Star system

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Under the star system refers to the method by which the studio system of Hollywood film actors as stars were brought out. The star system originated in the 1920s and ended in the 1950s.

Practice and history in the USA

The system came from theater practice from the end of the 19th century and had proven itself at the New York Theatrical Syndicate . The star system is characterized by the exclusive bond between a star and a single film production company , which takes the employee under a long-term studio contract for this purpose (5–7 years) . The glamor of Hollywood studios was based on the glamor of the stars who were hired there. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer , of all the companies in Hollywood that took the star system to extremes, advertised with the slogan All the Stars in Heaven (German: "all stars [= stars] in the sky"). The reputation that the company's public relations departments developed for their stars - often with a complete reinvention of a biography - was tailored entirely to the image of the respective studio.

The actors were bound to the company by multi-year contracts and required to participate in a certain number of films per year. They could choose from among the production projects ( scripts ) that were presented to them. The contract guaranteed a - often very high - fee, prominent stars were often entitled to top billing , i.e. H. Mention your name in the first place above the film title. The most important stars of a company could count on scripts that were tailor-made for them, and they often had an influence on the choice of the director and their partners in front of the camera. Many companies treated their stars like "little gods", but the real influence of the stars usually ended where the entrepreneurial interests of the manufacturing company began. Since the marketability of a star under the conditions of the star system strongly depended on its recognition value , type casting impaired the actors' freedom of artistic development in particular.

Supporting actors and actors who did not have star rank also received long-term and exclusive contracts in the studio system, but were paid less and could not claim any star privileges.

The rule that stars were tied to a single company was broken by the practice of companies to “borrow” actors on a mutual basis ( loan-out ).

The star system collapsed with the crisis that plunged the American film industry in the 1950s. The traditional long-term contracts were gradually being replaced by one picture deals (contracts that obliged the actors to participate in a single film).

Comparable conditions in other countries


In Germany, a star system began to develop with the rise of Ufa , which was founded in 1919 , as large production budgets were available here and Ufa's own cinema chain guaranteed high box office results. The most popular actors such as Emil Jannings , Pola Negri , Lya de Putti or Conrad Veidt could be paid fees at a level that could compete with Hollywood .

During the Nazi era , Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels pushed the development of the star system further, as the stars were needed to add glamor to the regime and since many of the most popular stars such as Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo had gone to Hollywood. Again, it was above all the financially strong Ufa that brought forth and built the new stars like Zarah Leander or Marika Rökk . The highest paid actors also included artists like Hans Albers , whose careers had already started before 1933 (see also: National Socialist Film Policy ). The National Socialist star system went under in 1945.

Although internationally known stars such as Lilli Palmer , Romy Schneider , Jürgen Prochnow , Armin Mueller-Stahl or Til Schweiger continued to emerge from the German film industry even after the end of World War II , they never served as "figureheads" for individual production companies; in this respect, the term “star system” is not applicable here. In the GDR, many actors had contracts with the DEFA or the DFF and belonged to the respective theater ensembles. A “star system”, however, was not allowed to exist officially for ideological reasons.


The so-called Bollywood cinema is supported by a distinct star system. Stars of contemporary Hindi films are Shahrukh Khan , Hrithik Roshan , Abhishek Bachchan , Aishwarya Rai , Preity Zinta , Priyanka Chopra and Rani Mukerji . Some of these actors are now also appearing in western cinema.


  • Jeanine Basinger: The Star Machine , Knopf, 2007. ISBN 1400041309
  • Richard Decordova: Picture Personalities: The Emergence of the Star System in America , University of Illinois Press, 2001. ISBN 025207016X
  • Hans-Jürgen Tast: Romy Schneider - A Life on Front Pages Schellerten 2008, ISBN 978-3-88842-036-8 .
  • Paul McDonald: The Star System: Hollywood's Production of Popular Identities , Wallflower Press, 2000. ISBN 1903364027
  • Thomas Schatz: The Genius of the System: Hollywood Filmmaking in the Studio Era , Owl Books, 1996. ISBN 0805046666