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DEALS : A Fistful of Dollars

January 04, 1987

Almost as legendary as the great Hollywood movies are the deals that put them together. The first studio chiefs, eager to hold down salaries and failing to recognize the monetary value of star exploitation, didn't promote their actors and directors. But as actors' faces became more familiar to the public, stars were able to command better money. James O'Neill was the first star to get a percentage of a film's profits when he made "The Count of Monte Cristo" in 1913.

The highest-paid stars of the 1910s were Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford, who became studio owners themselves. By the '20s, most of the big-name actors and directors were drawing fantastic salaries, and more stars--Norma Talmadge and Douglas Fairbanks among them--were running their own movie companies.

A decade later, the studio system changed deal-making. Attention now focused on deals involving the trading and combining of contract players. Among the most famous: Columbia's "It Happened One Night," which borrowed stars from Paramount and MGM.

In the '40s, court-ordered divestiture forced the sale of theaters owned by movie companies, which weakened the studio system. In the '50s and '60s, the big percentage deals, deferred salaries and more star-owned production companies emerged. The important deals of recent years have been packaging deals--films put together with the guiding hand of an agent.

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