Everything about the way movies are made has completely changed since the old Studio Model at the beginning of Hollywood. The heritage and legacy they left is still booming to this day. Los Angeles is still the premier spot for movies, actors, actresses, and all types of movie driven industry. This time period from around the end of World War One to 1948 has been hailed by many critiques and film connoisseurs to be the Golden Age of Hollywood; however, not everything was so golden on the inside of this system.

To understand how the Studio System is problematic, you have to understand what the Studio System was. It consisted of “The Big Five”: Paramount Pictures, Metro Goldwyn Mayer, Warner Brothers Pictures, 20th Century Fox, and RKO(Lexicon). These five companies had basically complete control over everything necessary for the production of movies in house. They owned massive studios where they had all the necessary sets, props, stages, cameras, and even contracts of all the members of the movies. The goal of this system was to be able to mass-produce movies on a major scale without having to rely on outside vendors for anything. These five studios also completely controlled the artistic freedom and freedom to work with other studios of not just actors, but directors and writers as well. Some artists tried to band together and make competing studios, but those were quickly snuffed out by the powerful studios that made up the system.

They were able to do this by either owning theatre chains or using a method called block-booking(History). This process involved the studios contracting independent theatres to show blocks of their films. This meant that the theatre was legally obligated to only show movies from a single studio. Through these practices, studios were able to essentially control the entire American movie industry from a few offices in Hollywood. No other studio, let alone independent filmmakers could compete with this kind of total control. If you wanted to be in the film industry the only way to achieve this at the height would be to sign a contract with one of the seven major studios that existed at the height of the system. These include the original Big Five as well as Columbia and Universal Studios. This model was incredibly profitable for the studios and eventually became so powerful that the US Supreme Court had to intervene and require that all films be sold on an individual basis in the United States vs. Paramount Pictures case of 1948.

The Supreme Court declared that the Studio System was a dishonest way to monopolize the business of making movies and denied others the ability to profit. I agree with this summary, but the Studio System was a problem because of more than just financial reasons. This system allowed for not only the creative control over artists but also led to blacklisting and many forms of censorship. The Studio System was all about profit. They didn’t necessarily care about the quality of the movies they produced. Evidence of this can be seen by the distinction given to “A Movies” or “B Movies”(Dartmouth). Many writers, actors, and producers were simply plugged into whatever movie the studio thought would make them the most money. If you were in a crappy B-Movie then that was what you had to do. There wasn’t much room for creative story writing or interpretive acting. Many of the movies were written similarly and fit a stereotypical type of storylines like Old Western or urban cities. The actors and movies that shined through this time period were those that took these repetitive roles and added something different. Casablanca, widely regarded as one of the greatest movies of all time, fits a couple of the stereotypical movie themes like war and love triangles; however, the way the story is told and the way the actors make slight changes is what makes the movie great. The fact of the matter is that most movies from this time period are nowhere near as good and many artists felt their talent was wasted on projects they didn’t want to do. Some studios were accused of and appear to be guilty of trying to ruin the careers of stars that didn’t conform or rebelled against the studios by putting them in bad movies or bad roles. Most of the actors’ and actresses’ contracts did not allow them the option to refuse roles.

The control of actors went beyond movies. Some actors, even as famous as Judy Garland or Marily Monroe were forced to use stage names(Charlotte). Women especially, were even forced to change aspects of their appearance like hair color or even as far permanent features that required plastic surgery. Most actors or actresses were made to fit a certain image the studio knew the public would react well too. There was no private life for these stars so the studios demanded that they have a certain public image. Most of these images fit stereotypes like the dark-haired foreign heartthrob or the ditzy American bombshell. Actors were expected to maintain these images or face consequences. The creative control of studios was pervasive in more than just the artistic output of artists, but also affected their daily lives. Some critiques of the system even go so far as to call it a looks-over-talent philosophy where the person who looked the best or would appeal to the most people would be picked for star roles over someone who actually brought talent and creative insight.

Aside from their personal appearance many actors were also subjected to having their love lives arranged. During this time many sham dates were arranged to prompt certain movies or studios. It didn’t matter whether the actors actually got along or not. A classic example of this is all of the later found homosexuals who were basically forced by Hollywood to marry. Rock Hudson is a great example of someone who had to live as a someone completely different from his true self(Charlotte). On the other hand actresses like Jean Harlow were told they shouldn’t marry because it could hurt their sexual appeal to the audience. This trend continued when you look at their policy regarding pregnancy and childbirth, which was essentially no tolerance. Many life choices of actors directly revolved around the promotion and creation of the studios’ movies.

On top of all this many studios put physical strains on their actors . Requiring diets and fitness routines. Although most actors and actresses follow this standard today, the routines of early stars was not really up to them. Their workout schedules and diets were subjec to the critiques of the the studio.

By far the worst aspect of the Studio System was the way they treated the health of their actors. The timeline was the most important thing during this time. It did not matter what personal ailments or problems the actor might be facing. Sick days were discuoraged and in many cases subject to financial penalty. Actors and actresses were always pushed to their absolute limits as far as shooting time went. There were no exceptions for children either. Both children and adults were given what were called “Pep Pills” to keep them going through long shoots. Essentially, they were given a concoction of prescription drugs to keep them performing optimally for as long as possible. This would eventually lead ot drug abuse, alcoholism, depression, and even suicide for some actors of his time period.

The Studio System was more than just a monopolisitic, financial crime. It affected the lives of many creative geniuses from actors to producers to directors. It put a chokehold on artistic creativity and even extended to the personal lives of those involved. Many people were affected in ways that would have permanent negative effects on their lives. Although this is considered a Golden Age for Hollywood, there are definitely some dark shadows.

Chilton, Charlotte. “Rules Old Hollywood Stars Had to Follow.” Harper’s BAZAAR, Harper’s BAZAAR, 17 Apr. 2020, http://www.harpersbazaar.com/culture/film-tv/g31916339/old-hollywood-star-rules/.
“Film Genres: B Movies.” Research Guides, researchguides.dartmouth.edu/filmgenres/bmovies.
Studio System of Classic Hollywood – Hollywood Lexicon, http://www.hollywoodlexicon.com/studiosystem.html.
“U.S. Supreme Court Decides Paramount Antitrust Case.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 13 Nov. 2009, http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/u-s-supreme-court-decides-paramount-antitrust-case.

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Garrett Keller

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