The Fall of Monopoly: an Analysis on the Studio System of Hollywood in the Golden Era

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The Fall of Monopoly

‘As far as the filmmaking process is concerned, stars are essentially worthless -- and absolutely essential.’ -William Goldman

It started with Florence Lawrence as the ‘Biograph Girl’ in the early 1900’s, and bred into the formation of the Universal Studios by one smart producer by the name of Carl Laemmle. The birth of Hollywood had never experienced a joyful transition for editors and actors, who back in the day were treated like hired help by directors. The silent film era was not the commercial enterprise it is today; it was a mere impression of Vaudeville, and studios generated cheap and generic content, while actors remained anonymous and low paid. Florence was one of the popular actresses of the time who helped create a celebrity culture that was infact a farce used by Studios to promote their cinematographic content. And this farce became known in history as the Golden Age of Hollywood.

The celebrity culture that is idolized today was in actuality a ploy used to attract an audience following. Stars were created, not born. The Studio System comprised of The Big Five (MGM, Paramount, Warner Brothers, RKO and Fox), who are credited for creating some of the most legendary stars of the time, thus leading to the term ‘star system’. Studios invested a great deal of time and money into grooming and publicizing an actor, and owning him in the process, simply by signing him to a contract. When an actor had inscribed his name on the formidable piece of paper, he had no future of his own. Depending on his talent and the response his image got from the audience, he was either crucial or dispensable to the Studio he had been employed by.

The industry was relentless when it came to the treatment of actors. Fame, in all its shallow glory, was a high price to pay for the compensation of no personal life and no personal choice. Actors were required to play the roles they were assigned to without question or argument, made to indulge in publicity stints, and traded off or loaned to another Studio on mutually agreed upon arrangements without their consent. Performers were very similar to the posters their faces were displayed on because they had absolutely no control over their careers, just as a poster has no control over how it is used or interpreted. An example of the extent to which a Studio went to glamourize its artists is Rita Hayworth, who was coerced into changing her name from Margarita Casino and made to get plastic surgery performed (hairline electrolysis) to make her more marketable. However, that is not to say that actors were treated with any respect when the silent era fell off its crippling platform. The past was not a happy place for an actor before the term ‘celebrity’ came into being.

The release of ‘The Jazz Singer’ is known to be the pedestal on which the studio era was founded upon because it was the first motion picture with a few minutes of synchronized sound. When sound entered the frame, Vaudeville rapidly depleted into obscurity, and former Vaudeville actors were faced with the bitter reality of unemployment, forcing them to migrate into the film industry. This immigration created a domino effect for the entertainers already present in the enterprise. They had never been exposed to the element of voice being incorporated into a motion picture, and could not adjust to the inclusion of sound. Various hurdles included bad voices, thick accents and the inability to remember dialogues. Moreover, the Big Five circulated their own theatre chains, and adopted specific genre as labels for their reputation and glory. In this process, actors were never given much flexibility to explore or expand their potential, but were in a constant state of repeating the same theme over and over again in each new production. On a more positive note, this repetition led to the recognition of some very creative artists, who explored a theme with such unabashed inquisition that no two films...
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