Katharine Hepburn Was Paid $206,928, While Peter Lorre Made Just $15,265
1937 Was A Good Year For Film Salaries
I find this sort of stuff fascinating.
In 1938 the U.S. Treasury released a report to Congress that listed how much compensation was paid to luminaries in the film industry for 1937.
The highlight of the report was that Gary Cooper ($370,214) overtook Mae West ($323.333) as the highest salaried film personality.
This was during the height of the Great Depression, so many of the salaries seem astronomical when compared to the average annual salary of a working person which was only $890 in 1937 according to Time magazine.
The list is interesting to look over and there are quite a few surprises. For instance Zeppo Marx ($56,766) is listed in the report and his more famous brothers Groucho, Chico and Harpo are not. Laurel and Hardy are there, and Stan Laurel ($135,167 ) earned nearly $50,000 more than his rotund comedy partner Oliver Hardy ( $88,600).
Studio chief and creative genius Walt Disney made only $39,000, yet William A. Seiter, director in 1937 of This is My Affair and Life Begins In College made $135,750!
Box office draws, Barbara Stanwyck, Ginger Rogers and Claudette Colbert were all pulling in over $100,000.
I recognized most of the names on the list, but there are also a handful of people I never heard of like The Yacht Club Boys, ($32,166) who were a popular singing group. And I should have known Alan Dinehart, ($39,666) a busy character actor who appeared in 89 movies during his abbreviated acting career (he died at the age of 54 in 1944).
Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Spencer Tracy, Olivia de Havilland, Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart and many others who were big stars are unfortunately not listed.
There are writers, directors, producers, and songwriters mixed in among the stars and supporting players of the movies.
Sadly, so many of these names are now completely forgotten except by a much older generation of contemporaries or rabid TCM movie fans.
Here are the 1937 salaries of over 160 of some of Hollywood’s top talent in alphabetical order:
- Don Ameche, $34,499;
- Heather Angel, $15,375;
- Jean Arthur, $119,041;
- Fred Astaire, $211,666;
- George Bancroft, $16,250;
- Warner Baxter, $284,384;
- Wallace Beery, $56,250;
- Ralph Bellamy, $16,791;
- Constance Bennett, $60,000;
- Joan Bennett, $18,750;
- Pandro Berman, producer, $202,186;
- Erie Blore, $20,888;
- Charles Boyer, $249,145;
- Alice Brady, $30,416;
- Samuel T. Briskind, R.K.O. studios, $157,000;
- Helen Broderick. $32,000;
- J. Edward Bromberg, $33,700;
- Frank Capra, director, $208,000;
- Leo Carrillo, $57,832;
- Earl Carroll, associate producer, $26,000;
- Madeleine Carroll, $287,913;
- Charles Chaplin, $125,000;
- Charley Chase, $50,187;
- Ruth Chatterton, $249,500;
- Claudette Colbert, $167,500;
- Walter Connolly, $66,541;
- Gary Cooper, $370,214;
- Ronald Colman, $262,500;
- William H. Conselman, writer, $62,250;
- Dolores Costello Barrymore, $25,000;
- John Cromwell, director, $153,665;
- Harry L. (Bing) Crosby, Jr., president Crosby Productions, Inc. $156,000;
- E. M. Crosby, secretary Crosby Productions, Inc. $42,337
- Irving Cummings, director $94,541;
- Cecil B. De Mille, director, $35,500;
- Constance A. De Mille, $18,200;
- Roy Del Ruth, director, $238,333;
- George G. De Sylva, associate producer, $75,350;
- Marlene Dietrich, $200,000;
- Alan Dinehart, $39,666;
- Walt Disney, cartoonist, $39,000
- Richard Dix, $89,062;
- Melvyn Douglas, $27,791;
- Alan Dwan, director, $52,666;
- Alice Faye, $45,500;
- Henry Fonda, $56,208;
- John Ford. $166,916;
- Gene Fowler, writer, $97,508.
