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Remembering when movie posters graced local theaters

Bob Cox • Jan 27, 2019 at 12:00 PM

During a recent antique store visit, I came across several vintage westerns-genre movie lobby cards, one of which I desired immensely.

The cast of the movie, "Outlaw Brand," as depicted on my newfound treasure, included singing cowboy star Jimmy Wakely (my all-time favorite), sidekick Dub "Cannonball" Taylor and the token heroine, Kay Morley.

In my opinion, no singing cowboy could sit around the campfire and croon western songs like Jimmy Wakely. Over time, I acquired 47 western-flavored songs by him and listen to them frequently, usually on Saturday mornings.

My favorite Wakely recordings are "On the Strings of My Lonesome Guitar" and "When A Speck in the Sky Is A Bluebird." They reside on opposite sides of a fragile 78-rpm record.

The lobby card is from a 1948 Monogram picture, directed by Lambert Hillyer and screenplay by J. Benton Cheney. It further noted: "Hear these Top Western Tunes: ‘Dear Oakie,’ ‘A Million Memories’ and ‘Rose of the Prairie.’ ” That alone would have been worth the nine-cent admission price for youngsters of that era.

Before television was made available to the masses, posters were the primary means to sell the films of the day to as wide an audience as possible. They were never intended to be recognized or perceived as great art.

In many ways, the posters, with their brilliant, colorful images, were more interesting than many of the movies they promoted, but they were long overlooked and under-appreciated as an art form.

The posters were, for the most part, absolutely stunning as far as content and artwork were concerned. In today's world, nearly everyone has the means to own copies of the movies we grew up with, and many of us may also elect to collect these unique works of art that complement the films we enjoy as we relive our movie memories.

Those of us who can afford them also collected these unique works of art that complement the films we enjoy as we relive our movie memories.

Back when posters were at their artistic peak, probably 7,000 to 12,000 were distributed among the theater owners to promote a single movie. It was standard procedure that they were to be returned to the studio for credit on future posters.

However, a relatively small number of theater owners elected to hold on to them, and that is one reason so few of them are available to collectors today. The overwhelming majority have been destroyed due to deterioration, improper storage or just lack of interest.

Through the years, they were dismissed as having no value and subsequently destroyed, much as yesterday's newspapers are allocated to recycle bins. I feel sure there have been many heirs who likely obtained these collectible works of art through inheritance, possibly discovered in a long forgotten trunk in an attic, basement, or garage where the recipients had no clue as to the significance of what they held in their hands.

During the better part of Hollywood's "Golden Age,'" there were nine different variations of "posters" that were employed to seduce and lure us to the box office to lay down the price of admission. In our time, nine cents was the going price when we were attending West Side and Henry Johnson Elementary Schools.

The nine items that made up the components of the movie posters were:

1) Lobby Card - (11 by 14 inches), on heavy board stock. A set of eight lobby cards were produced per movie title; the main, "title" card prominently displayed the movie's title, listed the main as well as select featured players, provided production credits, all with beautiful, colorful artwork. The remaining seven cards were colored (often hand-tinted) photographic scenes (often posed for still camera) from the movie.

2) Window Card - (14 by 22 inches), heavy board stock. Contained a blank space at either the top or bottom of the card to allow the theater to insert its name and playdates for the movie.

3) Jumbo Widow Card - (22 by 28 inches), heavy board stock. Same as Window Card but for size.

4) Half-Sheet - (22 ny 28 inches), heavy paper stock.

5) Insert - (14 by 36 inches), heavy paper stock.

6) One-Sheet - (typically 22 by 41 inches), heavy paper stock.

7) Three-Sheet - (typically 41 by 81 inches), heavy paper stock, printed on two or three separate sheets, designed to overlap, usually pasted on walls (much like wallpaper).

8) Six-Sheet - (81 by 81 inches), heavy paper stock, printed on four separate sheets, designed to overlap, pasted on walls.

9) Twenty-Four Sheet - (approximately 9 by 20 feet), heavy paper stock, printed on many separate sheets to be pasted on billboards).

The one-sheet and any of the eight lobby cards are the items we would most readily identify with as we recall our times in front of the Liberty, Tennessee, Sevier and Majestic theatres during the 1940s and '50s. They are the most familiar and sought after paper items coveted by collectors.

For many of us, that era may be gone, but certainly has not been forgotten, in large part due to the presence of antique stores, auctions and flea markets.

Movie Posters and Lobby Cards help us to recall a special time in our lives, a time when celluloid cowboy heroes drove the range, performed daring deeds for those in need, tracked down and brought the bad guys to justice, romanced the rancher's daughter and still found time to croon a western tune around an inviting campfire. Happy Trails!

Reach Bob Cox at [email protected] or go to www.bcyesteryear.com.

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