The Golden Age of Hollywood is remembered as the peak of cinematic glamour, but movie stars didn’t suddenly appear in the years around 1930. They were there from the very start. It was silent movies that first created film stars, not sound cinema. In the early 1900s, actors were primarily known for their stage performances and not widely recognized as individuals. Then came the cinema and a new type of actor emerged, the movie star. These film performers were immediately recognizable in their roles and they soon became just as famous as stage actors. With cinema came close-up shots and camera angles designed to capture every detail of an actor’s face on the screen. Movie-goers flocked to cinemas to see film stars rather than theatrical actors, with leading men like Douglas Fairbanks and villains such as Villemain becoming almost as well-known as Henry Irving or Herbert Beerbohm Tree.
What is a Movie Star?
A movie star is the foremost member of a film cast who is renowned for their popularity and/or their ability to draw ticket sales. Traditionally, the term was applied to a performer who was contracted to a studio and predominantly appeared in films that would be shown in theatres. However, it is now used to describe individuals who are known for their appearances in any type of film, ranging from animated shorts to documentaries. Since the early days of cinema, the term “movie star” has been used to describe the most popular and highly paid actors in the film industry. In the early days of Hollywood, when the film industry was based primarily in New York City and Los Angeles, movie stars were idolized by millions of fans and their photos were displayed in millions of bedrooms. Movie stars were a product of their times as well as the technology available to capture them on screen.
Why did Cinema Create Movie Stars?
Though the first films were projected onto screens as early as the 1890s, it was only after the introduction of sound in the late 1920s that the film industry took off. As audiences flocked to cinemas, studios had to find a new way to promote the latest releases to draw in crowds. They started to feature the names and images of their leading actors on posters and in magazines and promoted their identities. They also placed their actors in a handful of films each year, giving audiences a chance to see them time and time again. These methods enabled the studios to turn their actors into film stars, giving audiences a familiar face to associate with the latest releases.
Golden Age of Hollywood Actors
The Golden Age of Hollywood is usually defined as the period between the 1930s and 1950s when the American film industry was at its most prolific and innovative. Actors such as Clark Gable, Douglas Fairbanks, Gary Cooper, William Holden, John Wayne and Humphrey Bogart were widely known due to their frequent appearances in films, as well as their publicity campaigns promoting their images. The advent of Technicolor and widescreen formats such as Cinemascope allowed studios to capture the best of their stars and present them in the most appealing way.
The Importance of Looks
During the Golden Age of Hollywood, film studios perpetuated a certain image of their leading men. They chose actors who were tall, muscular, and generally good-looking, as well as possessing a strong physique. This was in keeping with the idea of the “he-man” hero, or a masculine individual who rescues women in distress. The studios also sought to create the same look among many of their female stars. They wanted to find leading women who had blonde hair, blue eyes, and an hourglass figure. This was another way of creating a set type of performer so that audiences would see the same characteristics time and time again. Because studios were in charge of publicity campaigns, they were able to create this image and make it the norm.
These actors had to rely on exaggerated facial expressions and pantomimic gestures to tell their stories. Many of these actors were tall, lanky, and slender - a physical type that may have been idealized on screen, but was less than ideal in real life. As cinema began to reach a wider audience, the desire to see on-screen people who looked like themselves resulted in a new appreciation of what was once considered unattractive. When we think of early cinema, we often think of these chubby actors, because they are the ones who are most often preserved in film. The Golden Age of Hollywood gave birth to cinematic glamour and a new type of actor. During this period, film studios promoted their stars and created an image of what a movie actor was supposed to look like. In many ways, this approach to the industry has remained ever since.