You might notice that sometimes I’ll get a little snippy over Warren William’s billing, especially when it comes to the more mainstream titles such as Lady for a Day (1933) or Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933). Lest we forget WW’s standing at the time, it’s top bill only, regardless of screen time he is the star.
Why’s that? Well, it’s in his contract. I thought I’d give you a little something special for Warren William’s 115th birthday this Wednesday, December 2, and so here it is. Clause 15 from his Warner Brothers contract signed and dated June 6, 1933:
Producer agrees that in all advertising, exploitation and publicity in connection with the pictures in which Artist shall appear and which may be within the control of Producer, Artist shall be accorded first featured male billing. In this connection, however, it is understood that Artist may be co-featured with any other member of the cast, provided, however, that the name of no other male Artist except that of the star, if any, will appear ahead of or in type larger in size than the name of the Artist. It is further agreed that if for any reason Producer shall desire to feature any other artists who may previously have been accorded star billing or been recognized as a star, then the name of such star so being billed as a featured player may precede the name of Artists, but in such even the name of Artist will appear in type in size at least sixty (60%) of the size of type used for such star being billed as a featured player. It is further agreed that in the advertising and publicity through the means of lithographing that the name of Artist will be displayed upon at least two types or sizes of such lithograph advertising. Nothing contained in this paragraph shall be construed so as to prevent so-called "teaser" and/or special advertising, publicity and/or exploitation relating to the story upon which said photoplay is based, the author, the director or similar matters, without mentioning Artists’s name, or so as to prevent so-called "trailer" or other advertising on the screen without mentioning Artist’s name, and no casual or inadvertent failure to comply with the provisions of this paragraph shall constitute a breach of this agreement.
As a further example of this clause in action I quote a February 12, 1934 inter-office communication from Max Arnow to R.J. Obringer regarding William’s loan to Paramount for the part of Caesar in Cleopatra:
The artist is to receive first male billing, his name to be equal in size to that of Claudette Colbert or any other female billing ahead although it is understood that the name of Warren William may be on the line underneath Miss Colbert’s name but to be of the same size as that of Miss Colbert’s and no other artists shall be billed on the same line with Warren William.
I had the idea of putting this post together after coming across an item on eBay from Warren William’s post-WB days, Who’s Who at Metro Goldwyn Mayer, published approximately 1939 according to the seller. The MGM issued title contains biographies of players under contract with them at the time with the bulk falling under the heading Featured Players but Warren William, who was there at the time, falling under the much more limited section titled Stars, which also includes the likes of Garbo, Gable, Powell and Loy, Norma Shearer, the Marx Brothers and other top MGM talent.
Warren William’s tenure at MGM apparently didn’t work out–he made four pictures for them in 1937-38, The Firefly (1937), Madame X (1937), Arsene Lupin Returns (1938), and The First Hundred Years (1938), none of them career highlights for sure–but this title, published by MGM itself, seems to indicate they thought they were really adding a valuable talent at the time. After his time at MGM Warren William would head to Columbia where he starred in the Lone Wolf series of pictures, popular but most definitely not A-pictures.