Women and the Hollywood Star System

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Credit: Photo Collection – Los Angeles Public Library

Hollywood quickly adapted once it realised the power A-list stars held over box office revenue. Within the first two decades of American cinema, a well-oiled machine known as the Star System had been created. Producers and Hollywood Executives would find an actor and mould their personality and talent into a product that could be sold and marketed. If someone wanted to “make it big”, they needed to adhere to a strict set of rules and guidelines. The stress took its toll on many. Some turned to drugs, some turned to wild partying and others became self-destructive. Studios put up huge sums of money to pay off journalists and media outlets not to run stories that could be damaging to their star’s image, such as Rock Hudson’s coming out as a homosexual. Women had little control over their personal lives and their bodies were forever the subject of scrutiny.

The Early Years

The first silent films had no credits and the public didn’t know actors’ names. Audiences started noticing the familiar faces of actors in short films and nicknamed them. Florence Lawrence was “The Biograph Girl” and Florence Turner was “The Vitagraph Girl”. The early studios – The Biograph Company, Edison Studios and Vitagraph Studios – started receiving fan mail and autograph requests. At first, they were reluctant to divulge who their stars were. It wasn’t long before studios started advertising stars in films and ticket sales skyrocketed. An actor became a brand.

The first studio to do this was the Independent Moving Picture Company (IMP) in 1910. Producer Carl Laemmle paid Florence Lawrence an undisclosed amount for her to come work at IMP. In a scripted turn of events, Laemmle leaked to newspapers that Lawrence had been killed in a car accident. He waited for the news to have its effect and then announced that she was well and was now employed at his studio. This was one of the first movie marketing and exposure ploys.

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Florence Lawrence in The Players (1912) Credit: Pinterest

Studios were still careful not to give their stars too much freedom. Feeling constricted and unable to express creativity, Mary Pickford and a number of others formed United Artists in 1919. Their goal was to create a studio where they, and other independent filmmakers, could make films without the restrictions of the big Hollywood studios.

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Mary Pickford in a United Artists Publicity Photo Credit: charliechaplin.com

The Rise of the Star System

By the early 1920s, Hollywood was dominated by five major film studios (Fox Film Corporation, MGM, Paramount, RKO and Warner Bros.). Each invested in talent scouts who would go to theatres, nightclubs and vaudeville acts searching for potential stars. Lana Turner was signed on the strength of a screen test alone. Contracts were offered to up and coming actors, with it only to be taken away at the last moment because the studio lost interest or got cold feet. If an actor was lucky enough to obtain a contract, the process had them under go further training in acting, voice coaching, singing and dancing. They were moulded into what the studio wanted. Studios placed greater priority on appearance than actual talent. Many had their names altered. Lauren Bacall was screen credited as Lauren Bacall, but was born Betty Joan Perske.

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Lana Turner Credit: YouTube

A standard contract lasted seven years with reviews every six months. If a film performed poorly at the box office, studios had the ability to release actors prematurely. Studios regularly leased stars out to other studios with the individuals having little say in what projects they were in. The 1930s saw many actors being typecast into certain roles.

Responsible for introducing the Production Code censorship, Will H. Hays also had studios build morality clauses into actor contracts. Women could not be seen in public without makeup on. They were also continually sexualised, objectified and controlled. Jean Harlow had a section in her contract forbidding her to marry.

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Jean Harlow Credit: Alchetron

The Hollywood Star System life took its toll on many. Elizabeth Taylor, who was signed at nine-years-old, detested it. Clara Bow argued that she had no private life. Olivia de Havilland and Bette Davis even took Warner Bros. to court on separate occasions to void their contracts. Many women traded sexual favours for advancement within the industry. It is rumoured that Joan Crawford and Judy Garland had abortions at the studio’s request. Garland already suffered from body image issues and this only added to her trauma. Loretta Young refused to have an abortion and secretly gave birth to Judy Lewis. The child was put up for adoption, but Young, having a change of heart, opted to raise her daughter instead.

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Loretta Young Credit: imdb

The End

The Star System had dissolved by the mid-1960s, the same time as the end of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Audiences were becoming more sophisticated and wanted greater realism and grittier substance in their films. Actors are still contracted by studios today, but have more freedom in the roles they choose to pursue. Hollywood has come a long way since its early years but still has further to go for total equality. Bette Davis campaigned for equal pay rights for women in the 1930s and Jennifer Lawrence (among others) is still fighting for that today.

 

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Jennifer Lawrence in Serena (2014) Credit: Pinterest

This article was originally posted on The Sydney Feminists Blogspot on September 18th, 2017. (http://thesydneyfeminists.blogspot.com.au)

Sources:

Classic Hollywood’s Secret: Studios Wanted Their Stars to Have Abortions (https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2016/07/classic-hollywood-abortion)

Classical Hollywood Star System (https://cinewiki.wikispaces.com/Classical+Hollywood+Star+System)

How Bette Davis Became a Hollywood Icon By Refusing to Conform at Every Turn (https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2016/04/bette-davis-birthday)

Olivia de Havilland: The actress who took on the studio system and won (http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-stipanowich-de-havilland–20160701-snap-story.html)

Star System (http://www.hollywoodlexicon.com/starsystem.html)

The Hollywood Studio System During the Golden Age (http://www.hollywoodmoviememories.com/articles/hollywood-history/hollywood-studio-system-golden.php)

The Star System (http://www.classichollywoodcentral.com/the-star-system/)

Star Wars: ‘Revenge’ of the Jedi

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Credit: TheForce.Net

Up until two months before its release, Return of the Jedi was titled Revenge of the Jedi. T-shirts were made, posters were printed and even a teaser trailer was released. The rare 90-second promo was unveiled at the 2016 Academy Awards to coincide with A New Hope’s 39th anniversary. Since Return’s release in 1983, there has been no definitive answer as to why the name was changed. Fans and movie buffs, alike, have speculated based on behind the scenes stories that have surfaced over the years.

