Columbia Pictures Stills and Key books is a collection of publicity materials that includes (but is not limited to) film stills, studio portraits and general publicity, as well as production photos and other behind-the-scenes images. Taken in their totality, the Columbia Pictures collection documents many of the ways movie studios marketed their stars and their films to potential audiences. Though they employed a variety of tactics, the goal was always to connect screen personalities to movie-goers. Many of these photos were clearly intended for fan magazines, while others were published in newspapers and other standard periodicals.
Marketing up-and-coming stars: Studios employed various strategies in order to drum up publicity for new talent (with the studio benefiting in turn). Allyn Drake, Barbara Reed and Inez Courtney were amongst a bevy of newly contracted Columbia players presented to movie fans in the article, “Tomorrow’s Stars,” Screenland, Nov. 1934: 57, 92. The introduction mostly noted their physical attributes.
Allyn Drake appeared in nine Columbia Pictures features and short films, in minor and uncredited roles. At top, Drake poses with four bottles and a glass of milk. A similar photo was used in New York State’s “drink more milk” campaign.
A 16-year-old Barbara Reed signed with Columbia Pictures in 1934 but made no movies for the studio. She eventually signed with Universal in 1937.
Marketing personas: An emphasis was placed on individual actors and actresses and the character types ascribed to them. Studio and outdoor photos placed actors in situations that reflected their on-screen identities, while “behind the scenes” photos (often staged views of actors/actresses at home) reinforced actors’ personal biographies – usually aggrandized narratives created by the actors and studio publicists.
Inez Courtney was also featured in Screenland’s “Tomorrow’s Stars” column – but Courtney was already a familiar face, having appeared in eleven films before signing with Columbia in 1934. Courtney, who began her career on Broadway, was often cast as “the funny girl” or the sarcastic friend. Images of Inez Courtney include an abundance of gag shots, along with several glamour photos.
Jack Holt began his film career as a stunt actor. Before that, he was a gold miner, railroad engineer and cattle herder (amongst other occupations).The images above convey those “rugged masculine” qualities he displayed in his Western films. The photo of Holt and his son was taken during an interview for the Los Angeles Times. The article, titled “Son May Follow into Film Career: Boy Has Physique and Outdoor Tastes of Elder ‘He-Man’ Star” (8 Jan. 1934: A6), perfectly sums up the type of character Holt conveyed on and off screen.
Though Holt only appeared in three Westerns for Columbia Pictures, the studio still seized on his alpha-male appeal, casting him in roles like the escaped convict and the dubious criminal defense attorney.
Marketing the private lives of stars: The collection includes documentary images that reveal moments in stars’ personal lives, but it is difficult to look at these images without a cynical eye. Take for instance the photo of Audrey Totter and her husband on their wedding day (September 22, 1952). The photo was housed with items related to her film, Assignment—Paris (released in October). Coincidence?
Marketing the “behind the scenes” experience: Images from the 1930s and 40s reflect the studio system and its emphasis on creating (and maintaining) personas. By the 1950s, publicity (as represented in this collection) took a different turn. Studios continued to produce their standard images – staged photo-ops, etc., but they also began to contribute more “behind the scenes” photos – perhaps in an attempt to give fans more of the insider information they craved and sought in movie magazines and scandal publications. Though Columbia’s images are decidedly measured and studio approved, they still manage to convey something a bit more real than in previous decades.
Digitization and access to these resources was generously supported by Arcadia funds.
By Stefanie Crump
Arcadia Nitrates Team
UCLA Library Cataloging & Metadata Center