The star system was the method of creating, promoting and exploiting movie stars in Classical Hollywood cinema. Studios would select promising young actors and glamorise and create personas for them, often inventing new names and even new backgrounds. Examples of stars who went through the star system include Cary Grant (born Archie Leach), Joan Crawford (born Lucille Fay LeSueur), and Rock Hudson (born Roy Harold Scherer, Jr.)
The star system put an emphasis on the image rather than the acting, although discreet acting, voice, and dancing lessons were a common part of the regimen. Women were expected to behave like ladies, and were never to leave the house without makeup and stylish clothes. Men were expected to be seen in public as gentlemen. Morality clauses were a common part of actors’ studio contracts.
Just as studio executives, public relations staffs, and agents worked together with the actor to create a star persona, so they would work together to cover up incidents or lifestyles that would damage the star’s public image. It was common, for example, to arrange sham dates between single (male) stars and starlets to generate publicity. Tabloids and gossip columnists would be tipped off, and photographers would appear to capture the romantic moment. At the same time, a star’s drug use (such as Robert Mitchum’s arrest for marijuana possession), drinking problems, divorce, or adultery would be covered up with hush money for witnesses or promises of exclusive stories (or the withholding of future stories) to gossip columnists.