The First Movie Stars:Florence Lawrence,Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin

Essay by OmsamHigh School, 12th grade December 2003

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Movie stars are actors whose personas transcends their work, that is, persons whose personas becomes part of our mass culture. Several of the very first movie starts set the pattern for all those who followed.

In the very early days of the Silent Film era however, there were no movie stars. The studios purposely did not publicize their actors, since to do so might encourage them to demand more money. That changed forever with Florence Lawrence, a former Vaudevillian, and America's first movie star. She began to work in films in 1907, and moved to D.W. Griffith's Biograph studio in 1909. She starred in 65 films there that year and became very popular although the credits merely read, as was custom, "The Biograph Girl". Carl Laemmle was starting his new Independent Motion Picture Company in 1910 and wanted Lawrence as his "IMP" Girl. The public was fascinated and demanded to know her identity.

Laemmle shrewdly began to use her name and picture in publicity and publicity stunts. Kelly R. Brown, in her 1999 biography of Lawrence states: "Florence Lawrence was the first player, male or female, to use her name to advertise not only a single motion picture, but also the production company she worked for. The company, in turn, was able to place more films into theaters because the public wanted to see the films she was in."

Thus was born the star system.

Once the public learned about Florence, they wanted to know about the other favorite players on the screen. Other studios saw the advantage of this new kind of publicity, and in 1911 The Motion Picture Story Magazine was launched to publicize Vitagraph's actors and film releases, followed closely by Moving Picture Stories, and Photoplay. The studio's publicity departments refined their trade and began to...