- Preston Foster, $40,173;
- Pauline Frederick, $16,066;
- Helen Gahagan, $20,000;
- Tay Garnett, director, $66,333;
- Janet Gaynor, $220,666;
- George and Ira Gershwin, $55,000;
- James Gleason, $52,333;
- Sam Goldwyn, president United Artists, $22,000;
- Paulette Goddard, $26,000;
- Margot Grahame. $16,637;
- Howard Green, $53,125;
- Zane Grey, $36,000;
- Edward H. Griffith, director, $98,000;
- Raymond Griffith, associate producer, $90,791;
- Jack Haley, $76,999;
- Ann Harding, $60,000;
- Oliver Hardy, $88,600;
- Howard Hawks, director, $112,166;
- Sam Hellman, writer, $67,791;
- Sonja Henie, $72,500;
- Katharine Hepburn. $206,928;
- Jack Holt, $58,269;
- Edward Everett Horton, $38,666;
- Rochelle Hudson, $26,875;
- Michael S. Jacobs, president Twentieth Century Sporting Club, New York, $55,000;
- Julian Johnson, scenario editor, $61,199.
- Nunnally Johnson, associate-producer, $123,160;
- Buck Jones $143,333;
- Victor Jory. $28,866;
- Jason S. Joy, scenario executive, $39,500;
- Arline Judge, $23,716;
- Patsy Kelly, $45,216;
- Jerome Kern (music.) $45,357;
- Henry King director, $143,750;
- Sidney Lanfield, director, $67,000;
- Stan Laurel, $135,167;
- Francis Lederer, $43,500;
- Sonya Levien, writer, $62,516;
- Howard Lindsay, $25,833;
- Anatole Litvak, $28,194;
- William P. Lipscomb, writer, $50,750;
- Frank Lloyd, director, $30,000;
- Harold Lloyd, $52,666
- Peter Lorre, $15,625;
- Edmund Lowe, $19,166;
- Kenneth McGowan, associate producer, $73,116;
- Victor A. McLaglen, $113.283;
- Mack Gordon and Harry Revel, songwriters, $54,500;
- Rouben Mamoulian, director, $68,000;
- Fredric March $245,000;
- Gene Markey, associate producer, $61,583;
- Marian Marsh, $15,391;
- George E. Marshall, director, $52.666;
- Herbert Marshall, $111,000;
- Nino Martini, $54,000;
- Zeppo (Herbert) Marx. $56,766;
- Ken Maynard, $37,100;
- Adolphe Menjou, $82,291
- Bess (Curtiz) Meredith, writer, $77,275;
- Grace Moore, 74,999;
- Victor Moore, $56,791;
- Lloyd Nolan, $37,116;
- Jack Oakie , $47,500;
- Warner Oland, $59,999;
- Moroni Olson, $15,411;
- Dorothy Parker, writer, $27,024;
- Harriett Parsons, $15,600:
- Joe Penner, $24,583;
- Walter Pidgeon, $40,000;
- Walter Plunkett, $17,216;
- Lily Pons, $65,000;
- William Powell, $60,116
- George Raft, $51,041;
- Basil Rathbone. $60,208;
- Gregory Ratoff, $67,600;
- Gene Raymond, $75,625;
- Harry Richman, $27,000;
- Robert Riskind, writer, $104,000;
- Al Ritz, $64,500;
- Ginger Rogers, $124,770;
- Edward Sedgewick, $10,000;
- William A. Seiter, director, $135,750;
- Nathaniel Shilkret, $52,966;
- Louis Silvers, musical director, $33,500;
- Simone Simon, $95,916;
- Charles P. Skouras, president Fox West Coast Agency Corporation, $52,562
- Edward Small, $97,333;
- C. Aubrey Smith, $23,833;
- Ann Sothern, $33,666;
- Ned Sparks, $26,250;
- Lionel Stander, $22,882;
- Barbara Stanwyck, $151,979;
- Fred Stone, $22,999;
- John Stone. associate producer $59,208;
- Margaret Sullavan, $63,333;
- Slim Summerville, $69,062;
- Sylvia Sydney, $226,812;
- Norman Taurog, director, $68,000;
- Gertrude Temple, actress, $68,666;
- Shirley Temple, $121,122;
- Lawrence Tibbett, $112,500;
- Lee Tracy, $33,416;
- Arthur Treacher, $28,900;
- Claire Trevor, $27,655;
- Rudy Vallee, $238,744;
- Josef von Sternberg, director, $95.000;
- Raoul Walsh, director, $67,500
- Mae West, $323.333;
- Helen Westley, $15,166;
- Warren William $65,000;
- Walter Winchell, $66,500;
- Charles Winninger, $16,625;
- Sol M. Wurtzel, executive producer, $163,166;
- Jane Wyatt, $20,000;
- The Yacht Club Boys, $32,166;
- Jack Selig Yellen, writer, $54,333;
- Loretta Young, $118,998;
- Victor Young, $89,092
I work in the film industry currently and have on/off since my late teens (did stop to go to university and worked my other career too but ended back working as crew and in front of the camera). Am fascinated by the Old Hollywood era and thanks so much for sharing the stats on earnings etc. of actors then. As an Actra member myself (Canadian version of SAG), we are paid Union rates at an 8 hour min. plus OT beyond 9 hrs and oh yes, still a free lunch lol! And snacks/subs on many sets. Rates are higher for Actor/Principal roles of course but even as an extra, you can do a few hundred a day easily. Commercials/PSA are wonderful as we are paid at a higher rate so just doing background, I can earn up to $500 for an 8 hour day. But of course house prices now are astronomical and life is pricey and work is never guaranteed so it’s feast/famine often. One must hustle and be motivated.
