The Big Knife

Everything Comes to Hollywood: The Golden Era of the 1940s

Posted on: March 18th, 2013 by Roundabout


The Big Knife: Synopsis

In the golden age of Hollywood cinema, actors may have all the glory, but studio execs have all the power. The Hoff-Federated studio has had its most successful star, Charlie Castle (Bobby Cannavale) , over a barrel ever since it helped cover up a mistake that could have ended his career. When a woman with insider knowledge threatens to come forward, the studio heads will stop at nothing to protect Charlie’s secret... but how far is he willing to go before he quits the movie business for good?

The Big Five: The Power of the Movie Studios

Charlie Castle’s conflict with Hoff Studios reflects the reality of actors, directors, and writers—like Clifford Odets himself—working for the movie studios during the “Golden Age of Hollywood.”  Until 1948, five major studios (MGM, Warner Brothers, Paramount, Twentieth Century-Fox, and RKO studios) along with three smaller studios (Universal, Columbia, and United Artists) controlled every aspect of the film industry, from production to distribution-a structure of “vertical integration.”

With the advent of sound and “talkies” in 1927, movie stars became valuable commodities but had little control over their careers.  Actors were contracted to the studios, usually for seven years at a time, and contracts were subject to renewal at the studio’s option.  Studio executives determined whether actors would become stars or merely supporting players, which roles actors would play, and what publicity they would receive.  Under contract, actors were forbidden to work for any other producer; if they did not cooperate, they could be suspended without pay. Furthermore, studios oversaw their stars’ personal lives. Pregnant actresses were sent out of the country and gay actors were setup with fiancés and public marriages.

Los Angeles Sunset Strip, 1940s.

Similarly, film directors were hired, and fired, by the studio producers, who oversaw how films were shot and edited.  Screenwriters in Hollywood had even less status and no authorial control over their own scripts.

The studios controlled where, when, and how movies could be shown. Each of the Big Five had their own movie theaters that took in more than half of the studios’ revenues. Through a policy of “block booking,” the studios required independent theatres to rent a block of 10 movies; theatres were required to show all the films rented in a “block.” Although the studio system created many excellent films, block booking also allowed studios to produce cheap, low quality “B-movies” and force them into the theatres.

The studios’ power was challenged in 1948 with an important legal decision in the Paramount Case. The Supreme Court declared vertical integration and block booking to be a violation of antitrust law; studios would have to sell each film individually and divest their ownership of movie theatres.  This gave independent producers an ability to compete with the majors.  As a result, the studios found it less profitable to keep actors on long-term contracts, and in the early ‘50s, movie stars gained more control over their careers.  The financial structures of Hollywood have continued to change, and the studios are still important—but today the stars and accomplished directors wield far more influence in Hollywood than anyone half a century ago could have imagined.

To meet 20th Century Fox executive Darryl Zanuck and a tour of how the studio operated in 1935, watch this video:

Read more about the end of the studio system in Life Magazine.

The Big Knife plays at the American Airlines Theatre March 22 through June 2, 2013. For more information and tickets please visit our website.

Related Categories:
2012-2013 Season, Education @ Roundabout, The Big Knife

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THE BIG KNIFE Casting Announcement

Posted on: January 8th, 2013 by Todd Haimes


I am thrilled to announce the full company of The Big Knife, written by Clifford Odets and directed by Roundabout’s Resident Director Doug Hughes. In addition to the previously announced Bobby Cannavale (Charlie Castle), our production will star Rachel Brosnahan (Dixie Evans), Marin Ireland (Marion Castle), Billy Eugene Jones (Russell),  Richard Kind  (Marcus Hoff),  Adam Rapp (Hank Teagle), Ana Reeder (Connie Bliss),  Reg Rogers (Smiley Coy),  Joey Slotnick (Buddy Bliss), Brenda Wehle (Patty Benedict),  and Chip Zien  (Nat Danziger.

Many of these actors have graced our stages before, including Marin Ireland (After Miss Julie), Ana Reeder (Hedda Gabler), Reg Rogers (The Dazzle, The Moliere Comedies), Brenda Wehle (Pygmalion), and Chip Zien (The People in the Picture).

Rachel Brosnahan, a recent NYU Tisch graduate, will be making her Broadway debut, as will Joey Slotnick, one of the founders of Chicago’s Lookingglass Theatre Company, who is also recognizable for his numerous roles on TV shows including “Boston Public,” “The Single Guy,” and “Nip/Tuck.” And Adam Rapp is best known as the playwright of Pulitzer Prize finalist Red Light Winter, as well as The Metal Children, Kindness, and many others. He makes his Broadway debut as an actor in this production.

Richard Kind has been a staple of Broadway in everything from The Producers to Sly Fox and is well known for his role on “Spin City.” Billy Eugene Jones has appeared on Broadway in August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean and Radio Golf.

The incredible design team includes John Lee Beatty (Sets), Catherine Zuber (Costumes), James F. Ingalls (Lighting) and David Van Tieghem (Sound & Original Music).

The Big Knife is a riveting, bitingly funny look at keeping your integrity in the face of success–it’s about living the life you always wanted but wanting something more. This is the first new Broadway production since The Big Knife premiered on Broadway in 1949, directed by Lee Strasberg. Clifford Odets is currently represented on Broadway with Golden Boy playing at the Belasco Theatre.

The Big Knife will begin previews on March 22, 2013 at the American Airlines Theatre. For more information about the production, please visit our website.

Related Categories:
2012-2013 Season, The Big Knife

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