by Landon Palmer and Scott Beggs
As if answering our well-established hypothesis about Hollywood shutting down the production of genuine movie stars, the industry offered a positively scientific blitz of testing this year to challenge that assertion and ultimately prove it correct.
A Black Hole For Stars
The first true movie star was Florence Lawrence, the Canadian film actress who made 39 movies before her 22nd birthday and bloomed under D.W. Griffith’s direction at Biograph Studios. She and Mary Pickford became well loved by 1910, but Lawrence was the first to have her silent face connected with her full (stage) name. She became an icon that the studio could use as a sales tool to draw audiences. “You love Florence Lawrence? Well she’s in this one, so come see it!”
Oddly enough, silent film actors were barred from having their names publicized in the early days because producers were afraid their notability would lead to them asking for, you guessed it, more money. Those fears would be proven true throughout the next 9 decades to the delight of studios who realized those larger paychecks would be covered by the huge audience attendance brought on by the powerful gravity of the star. Evolving from a time when producers saw no need to give true credit to the people acting in the work, the reason for building an actor’s public persona was to have a powerful advertising tool in their arsenal. Thus, it’s not that difficult to understand why creating stars has become so difficult: one actor’s name is no longer the most expeditious way to draw an audience. In fact, it might not even be that effective at all anymore…
The Character or the Actor?
…Formerly, the public persona was an extension of the star image. Now, it’s the public persona at the center of our experience of famous media figures, and this type of fame has no direct effect on who sees the actual work they do. In fact, some of today’s biggest celebrities have no cultural output at all. But fame seems to have lost any direct relationship to power over audiences in the world of entertainment. In other words, you can be famous and still be unable to entice people to come see you…