In 1937 the Federal Tax rate for $300.000 – $400.000 was a whopping 70 percent !
So Gary Cooper ($370,000)and Mae West ($323,000) were ending up with about $110.000 and $97.000 respectively.
Compare that to Stan Laurel $135,167 who has a tax rate of 62 %, ends up with $51,363 .His partner Ollie, although being paid less than him also ends up in a lower tax bracket. Ollie’s $88,600 get taxed at a mere 55 percent and so he ends up with $39,870 which shrinks the gap between them from 46 grand to 11 and a half grand.
By 1945 the tax rate for Gary and Mae was up at 94 percent !!! If we assume they were still being paid the same amount at that point, they would be taking home $22,200 and $19,380 respectively.
I have to assume some large pay raises were going on or they would really be feeling the pinch!
Thanks for that information Timothy ….. was trying to figure out what the tax rate was! I guess in the early 20s or before; the tax rate was a lot lower for the likes of Gloria Swanson? 👍
Phil Liverpool UK 🇬🇧
I was surprised that Tyrone Power who was a major star was not even listed, curious why. He was in quite a few movies all very profitable in 1937
Fascinating read! I’ve stumbled here while searching for hints as to what celebrities made when advertising products like cigarettes and the like. Might you be able to suggest a place that might mention that?
Short answer- not really.
Long answer – if you are determined and have a legitimate reason beyond curiosity.
I would believe that the stars kept that sort of information under close wraps. That would be the sort of primary material that would be unlikely to see public exposure and not need to be revealed. Individually I’m sure each star’s biographer may have looked into such matters. Whether they decided to include it in a book or not is up to the biographer.
If you are a serious researcher you might be able to access in person, the Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Library special collections which hold the papers and correspondence of dozens of Hollywood luminaries.
The other primary source would be an agency like the William Morris Agency which arranged these sort of contracts and deals for the stars. Whether agencies retained these old contracts and papers is unlikely, but you never know. The cigarette companies also at one time had copies of their contracts. Again I would think they discarded such material after a certain number of years. Even if an entity did still have this material, getting access would be difficult, first finding who to contact in a company and then them locating the material you want.
Then if you got that far your request would be on a case by case basis. Unless you have a really good reason for requesting it, like researching a book to be published, I doubt just any person would be allowed to view what would be considered confidential material even if it still exists. On the other hand some companies have really good archives, so you never know.
Other than these tips, I don’t think searching the internet will yield much, so good luck finding out what you seek.
I noticed that (at number 96) the composer/lyricist Mack Gordon is listed as “Gordon Mack.” Also, I was curious what $100,000 in 1937 would be worth today. The 2017 equivalent is about $1.7 million.
