Women On Screen: The Rise of Female Stars
Florence Lawrence
Promotional photo of Florence Lawrence.
Carl Laemmle, then head of the Independent Moving Picture Company (IMP) and later the founder of Universal Studios, was the first executive to seize the opportunity to capitalize on creating a public, named persona for one of his stars. When Florence Lawrence, previously known solely as the Biograph Girl, moved to IMP in 1910, Laemmle planned a publicity stunt that resulted in the creation of the star system. He issued a fake press release that Florence Lawrence had been killed in a streetcar accident and with it issued her photograph and her name, releasing her identity to the public for the first time.

Ad released by IMP
This ad is the second of the series used to launch
Florence Lawrence into stardom, making her
the first “movie star.” Here the ad blames
competitors for circulating the rumor of
her death and announces that she in fact
alive and now working for IMP studios.
IMP Studio, 1910.
A week later, Laemmle revealed that Lawrence was in fact alive and well. When she made an appearance in St. Louis the following month to confirm that she was still alive, a crowd thronged around her. This publicity stunt instantly made Lawrence a full-fledged star. While she was not the first actress to have her name released to the public, the nature of the release of her name was surrounded by such fanfare that her fame was catapulted to new heights that other studios and actresses soon sought to emulate. An entire industry of star culture sprung up around movie stars. For example, Picture Story Magazine, the first film fan magazine, was created in 1911. While the creation of the star system had enormous economic rewards for studios, actresses also capitalized on their newfound fame, demanding the control and high salaries that initially prevented studios from releasing actresses’ names to the public. As a result, actresses gained greater control over the roles they played on the screen, and the movies in which they acted.