Saturday, November 5, 2016

Louise Brooks, at the corner of Brooklyn Avenue and 16th Street

In the 1920s, movies were advertised in all manner of ways -- in newspapers and magazines, on posters and handbills, in window displays, and even by individuals walking down the street wearing a sandwich boards. And like today, they were also advertised on billboards.

In the past, I have seen only one image of the billboard promoting a Louise Brooks' film, namely The Canary Murder Case, as it appeared in a distant and grainy photograph in a Winnipeg, Manitoba newspaper.

Recently, I came across something very special -- a photograph of a billboard promoting A Social Celebrity in Kansas City, Missouri. To me, it is a remarkable image, as it is not in a downtown setting (as in the Canary Murder Case image I had seen), but rather, in a city neighborhood. What's more, I found the image on an African-American history website -- the Black Archives of mid-America, which leads me to guess but not know for sure that the neighborhoods depicted below were African American neighborhoods. [It's not surprising that Brooks films were advertised in Black neighborhoods. In fact, I have come across a handful of instances when Brooks films were shown in theaters that catered to African Americans, one in Harlem, and one in Baltimore.]

Here is the first image I found, followed by a close-up of the billboard itself.





The billboard depicted above promotes a showing of A Social Celebrity at the downtown Newman Theater in Kansas City, commencing the week of May 1. One might ask, "Why was this picture taken?" Most likely, I would guess, to prove to Paramount or the film's local distributor or exhibitor that the film was in fact advertised as per an agreement.

I also happened to come upon another photograph from the time (all of which were credited to the Merritt Outdoor Advertising Co.) which depicts another billboard promoting A Social Celebrity in Kansas City! It's the on the far right. This photo is set at Broadway and 35th Street.



Just as I began to wonder it there had been a city wide campaign to promote the film, I came across another image of a billboard promoting A Social Celebrity. This one located at 15th and Holmes Streets in Kansas City.



And here is another, where the billboard is on the left of the three billboard construct. This picture was shot 4025 Troost Avenue.




I found four more images of billboards promoting A Social Celebrity, including the picture below. Unfortunately, this photograph, which is typical of the others, shows the billboard either distant or obscured (here behind a tree at the corner of Independence Avenue and Maple Boulevard). Nevertheless, that makes eight photographs of eight billboards promoting the same showing of A Social Celebrity.


Incidentally, the Newman showed many of Brooks' films when they were first released. The Newman was a major first run theater in a major metropolitan area. In fact, it was the "largest motion picture theater to be built in the downtown district and the most costly theater of any sort" erected at the time in Kansas City. Seating capacity was 2,000. There was also a big organ installed.

Named after Frank L. Newman and opened in 1919, the Newman theater was later sold to and operated by Paramount Pictures starting in 1925, when Newman left to manage theaters in Los Angeles for the Famous Players-Lasky Film Corporation. After another change of name and a renovation in 1969, the theater was closed for good and demolished in 1972. Here is a vintage postcard view of the theater.


These historic billboard images got me wondering. If they exist for one film in one city, where are others like them from other major cities? The search continues....

I wasn't able to find much about Frank Cambria's Garden Festival, which was the opening act for A Social Celebrity at the Newman in Kansas City. Seemingly, he/it was a traveling act, turning up in 1926 in Buffalo, Detroit, St. Louis and elsewhere. When Cambria's Garden Festival was staged that same year in Brooklyn ahead of the Richard Dix's film, Let's Get Married, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle described it as "a lovely presentation, staged in good taste and has as its theme song Schubert's Serenade."

Incidentally, I did find a few other images depicting billboards for other films starring the likes of Norma Shearer, Zasu Pitts, Helen Chadwick and others. Here is one of them, for the Priscilla Dean, Lon Chaney film Outside the Law at the Liberty theater. (Another image I came across, of a four billboard construct, depicts both Outside the Law and A Social Celebrity. That image is the fourth image from the top, though the billboard for Outside the Law is a hard to make out.)


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