No. $100’000/- in 1937 is equal to $3’000’000/- in 2017 worth. If $890/- was the average working man earnings annually in 1937 according to the above list, today the average earning is more like $30’000/- annually, so the inflation adjusted for $100’000/- would be more like 3 million USD in today’s times. Although with regard to the worth of real estate it may even be much higher, for example, Gary Cooper (the top earning star in Hollywood in 1937 according to the above list)’s house was worth $37’000/- then. It is inconceivable that today a similar house can be bought for less than 20 million USD. Sometimes the economists also take into account the population and the Gross National Product at that time and at present time for comparison of how much a particular amount back in yesteryears would be worth today. You can also count it in this way that for example a cup of coffee and a donut at a diner cost 15 cents then, and how much it costs today. Or, a brand new Ford model T was being sold at less than $500 back in 1935 and how much a similar car costs today, or the Blue Plate Special cost 50 cents at a diner back in the 1930s and how much a similar meal would cost today. Back in the 1930s, newspapers were sold for 2 cents a copy, Time magazine was sold 10 cents a copy, a glass of beer cost 5 cents back then, so was a packet of cigarettes for the same amount. Back then, a one Dollar tip to a hotel bellboy seemed generous, out of town motel rooms went for $2 a night (but they did not have private bath), furnished rooms with private bath in Los Angeles area in 1937 were rented for $9 a week, extras acting in movie productions were paid $2.50 per day of work plus lunch, US senators’ salary was $10’000/- annually in the 1930s and 1940s.
Wealth and what money is worth over a period of time can be very complicated. It all depends upon what you are measuring.
Here is one very good calculator which looks at answers depending upon various formulas-
This is what measuringworth.com says about the subject-
Hi, was interested in their incomes because my dad was born in 1918 and worked then and made no money. So, basically times haven’t changed that much.
On another point. I was looking at the stars on the hollywood walk of fame and Louis Calhern and Una O’Conner aren’t there. How Calhern doesn’t have a star is extraordinary. He was an extensive stage actor. He was Julius Caesar in Julius Caesar with Marlon Brando and James Mason movie in 1953 et al. Nominated for the Academy Award in The Magnificent Yankee. He was in Duck Soup, The Life of Emile Zola and so many others. And one roll I liked him in, Confidentially Connie. He plays a rich Texan and the father of Van Johnson. He wants Van Johnson to take over the wealthy family ranch (cattle) business. It’s a funny role for him, but shows he can play a Texan and Caesar.
Instead we have the new idiots having their star.
Well, thanks for reading and putting up with my rant.
All the best.
P.S. If there is a way I could help get him a star, or Una, then I would gladly help them have lasting impressions on the sidewalks of Southern California.
Lord knows we need some more class down there.
Unfortunately greatness is fleeting and getting a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame involves a lot of things, but the main criteria is money.
You can nominate anyone, but I would think getting a deceased star added would be quite an undertaking. There are many deserving stars of television, radio and the screen that are not represented and dozens of others who probably shouldn’t be, but are.
I agree Louis Calhern should have a star. He was a great actor, especially in The Asphalt Jungle.
Louis Calhern was in many more fine movies in the golden age of Hollywood demonstrating excellent performances including the role of the corrupt lawyer in The Asphalt Jungle, the CIA Officer in Notorious, the exiled Imperial Russian officer in pre-World War II Paris in Arch of Triumph, the Soviet officer in The Red Danube, as king of Karlsberg, a fictional Central European kingdom in pre-World War I Europe in The Student Prince, as the Brazilian grandfather of Ricardo Montalban in Latin Lovers, or the teacher in Blackboard Jungle, and in other films such as The Executive Suite, Rhapsody, A Life of Her Own, Devil’s Doorway, Heaven can Wait, The Bridge of San Luis Rey, and many others. It’s really a shame that he has not a star on Hollywood Walk of Fame.
I’m greatly interested in old Hollywood specifically Gale Sondergaard. Any and all info on her personal and professional life.
I didn’t see her name on the above list of Hollywood stars earnings. ( or net worth )
I understand on or about 1950 her acting career was destroyed.
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I am writing a postgraduate dissertation on gender equality in Hollywood and this article is very interesting.
I was wondering if you had a link of the original report? I tried to find it on Google/the U.S. Treasury website but have been unlucky so far.
Thank you for your help,
The original article is from the Los Angeles Times. You probably have access to it through your postgrad facility by looking at your library databases. It will be under Proquest Historical Newspapers and then searching the LA Times. They routinely published annual lists like this. I happened to pick 1937 to focus on. Good luck with your dissertation.