after Bette Davis and James Cagney both tried it, because even though they didn't win their careers improved. The studio was tired of stars getting uppity and they did something -- no one knows what -- to make Kay drop her suit and go back to her contract, at which point they deliberately gave her terrible movies and shut her career down.
The rumors are that they had dirt on her sleeping with women, married men and her multiple abortions. She talks about all that in her diary so it's possible WB really did blackmail her into dropping the suit. The studios were ruthless.
[quote]The studios were ruthless.
Not any more so than today's studio executives.
A lot of misinformation on this thread.
Most stars had seven year contracts, but their suspension time could be added on to the length of the contract. It was on this basis, of indentured servitude that De havilland eventually won her case against MGM.
Also, it has be debunked in many books and sources on Gone With The Wind and David O'Selznick that Davis was ever in contention for the role of Scarlett O'Hara. GWTW was never in any way connected to Warner Bros. Davis loved to tell the story of dismissing the part, but it was not true. She wanted the part as much as any actress in Hollywood but was deemed too hard and not beautiful enough for the part, and had played too similar a role in Jezebel the year before.
Major stars mostly stayed within the studio system for the job security, the publicity, the protection and the perks. Many did refuse bad roles and turn down good ones, as Davis did with Mildred Pierce. Actors were not then considered all that bright as a group. The studio system trained actors and provided them with familiar crews, directors and costars, for better or worse in overall creativity.
The Goldwyn Studio operated much more as a modern studio of today, packaging director, writer and stars together for one-off prestige productions. Major studios hardly ever loaned their contract stars, except in "hostage" like trade negotiations.
Judy Garland was not a star at MGM for 20 years, unless she started at 8 years old. Her stardom was for about 12 years, many of the later years in which she was not very productive, sane or sober.
Most stars who remained under studio control became quite type cast. Myrna Loy and Gable come to mind, but so do most others. Davis did fight harder than most to play a wide variety of roles, and is still admired to this day for it and her achievements in those roles.
Character actors had quite a wonderful time of it during the studio days, even if they were not as celebrated then as they are in hindsight. Claude Rains, Lucille Watson, Gladys Cooper, Walter Brennan, Humphrey Bogart, Gloria Grahame, Marie Dressler, etc. All were given wonderful opportunities to play a much wider variety of parts than the above the title "stars."
Freelancers with power were rare, but Stanwyck did okay, making many fine and varied films, if not always prestige ones. Jimmy Stewart and Gary Grant bounced around studios and stayed in demand too. After the end of the studios monopolizing the distribution of films, the system began to change. Studios still had contract players, but they were not the "family" environments that they once were. Money did not flow and some human frailties could no longer be hidden from the public and were too costly for comfort. Many stars did begin to freelance then, and out of necessity many films were now foreign produced and financed. Crawford and Gable both had fine careers during the 1950's when neither of them were young. Jimmy Stewart of course did some of his best work then in his great westerns, and for Hitchcock. MGM still flourished with Ava Gardner, Grace Kelly, Sinatra, Gene Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor and others. Fox had Marilyn. Most of the other studios struggled or collapsed into Oil company ownership.
The studio system was severely changed by the early 1950's and in name only by the sixties. Contract players then were most likely to be Connie Stevens, Stephanie Powers and other minor talents, destined for television. Yes Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds eventually did alright, but who knows why?
Major Studios still released major movies. But they were pretty much three picture or package deals with the talent, and a lot of money and power had by now shifted over to stars, agents and directors. Some great films would be made this way, but something was lost too. When someone like Streisand becomes too powerful, then not only does she not make many films, she accepts no guidance but her own. Bad idea.
For the great new directors and the personality actors of the of the seventies and eighties, lack of a studio system made for great creativity and movies.
