Standard Article

The Star System

1. Origins to 1928

3. 1915–1928

  1. Mark Lynn Anderson

Published Online: 13 NOV 2011

DOI: 10.1002/9780470671153.wbhaf015

The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film

The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film

How to Cite

Anderson, M. L. 2011. The Star System. The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film. 1:3:15.

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 13 NOV 2011


In the summer of 1918, after failing to negotiate a new contract with his most important star, Adolph Zukor offered Mary Pickford a quarter of a million dollars to leave the motion picture business.1 Given the meagerness of this sum as compared with Pickford's enormous earning capacity at that moment, one might well conclude that Zukor was merely joking. Yet, might this have been a genuine bribe? The Famous Players-Lasky's chief executive had built his empire upon the exploitation of movie stars like Pickford, and historians of the studio system have long commented upon Zukor's keen involvement in the parallel development of both the feature-length motion picture and the star system during the late transitional period of 1912 to 1915. In the subsequent period of industrial consolidation, however, Zukor apparently sought to turn his back on the star performer as a business strategy, while he instead pursued theater ownership, the promotion of famous authors, and the production of multiple-star specials that sought to effectively short-circuit the authority of the individual star. When Zukor proposed that Pickford stop working in 1918, she and scores of other Hollywood stars were preparing to participate in the fourth Liberty Loan campaign, where their extraordinary earning power would be once again put on display as beneficial to the American troops overseas, to the nation, and ultimately, to the fate of the entire world.


  • stars;
  • contracts;
  • salaries;
  • public relations;
  • scandal;
  • fan magazines;
  • advertising