inside film

‘The lunatics have taken over the asylum’: Scarlett Johansson’s row with Disney is a familiar Hollywood story

As the ‘Black Widow’ star’s bitter dispute with Disney over profits rumbles on, Geoffrey Macnab looks back at the long line of actors who have challenged their Hollywood paymasters and asks: does star power ever win?

Friday 06 August 2021 06:34 BST
<p>Scarlett Johansson has issued a lawsuit against Disney over its decision to stream ‘Black Widow’</p>

Scarlett Johansson has issued a lawsuit against Disney over its decision to stream ‘Black Widow’

Scarlett Johansson may not look or behave like a lunatic but she is now regarded as one in certain quarters of Hollywood.

“So the lunatics have taken charge of the asylum,” a senior studio executive commented in 1919 when he discovered that the three leading movie stars of the day – Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks – together with the top director, DW Griffith, had founded their own breakaway company, United Artists. They were determined to hold on to the profits from their films. They were the “talent”, after all, and were deeply suspicious that the Hollywood moguls were trying to railroad them into signing highly restrictive contracts that would curb both their artistic freedoms and their salaries.

Chaplin, Pickford and co issued a high-minded statement in which they vowed to protect the public from “threatening combinations and trusts that would force upon them mediocre productions and machine-made entertainment”.

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