Turner Classic Movies Plays Its Cards Right

I don’t know how the folks at TCM keep topping themselves, but they do. For their annual Summer Under the Stars festival, featuring a different star for every day in August, they’ve hired graphic artist Michael Schwab to create a series of distinctive collector cards, depicting each star in an iconic role one can recognize even in silhouette. You can admire the whole series online HERE. These are not “virtual” creations, however: the network plans to give away 500 complete sets through a sweepstakes drawing you can read about at their site.

Not counting my youthful forays into this field—when we used to refer to them as “gum cards” because they came with a slab of bubble gum, whether they depicted baseball stars, Zorro, or—

—The Three Stooges—I became enamored of these mini-graphics all over again in the 1980s when several companies, notably Denis Kitchen’s late, lamented Kitchen Sink Press, created nifty boxed sets for pop-culture fans. There were pin-up cards, movie poster cards, and much more. I still have a Mamie Van Doren card bearing her lipstick imprint! Other classic sets remain in print, like Robert Crumb’s Heroes of the Blues and Drew Friedman’s Ed Wood Jr. Players.

Then I veered into dangerous territory: I started looking for vintage movie cards on ebay. A friendly warning: there is no end to them, from the silent era onward. Fortunately, most of these series were produced in great quantity, so they don’t cost very much, and they’re great fun to collect. I’ve reprinted a pair of favorites here: Charley Chase is part of an early 1930s series produced for Hollywood Picture Star Gum by Hamilton Chewing Gum Ltd. in Ontario, Canada. The other, featuring the beloved Harry Carey, Jr. (still with us, I’m happy to say) is from the early 1950s and carries the copyright “T.C.G.” which I take to be Topps Chewing Gum. On the back of the card is biographical information about Dobe and a photo of another star whose identity you’re supposed to guess.

I always felt the pinnacle of my career was reached when, after making a cameo appearance in Gremlins 2: The New Batch twenty years ago, I turned up on not one but two successive Topps cards that told the movie’s story in pictures. Pretty heady stuff.

And now TCM has produced a stylish new set of movie cards. Just what I need: more stuff to collect!

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March 2023