I am a sucker for old movie ads, so the new book The Art of Selling Movies (GoodKnight Press) is manna from heaven as far as I’m concerned. What makes it more than a mere compendium of clippings is the knowledge and lifelong passion of its author, John McElwee. He assembled his first scrapbook of newspaper ads when he was in kindergarten! John understands the significance of these ads, the varied purposes they served, and the targeted audiences they hoped to reach.
After all these years he has become more of a curator than a collector and we are the beneficiaries. It’s one thing to read that Citizen Kane wound up sharing double-bills with tacky B movies (albeit with “Nothing deleted! Nothing changed!”) but the impact is much greater when you see some of the ads first-hand. It’s also instructive to observe how individual theater owners promoted the picture (“See it from the start and catch that 1st big scene!”). Along those lines, nothing could top the New Orleans exhibitor who had the courage to promote The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari with quotes, presumably from customers, who exclaimed “Rotten!” “I don’t get it!” and “What’s it all about?”
John presides over an addictive website called Greenbriar Picture Shows (click HERE) and compiled a book of his columns with the colorful title Showmen, Sell it Hot! This handsome new volume strikes an especially resonant chord with me, and I hope the sample ads here will whet your appetite for more. You can order the book HERE.
If there’s anything I enjoy as much as vintage movie ads it’s publicity photos from the golden age of Hollywood. If you share my affection for candid shots of the stars you’ll love Hollywood at Play: The Lives of the Stars Between Takes (Lyons Press), compiled and annotated by Donovan Brandt, Mary Mallory, and Stephen X. Sylvester. They know a rare image when they see one and have gathered scores of great examples: Humphrey Bogart playing chess with his pet Scotty, Lon Chaney Jr. in full Wolf Man makeup with his German shepherd, Sammy Davis Jr. serenading Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, Elizabeth Taylor bestowing a kiss on Judy Garland, Fred Astaire on the tennis court, Groucho Marx dancing with Audrey Hepburn (and, in another candid, with Diana Ross!), to cite just a few. A surprising number of these pictures are in color. Whether you’re looking for uncommon photos of William Boyd or Doris Day, you’ll be happy with this delightful collection. You can purchase a copy HERE.
Finally, having given us backstage tours of MGM and Warner Bros., Steven Bingen has turned his attention to the only major studio located in Hollywood proper: Paramount: City of Dreams (Taylor Trade). Hollywood historian and photo archivist Marc Wanamaker has collaborated on this elaborate and definitive volume about the studio lot immortalized in such films as Sunset Blvd., where Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) drives her car through the famous Bronson gate. I had the privilege of working on this lot for more than twenty years and never took it for granted; I always felt I was walking on hallowed ground. It’s fun to learn about its history and expansion over the years (as well as its merging with the neighboring RKO studio on Gower Street). Bingen doesn’t miss a trick, providing photos, blueprints, and behind-the-scenes shots of everything from the commissary to the mill. You’ll also find a breakdown of what movies and television shows were filmed on the various stages in this appealing blend of reference and readability. You can purchase a copy HERE.