Stars have never come cheap. From Hollywood’s earliest days, the best way to attract ticket buyers to the Bijou was to sell them celebrities, and those photogenic men and women seldom sold themselves short. A few financial watersheds:
1915 Mary Pickford, ”America’s Sweetheart” and one of its first bona fide movie stars, earns $2,000 a week.
1916 Though he’s the Little Tramp on screen, Charlie Chaplin lives the high life on $10,000 per week. In 1917, he signs a $1 million, eight-film contract.
1919 Comedian Fatty Arbuckle becomes the first actor with a guaranteed minimum salary of $1 million per year.
1935 Mae West ranks as the highest-paid woman in America, earning $480,833.
1950 Agent Lew Wasserman, future head of Universal Pictures, makes history by wangling the first deal of its kind for Jimmy Stewart, star of the Western Winchester ’73-50 percent of the film’s profits.
1959 Elizabeth Taylor agrees to star in Cleopatra, becoming the first actress to receive $1 million for a film. By the time the cameras roll, Taylor has renegotiated her contract, ultimately coming away $7 million richer.
1978 For just two weeks of work on Superman, Marlon Brando gets $3.7 million against 11.3 percent of the film’s earnings.
1980 Top box office attraction Burt Reynolds flexes his muscle and gets $5 million to whoop it up in The Cannonball Run.
1985 United Artists forks over $12 million to heavyweight Sylvester Stallone, luring him into the ring for Rocky IV — as star, writer, and director.
1988 Twentieth Century Fox astounds the industry by risking $5 million on Bruce Willis, a TV actor who had never had a big-screen hit, for a picture called Die Hard.