When Darryl Zanuck Asked in 1936: "Where Are the Stars of Tomorrow?"

Courtesy of Photofest
Darryl Zanuck (inset) wrote an October 1936 column in The Hollywood Reporter.

"Constantly, the only question that is thrown at me is 'who's in it?'" the studio mogul wrote in a column, adding, "We have got to take chances."

In October 1936, a few years after he quit Warner Bros. and helped launch what would later become 20th Century Fox, production chief Darryl Zanuck was concerned about a "star shortage." Writing a column in an anniversary issue of The Hollywood Reporter, the studio mogul entreated exhibitors to take more chances on new talent and "gamble more than we have in the past." Zanuck's original column is below.

There is no question but that this business has come to a point where, if we are to survive and progress as a great industry, it is essential that we discover and develop new talent. There has never been such a star shortage in our business as now. When you realize that over two thousand moving pictures have been produced in the last two years and there has not been one actual star personality brought to the foreground, then it is quite easy to see that something is wrong in our system.

Simone Simon is actually the only new personality brought to the screen since Fred Astaire. By this I mean the only REAL star attraction. True, many companies have developed, and are developing, junior talent and featured personalities, but actually exhibitors are compelled to depend upon the same stars that were popular from anywhere to five and eight years ago. The fact that in the last couple of years the industry has managed to dig up Luise Rainer, Errol Flynn, The Yacht Club Boys, Don Ameche, Olivia de Havilland, The Ritz Bros., does not contradict my statement in the first paragraph. There is no doubt but that the people mentioned above, with proper development and proper exhibitor exploitation, will go places, but it is easy to see that our system is wrong when it takes more than a thousand pictures to bring out a mere handful of prospective personalities and only one actual star who, instantly, in Girls Dormitory, established herself as a drawing boxoffice magnet. 

The system is not entirely the fault of the producers. It is equally the fault of distributors and the exhibitors. We are paying today fabulous salaries for "name attractions" which are actually not attractions at all. They are Hollywood stars receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars for three reasons: Number One — The shortage of personalities; Number Two — The constant clamor of exhibitors for "names"; Number Three — The hesitancy on the part of producers to use anyone who has not already an established reputation. 

True, we would all love to have Shirley Temple in every picture along with Gable, Taylor, Shearer, Astaire and Colbert. I couldn't blame it on any director or producer for wanting to go to bat with such insurance and boxoffice protection, but our great industry cannot forever depend on such a mere handful of real drawing names — and at present, with but few exceptions, there are no others that actually draw money into the boxoffice whether the picture is good or bad. In excellent pictures a team like Myrna Loy and Warner Baxter do terrific, so does William Powell and Carole Lombard, so does Gary Cooper, so does Joan Crawford, so does Dick Powell, Janet Gaynor and Loretta Young, and a number of others. They have a certain amount of power in their names that mean something to the public and I should like nothing better than to have them all under contract, as I know with fine pictures they would be excellent assets.

But how can we go on spending millions of dollars annually unless the exhibitor joins with us, even though it costs us money, to develop new star attractions? There are many artists in our business today with great potential values who have been deliberately or unconsciously slighted because the producer or the director feels that unless he gets the very top name, his picture will not seem important. The main trouble, in my opinion, goes right back in the exhibitor's lap, and the distributor as well. Constantly, the only question that is thrown at me is "who's in it?" Yet we have no reason of knowing but what some of those very "Hollywood names" for which we pay so much, are not actual detriments rather than assets. 

We have got to take chances. We have got to rely upon the quality of our stories, our productions and gamble more than we have in the past. True, we want to make use of all the real boxoffice personalities that are available. It would be stupid not to take advantage of the many real attractions regardless of what salary we were compelled to pay them — but at the same time, there are enough pictures being produced annually by the industry to make room for all of the newcomers that can possibly be discovered, that is providing the exhibitors and distributors will share this responsibility. It is not easy or simple to make a star. There are times when it will cost money, but, unless we are ignorant or shortsighted, we must do our share in seeing that pictures with new personalities are given the same choice booking dates, the same excellent terms and the same exploitation that is given to pictures with established names.

Producers must be encouraged by exhibitors. It costs at least a half million dollars to make a good picture today, and sometimes more than double that amount. If a producer is willing to gamble such a large amount, then certainly it is the duty of the exhibitor, if he actually wants to see this business permanently progress, to dig down in his pocket and out out of his way, if necessary, to support any picture which actually endeavors to exploit a new personality. I do not believe that any picture that comes along with a new face in it, good or bad, should become the moral obligation of the exhibitor to get behind, but I do feel that when a newcomer is put in the featured role in an important double "A" picture that then any exhibitor who fails to give this picture the best terms, the best dates and the best exploitation, has no place in our industry. 

If the exhibitor ever fails to do as suggested above, then it is a certainty that the producer will crawl right back into his shell and refuse to gamble in the future, and the end result will be that suddenly, one by one, the public will tire or become overfed by a straight diet of the existing stars and we will all be sitting around in a room wondering why grosses have dropped off.