“I Am Not Paid to Think“
Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, Cary Grant, and Rock Hudson, are just some of the Hollywood giants brought up through the star system. Gable, for example, got started with a pair of supporting roles, before he was signed up by MGM in 1931 to a two-year contract at $350 a week. That year, he acted in another eight movies for MGM, and two more on loan to Warner Brothers. As he progressed through the system, Gable was paired with others from MGM’s stable, such as Joan Crawford and Greta Garbo. Gable was often required to display a savage and sadistic attitude towards women on screen. That established a brand that helped make him a star, but also limited his repertoire. He had little choice. As he put it in 1932: “I have never been consulted as to what part I would like to play. I am not paid to think“.
Gable finally objected to how he was typecast by MGM. As punishment, the studio loaned him out to Columbia Pictures to work on 1934’s It Happened One Night. It worked out well for Gable, who won a Best Actor Oscar for that performance. So MGM signed him to a seven year deal in 1935 with better terms. “Better”, however, was still relative. The studio owned exclusive rights to Gable’s name, image, and voice. If he was hurt or disfigured, he could be suspended without compensation. He had to work 40 weeks annually, and perform in up to three movies per year. He was still a salaried employee, and it was not until 1946 that he got a percentage share in his movies’ grosses. That was the lot of an actor so successful he became known as “The King of Hollywood”. Others had it worse.