GLASGOW has played host to an impressive list of stars through the decades.

Our Famous Faces series in Times Past has paid tribute to some of the stage and screen idols to grace our theatres, from Cary Grant and Sophia Loren to Dorothy Lamour and Marlene Dietrich.

This week, however, we present a near miss – the time an internationally-renowned actress was ALMOST enticed to the city by a gender pay gap-busting offer from a popular theatre…

“The Pavilion led the way in equal pay for women more than a century ago,” explains film historian and author Brian Hannan, who is from Paisley.

“In 1911, the theatre offered a world record fee for a star of any gender to French actress Sarah Bernhardt. 

“The offer of $6000 a week – equivalent of $50,000 a week now – was rejected because the star was preparing to make one of the first full-length feature films.”

He adds: “The sum was 50 per cent more than she was being paid to perform in London.”

Bernhardt, born in 1844, was one of the most popular French stage stars of her time and one of the first prominent actresses to make sound recordings and to act in motion pictures. 

The Pavilion also attempted to attract top American theatre star of the time Gaby Deslys, who collected $4000 a week across the Atlantic, but failed.  Deslys was a singer and actress during the early 20th century, who was extremely popular worldwide in the 1910s.

She performed several times on Broadway, and appeared alongside a young Al Jolson. 

Brian discovered the story researching his new book When Women Ruled Hollywood.

“Hollywood paid women far more than previously thought,” he says. 

“Bette Davis earned more than Humphrey Bogart, Joan Crawford more than John Wayne, and Greta Garbo more than Clark Gable. 

“In one year Mae West earned more than every businessman in America bar one and in 1918, Mary Pickford earned more – $1.8million (equivalent to $30m now) – than any male or female was paid for another 70 years.”

Brian’s groundbreaking study, covering the period 1910 to 1948, draws on new sources, including some supplied by the US Government. This was at a time when women in ordinary jobs routinely earned far less than men. 

“Stage and film actresses and female novelists were rewarded by different criteria than people working in industry or the professions,” says Brian. 

“It was all down to sales. If you could prove you could put bums on seats or sell books by the bucketload, you were rewarded accordingly. 

“Salaries rose because of competition and because the stars just demanded more.” 

Brian’s previous books include The Making of the Magnificent Seven and The Gunfighters of ’69 – the Westerns’ Greatest Year.

“While researching books on the business history of Hollywood I came across two reports that did not seem to support the standard view of women as second-class citizens in the movie industry, so I just started digging,” he explains.

“Given that some of my previous books have been on such male-oriented movies as The Magnificent Seven and The Guns of Navarone, it is quite unusual for me to end up writing this kind of material, but it proved easily the most satisfying of the dozen movie books I have written.” 

When Women Ruled Hollywood is published tomorrow