Saturday, June 12, 2010
A movie herald: what it tells us
On eBay, there is an American Venus movie herald for sale. Just about any movie herald from the silent era is uncommon. Some are rare. What makes this particular herald a bit unusual are its hand written annotations. They have a story to tell.
The American Venus was released in early 1926. This herald is dated 1927, apparently by someone who saw the film. That suggests that the two theaters which showed the film in May of that year, one in Petersburg and one in Blissfield (located less than 9 miles apart in Monroe County in Michigan), showed it late in the exhibition life of the film. That was not usual for small towns, which usually but not always got major films later than the bigger cities and towns.
The film’s plot revolved around a beauty contest, and as I have found out, many theaters sponsored their own beauty contests or fashion shows in connection with the showing of the film. Such was the case with the Petersburg and Blissfield Theaters.
Beauty contests, and to a lesser degree this film, helped “define” the notion of beauty. The film’s star, Fay Lanphier, was named Miss America in 1925, and as press coverage at the time indicates, she was considered an ideal beauty. I have found many newspapers advertisements which detailed Lanphier’s physical attributes, including her measurements. She is shown, arms outstretched, in the interior of the herald. Esther Ralston, another renown beauty, is pictured on the cover of the herald.
On the back of the herald is a custom message from the sponsoring theaters which reads “The lady turning in measurements nearest to the AMERICAN VENUS will be given—ten tickets to this theatre. Measurements must be turned in on playing date—at box office.”
What’s interesting are the handwritten notations. They record someone’s measurements in comparison to Lanphier’s. On the back, that same someone recorded their weight throughout the 1930’s. That someone, who weighed 169 pounds in 1939, held onto this herald for more than 12 years. The American Venus made an impression. This battered herald, this scrap of paper, tells their story.
Copyright thomas gladysz / Louise Brooks Society
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