Movie Stars: Manufacturing Stars like Machine Products?

Stardom in the World of Entertainment

It’s important to examine the prevalence of stardom in showbusiness (theater, opera, ballet) and their historical origins in the film industry.

The chief issue is to identify the structural, historical, and economic conditions under which movie stardom has emerged.  Stardom has not been a universal phenomenon: even societies with established film industries (France, Italy, Japan) have not developed an elaborate star system, comparable in its dimensions to the American system.  The analysis will focus on the conditions of American society and the film industry that were conducive to the development of such an outstanding star system.  Among the questions to be answered will be: Is the star system a necessary product of capitalistic market places in Western societies, as the Marxists claim?  Could stardom evolve in communist-socialist societies?

Hollywood Film Stardom: Creation of Stars

One of the central, most relevant questions in studying stardom is: Is it possible to manufacture movie stars? and who creates movie stars?  The role of various elements in the production of film stars will be examined: the film companies (studios), individual producers and agents, film critics, the large public, and the players themselves.

Independent producer Samuel Goldwyn is quoted to have said: “God makes the stars, but it’s up to the producers to find them.”  But later he qualified his belief: “Producers don’t make stars.  God makes stars and the public recognizes his handwork.”

Some stars (John Wayne, Clint Eastwood) made it on their own, whereas others (Robert Taylor, Tyrone Power, Clark Gable) needed and depended on the assistance of their studios; it is unlikely that they would have become stars at present, without the studios’ active support.

But while it is easier and faster to become stars with the companies’ publicity machines, it is by no means a sufficient condition.  Producers, executives, and agents have tried on numerous occasions to fabricate stars, but they have seldom succeeded without the cooperation and support of the large public of ticket buyers.

Clearly, it is impossible to manufacture stars and force them upon the public, for otherwise studio heads would have exploited it.

Moreover, many performers (James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, Burt Reynolds) went on to become stars, despite their studios and against their wishes.

The impact of technological forces on the development of movie stars, such as the advent of the close-up, which provided the opportunity to individualize screen players, or the coming of sound, which added vocal dimensions to the previous silent gestures, will also be described.

Many movie stars began their careers or first established themselves in other media (theater, radio, music, and recently television).

Clint Eastwood

Clint Eastwood, the most dominant star of the 1970s and 1980s, first became a star in Europe, in a series of “spaghetti” Westerns directed by Sergio Leone–not in the United States.  And he established himself in the popular TV Western series, Rawhide.  “I never had any promotions or big studio built-up,” Eastwood boasts, “There are stars who are produced by the press.  I am not one of them.”