Carl Laemmle was responsible for creating the ‘star system.’ In the earliest productions, actors’ identities were kept anonymous and unknown in order to give preference to the pictures themselves, to prevent performers from overvaluing themselves, and because the profession of movie acting was considered inferior to stage acting. The MMPC also was requiring that actors remained nameless to prevent them from demanding higher salaries and becoming more powerful. At first, the popularity of uncredited film stars was determined by the weight of their post-bags. The first US production company to start the ‘star system’ trend was Kalem, when it issued star portraits and posters in 1910.
In 1909, Laemmle lured Florence Lawrence (the first “Biograph Girl,” named after the company she worked for), a child star and one of the unknown ‘players’ at D. W. Griffith’s Biograph studios, away from the rival studio to IMP – his own studio. He catapulted her to fame in 1910 by originating the ‘publicity stunt.’ He cultivated her stardom with a large personal, publicity campaign – Florence Lawrence was literally the very ‘first American movie star.’
He generated a massive publicity campaign for Lawrence by reacting to a false story (created by “enemies of the IMP” – Biograph or the MPPC?) about how she had been killed in a NYC streetcar accident (the story was allegedly found in a St. Louis Post Dispatch newspaper, yet there was no evidence of its existence). When enough sympathy had been produced from the presumably self-fabricated story, he revealed the “cowardly…silly lie” in a promotional ad on March 12th, 1910 in Moving Picture World titled “We Nail A Lie,” denouncing the original report of her death. The ad announced that Lawrence (known as “The Imp Girl”) was never in a streetcar accident and was in “the best of health.” This was the first major movie-industry publicity stunt to receive widespread press coverage. He combined this with Lawrence’s reassuring in-person public appearance in St. Louis in April, 1910 at the train station and theatre with her leading man King Baggot at the St. Louis premiere of her next IMP film, director Harry Solter’s The Broken Oath (1910) (aka The Broken Bath), released March 14th.
Laemmle increased “Flo Lo”‘s salary to a phenomenal $1,000 a week and she became the first player to receive a screen credit and to have her name revealed in her first film for IMP, The Broken Oath (1910) (aka The Broken Bath). And she was interviewed in 1911 in Motion Picture Story – often considered the first movie star interview. Other studios followed suit and created their own stars, such as “the Vitagraph Girl,” and film advertisements and lobby posters at theaters displayed photos of the star players for theatre audiences.