Charlie Chaplin's unique position after just five years in films eclipsed both Griffith and Sennett. He arrived in Hollywood in 1914 and was offered a job as an actor at the Sennett Studio for a nominal fee. He became not only a director, as they were, but also an art director, a writer and, most importantly, was established as a film star - brighter, more intense than any before him and, than most who followed. After just those five years, he signed a contract for one million dollars, a handsome salary for a lonely English boy who had spent time in a workhouse because his mother had a mental breakdown with no father to raise him. Chaplin, together with Sennett and Griffith, had legitimized the movies by 1919. Certainly films were considered a commercial enterprise worthy of investment prior to that year. However, the effects of World War II on European production established America as the world leader in films and Charlie Chaplin was its first, most distinctive star.
Mary Pickford, "Little Mary", from the Sennett stock company was the second to reach that financial pinnacle. She had captured America's heart with her screen persona of innocence and charm. Her romance with Douglas Fairbanks Sr. had begun about this time in spite of her marriage to Owen Moore. Theda Bara, the name bore an anagrammatical relationship to Arab and Death, denoting Eastern mystery, was the first woman to get the big publicity build-up by the William Fox Company that made her a star. She was a young, untried woman out of Cincinnati, Ohio whose natal name was Theodocia Goodman. The Fox Company portrayed her as an erotic Arabian siren living off the love of men. Not to be outdone by the youngster from middle America, Pola `Negri came onto the scene in Hollywood as a Polish countess, later to be a a Russian princess, each royal designation acquired by marriage. She was a graduate of the Royal Warsaw Academy of Dramatic Art in Poland, hence her name Pola, and came to town accompanied by the German Director Ernest Lubitsch from the Max Reinhard theatre company in Berlin. Her dark and glamorous face made her a natural rival to Theda Bara. She too was cast as a seductive and exotic man eater. Her much publicized love affair and near marriage to Rudolph Valentino created as much huffing, puffing, breath holding and panting as had any public movie spectacle up to that time. These two women were the true exotics of the silent era. Three men of the period who, more than any others, were the great lovers of the screen, legendary in their sex appeal, were Rudolph Valentino, also known as "The Sheik" for his roles in desert extravaganzas. Ramon Novarro, another Latin Lover who aroused women's passions and John Gilbert suave, dashing and gorgeous, known for his relentless love afffair with Greta Garbo His salary was so astronomical it was rumored, it was the real reason for his failed transition to sound film. Film companies needed publicity departments to package and sell their ever increasing demand for their pictures. These departments, together with fan magazines like Photoplay, turned out fantasy, fancy, and fact; whatever sold the product. The public loved the glamour of it all. This aspect of film became increasingly more important to American business and politics as time passed.
Tom Mix was the first cowboy movie star. He, together with Theda Bara, was so popular they established the Fox Company on a firm footing and as a major production power. Gloria Swanson was yet another star who stood out from the crowd. Her portrayals of sophisticated women with grace and manners assured her a place at the top of any cast of which she was part.
Lillian Gish, together with her sister Dorothy, came to films early. Her delicacy and luminous beauty were qualities that enchanted D.W. Griffith. She was his preeminent female star, encompassing all the feminine virtues. Her two most celebrated roles with him were Broken Blossoms and Way Down East.
As mentioned previously, Douglas Fairbanks Sr. did become a formidable leading man in exotic lands in earlier, more romantic times. He was now a frank sex symbol. His roles included the first "Robin Hood", the first early California "Zorro", the Thief of Baghdad and The Black Pirate.