On the other hand, the studio system had its positives verses today. Each movie star was an individual and unique. The studios were savvy to make each person stand out as individuals. Years ago there was only one Mae West, one Marilyn Monroe, one Clark Gable, one Elizabeth Taylor, one Fred Astaire, one Ava Gardner, one Tyrone Power,one Lana Turner, one Judy Garland, on and on . You just couldn't replicate these people. You didn't have to do a double check to make sure that is the person you saw because they just were. Also, the studios made everyone go through, dance lessons, singing lessons, elocution lessons, which I highly think should be mandatory for actors and actresses, etc.They groomed and trained so many people who once came from poor backgrounds who grew into shimmering sparking gems. So many said the studios gave them a form of an education that they would have never had gained had they gone on to some other profession in life. Also, they didn't always stick some political agenda in your face like they do so often now. They had their political view points ,but usually they kept it to themselves like any other American citizen. Dorothy Lamour said, back then Hollywood wasn't a political machine.We were there to entertain the public.In contrast, now we have these stupid sloppy dressed hipsters who grew up in upper middle class to wealthy backgrounds with college degrees who act very arrogant, and they want everyone to believe they are these highly intellectual minds. They wear their thick black glasses,Birkenstock sandal wearing ,unkempt hair, body odor looking appearance, and act and mimic like the very dull Silicon Valley crowd who think they are hot stuff when in realty no one gives a rat's ass about them. They all come out of this dull assembly line. there is no individualism to be found anymore.If one person is looking a certain way, everyone is. Everyone looks like the usual person you would see at your local super market dressing like slobs verses the celebrities of the studio system were eye catching and cared about how they looked. The stars of the studio system dressed for their public and fans.
The films of the studio system were very beautiful and entertaining and the average moviegoer were able to leave their troubles at the threshold of the movie theater doors,and were able to escape and let their imaginations expand,which was a healthy stress reducer. In contrast, everything today has to be based on some deep meaning and reality, realty, realty. A person can't go to a movie anymore and expand their imaginations.Yes, we have the action movies ,but it's just a bunch of shoot outs between good and evil comic book characters. It was just different back then. Also, in the studio system, the actors and actresses were incredibly handsome and beautiful even without out to little makeup. I think it's a major mystery to me
how a certain time in history people looked so incredibly good looking ,and yet we just don't see real mindbogglingly beautiful people like that anymore. Was there something in the water back then? Good Grief!
[quote]A lot of misinformation on this thread. Most stars had seven year contracts, but their suspension time could be added on to the length of the contract. It was on this basis, of indentured servitude that De havilland eventually won her case against MGM.
It was Warner Brothers, smarty pants.
Misinformation. LOL and you fuck up in the first paragraph.
Any good book recommendations about the studio system?
I think Kim Novak nailed it when she said the studio system was a big country club.
Sue me r27. I am a creative type, but with enough smarts in my pants to get buy.
I stand corrected.
r26, I waited on Cybil Shepard. She is or was too beautiful to look at directly.
R31, have you seen her lately on the Client's List? I watched a couple of episodes and the show is boring and it stinks.Cybil Shepard looks awful on that show.I think she hits the bottle because she looks bloated like an alcoholic. I bet she can't handle growing older which happens.
Jack Warner only offered to buy the film rights to GWTW for Bette Davis when the book was still unpublished and in galleys. She had, of course, never heard the title and apparently was not intrigued ebough to encourage him to pursue it.
Like all studios back then (and major agencies today) there were development depts. that sought out promising book titles before they were known to the general public.
So yes, Davis was never in contention for GWTW once Selznick owned the rights and began his "search" for Scarlett.
Cybill is in her 60s now. Do you expect her to look like she did in Moonlighting 25 years ago r31?
[quote]The studios were savvy to make each person stand out as individuals. Years ago there was only one Mae West, one Marilyn Monroe, one Clark Gable, one Elizabeth Taylor, one Fred Astaire, one Ava Gardner, one Tyrone Power,one Lana Turner, one Judy Garland, on and on
Not exactly true. Monroe, for example, had several imitators, and the studio even groomed Sheree North to replace her, and held her as a threat over Marilyn's head when they wanted to manipulate her.
