It’s interesting to look back at how the old Hollywood studio system worked compared to today. Studios controlled all things film from the early '30s to the late '50s, including the lives and careers of screen legends. The system began unraveling when the US government banned block booking, a method of locking down screens through ownership and an onslaught of films. Television stole eyeballs. Agents undermined bargaining power. The Red Scare sparked the Hollywood blacklist, and the industry and government overplayed their hands.
Another death knell was the Hays Code, a system of self-censorship that made Hollywood whitewash and water down film content. While it worked just fine for a while, it eventually undermined Hollywood, as European and independent filmmakers made bold storytelling choices that didn’t adhere to the code. Audiences filled art house theaters to watch Italian neorealism, Japanese imports, the cerebral films of Ingmar Bergman, and the beginning of the French New Wave.
Old Hollywood stars under contract may have lived the dream, but a lot was expected of them. Studios controlled every aspect of their lives, from marriages to pregnancies. How they looked mattered more than how well they could act. Scandals were handled and buried. Studio abuses went unchecked.
But it wasn’t all bad. Tinsel Town historical facts also reveal how screenwriters created the template for American cinematic narrative. The studio system made it possible for writers to transition to directing by helping them understand camera work and character blocking. The environment of collaboration helped produce countless classic films, including Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, and some not starring Humphrey Bogart.