It’s possible creator George Lucas yielded to backlash. Fans have noted that revenge is against Jedi beliefs and they didn’t appreciate such a villainous tone. Before the film’s release, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette newspaper printed an article that explored fan anger. Though the article only represented a local voice, the opinion was felt universally.

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Credit: Wookieepedia

Another idea was that producers felt the name was too similar to the second Star Trek film’s then title The Vengeance of Khan. Both films were originally scheduled to be released close to each other in 1982. Producers didn’t want to risk confusing the general public with two franchises that had “star” in their titles. The Star Trek sequel was eventually released as The Wrath of Khan.

Co-screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan has gone on record as saying, that he suggested to Lucas, “return” was a weak title and that it should be changed. They worked on many script drafts under “revenge”, but, in the end, it was Lucas who ultimately had creative control.

There was a rumour that the title change was part of an effort to combat bootleg merchandise. It was perceived that Lucas was playing a big practical joke on those selling counterfeit products. This is highly unlikely as a considerable amount of money had been invested into marketing and publicity by the time of the name change.

There were many differences between Revenge of the Jedi and what was eventually seen on screen in the final version. The script had Princess Leia leading the fight on two Death Stars for the majority of the film. She was absent from Han Solo’s rescue. Luke and Lando Calrissian faced Jabba the Hutt and his men alone. There was greater conflict between Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader. In Revenge, Palpatine ordered Luke’s kidnapping without Vader’s knowledge. He felt that Vader was compromised knowing Luke was his son. Yoda was going to be left out of the film all together. Child psychologists reported that an established character was needed to reinforce that Darth Vader was in fact Luke’s father. Young children couldn’t comprehend the reveal in The Empire Strikes Back. Apparently, they believed Vader was being deceitful. Whether this was Lucas’s actual reasoning for Yoda’s return remains unknown. The climactic battle didn’t take place on Endor, but on a moon orbiting the capital world of the Galactic Empire. Wookies were going to be the moon’s native species in early versions of the screenplay. The Ewoks were introduced because Chewbacca and his people had already been established as being quite intelligent.

There were several endings to Revenge of the Jedi. One had Luke, Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi – Yoda and Obi-Wan as force ghosts – battling Vader and the Emperor in a lava environment. Palpatine met his end when Vader knocks him into molten rock. One ending had Luke walking off into the sunset like a cowboy in a western, leaving his friends behind in search of his next adventure. Another had Vader and Luke going in search of Luke’s lost twin. The part hadn’t been written as Leia yet.

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Credit: Pinterest

Merchandise for Revenge of the Jedi are highly sort after collectors’ items these days. Original posters can go anywhere from a few hundred dollars up to thousands, depending on condition. Film crew jackets – only issued on the set and extremely rare – sell at auction for $5,000 Australian.

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Credit : eBay

Revenge of the Jedi was used as the name of a comic strip that first appeared in the Los Angeles Time Syndicate newspaper. It ran from November 1982 to January 1983. Now considered part of the Star Wars Legends Universe (any non-movie material released before Disney’s Star Wars acquisition in 2012 and not officially licenced), the Revenge of the Jedi comic explored Admiral Ackbar species’ introduction into the Rebel Alliance. It also told the story of how Darth Vader gained command of the Super Star Destroyer Executor.

In Japan, the film’s title is still Revenge of the Jedi on some media. In a YouTube video, Techmoan presents a 1980s Return of the Jedi video disc. The English text reads “Return”, but the Japanese writing translates to “Revenge”. Skip to 15:30 in the below video for the clip.

“Revenge” was used for the title of the third film in the prequal series, Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith. In 2015, Return of the Jedi finally got a sequel after a 32-year wait. The Force Awakens was the first in a new trilogy of Star Wars films. Its follow up, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, hits cinemas this December.

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Credit: IMDb

Sources:

30 Things You Didn’t Know About Return of the Jedi (https://www.wired.com/2013/05/return-of-the-jedi-anniversary/)

[Opinion] – Reconstructing Star Wars: Revenge of the Jedi (http://www.disgruntledindividual.com/2012/10/opinion-reconstructing-star-wars.html)

Rare Star Wars: Revenge of the Jedi trailer discovered in the Oscars archive (http://www.radiotimes.com/news/2016-05-27/rare-star-wars-revenge-of-the-jedi-trailer-discovered-in-the-oscars-archive)

Revenge of the Jedi (Comic) (http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Revenge_of_the_Jedi)

Revenge of the Jedi Script (https://web.archive.org/web/20070203075748/http://www.starwarz.com/starkiller/scripts/revenge_revised_rough_draft.htm)

Star Wars: George Lucas was FORCED into changing Return of the Jedi title (http://www.express.co.uk/entertainment/films/762235/Star-Wars-George-Lucas-Return-of-the-Jedi-Revenge-of-the-Jedi-The-Last-Jedi-Episode-VI)

The ‘Return of the Jedi’ That Could Have Been (https://www.yahoo.com/movies/blogs/movie-talk/return-jedi-could-202622407.html)

The Star Wars story that could have been – Return Of The Jedi was nearly VERY different (http://metro.co.uk/2017/02/01/the-star-wars-story-that-could-have-been-return-of-the-jedi-was-nearly-very-different-6416536/)

Was Return of the Jedi released in Japan as Revenge of the Jedi? (https://scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/152833/was-return-of-the-jedi-released-in-japan-as-revenge-of-the-jedi)