Actors were always cast as a type. If Clark Gable couldn't take a role, Robert Montgomery might, or Robert Taylor. In gangster films, they would get Cagney or Robinson or Raft, or Bogey in the 1940s. Screwball comedies would get Lombard, Russell, Arthur, Loy, Harlow, etc. and could basically interchange between them if need be. For character actors, if they couldn't get Roger C Carmel they'd get Victor Buono, or the other way around. If they couldn't get Franklin Pangborn, they'd get Porter Hall.
Sure, some actors were unique, usually the bigger headliner stars. But the idea that studios only had one actor of each type doesn't even make sense on the surface: It made more economic sense to have more than one actor who could fill a role, so illness, contract obligations, schedule conflicts etc. could be worked around.
Ok R35, but there is no comparison between Sheeree North and Monroe. They tried to make Jane Mansfield another Marilyn Monroe and there is no comparison. However, Jane Mansfield bloomed as her own person as a star and on screen. Also, if an actor like Clark Gable, as you have stated didn't take a certain role ,but Robert Montgomery took the role instead, that character would be observed in a different way by the viewer. that is how strong their individual images were back then.
Also, when the studios tried to make a copy of these very unique legendary stars, it always turned out to be a major fail. Again, there is only one Marilyn Monroe, etc.
Or, sometimes when a studio tried to make a copy of an existing star, for example Hedy Lamarr being groomed originally as a replacement for Greta Garbo at MGM, a thoroughly unique personality emerged.
I believe Marlene Dietrich was originally imported from Germany to be Paramount's answer to Garbo, but once again, a unique star was born.
Even when the results were somewhat similar, as in Betty Grable groomed as a replacement for Alice Faye at Fox or Deborah Kerr as a replacemrnt for Greer Garson at MGM, each woman's unique charms and talents prevailed and clicked and eventually no one confused one star for the other.
[quote]Ok [R35], but there is no comparison between Sheeree North and Monroe.
That's not what R35 means, R36, and he's exactly right.
For everyone Marilyn Monroe, there was a Jayne Mansfield or Sheree North or Mamie Van Doren. For every Elizabeth Taylor there was a Joan Collins. Once anything has a certain level of success it has it's imitators hoping for a piece of the pie. Monroe could make every single movie that called for a dumb blonde, so there was steady work for them all. Monroe herself was groomed as a replacement for the aging Betty Grable.
Sorry, I meant to type Monroe [italic]couldn't[/italic] make every movie.
But r38 YOU are missing the point!
Yes, there were imitators, some even groomed by the studios, but Monroe and Taylor, for two obvious examples, were ultimately irreplaceable.
Collins never made a film to equal even Taylor's worst from her MGM days and North, Mansfield and Van Doren never came close to anything Monroe accomplished at Fox.
[quote]Yes, there were imitators, some even groomed by the studios, but Monroe and Taylor, for two obvious examples, were ultimately irreplaceable.
Exactly, there [italic]were[/italic] imitators. What R35 wrote here is wrong:
[quote]The studios were savvy to make each person stand out as individuals.
[quote]Collins never made a film to equal even Taylor's worst from her MGM days and North, Mansfield and Van Doren never came close to anything Monroe accomplished at Fox.
I never said she did. I never suggested that Mamie Van Doren was superior to Monroe.
Sorry, about my above post. I attributed the second quote to R35, when in fact it should've been R26. R35 is the one who is right. Again, sorry for the confusion.
For every Lizabeth Scott there was a Veronica Lake.
Lishabethf Shcott wash more of a rival to Lauren Bacall. I found her insipid and uninteresting despite all the cues that should have made her a bigger star - unusual looks, smoky voice, blonde hair, etc. I watched her in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers with Stanwyck and Van Heflin. Babs was 15 years her senior and still, burnt her ass off of the screen.
Scott had a big cue that made her smaller star, when she got blackballed out of Hollywood for being a lesbian.
Calm down there, r34. I said "is or was". Got that?