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celebration of life and love” (as in one of the “Andy Hardy” series). At Universal, a monster or mad scientist might be plotting their next move (as in Dracula or Frankenstein).


Studio style was consistent in plot and casting as well as in aesthetics, and all factors—including the actors, directors, and screenwriters making the “creative” decisions—were controlled by the studio bosses. Few stars benefitted from the studio system in the long run. Many actors were signed to a studio contract at a young age, on the basis of a strong screen test. These contracts were initially beneficial, ensuring that the actor would be employed for up to seven years (the maximum, and typical, contract length). But if, over time, a performer gained public attention (and, by extension, money for the studio), they had no control over their newfound star power. Under contract, everything from their salary to their public image to their movie roles was determined and enforced by studio executives. While the studio could terminate the contract at any time, performers were utterly bound by contract—no matter how valuable or famous they became.


Over time, some successful actors began to resent this product-oriented, restrictive “star system,” and several of them, including Olivia de Havilland, Bette Davis, and James Cagney, sued the studios to be released from their contracts,


ON THE TWENTIETH CENTURY UPSTAGE GUIDE 11


with varying degrees of success. Even directors, who tended to have longer careers than studio stars (who constantly faced the threat of being replaced with a comparable, and cheaper, actor of their type), spoke out against the unfair power distribution of the studio system. Frank Capra, in an open letter to the New York Times in 1939, wrote that “80 percent of the directors today shoot scenes exactly as they are told to shoot them without any changes whatsoever [and] 90 percent of them have no voice in the story or in the editing.” In sum, he asserted, “the director at present has no power… About six producers today pass upon 90 percent of the scripts, and cut and edit 90 percent of the pictures.” Capra’s frustration was less with the unequal distribution of money (he says that some directors are “prone to sit back and enjoy their fat salaries and forget the responsibilities they


have toward the medium they are in”) than it was with an inequitable division of creative control. Lily’s desire to shoot a picture with Letitia Primrose’s money alone—without the influence of a studio producer—signals a similar attitude, one in which all the champagne (and cash) in the world can’t make up for the servitude of studio stardom.•


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