July 25, 2010

A Star (System) is Born

Coming attraction slides were not used only to promote specific films.  With the emergence of the Hollywood star system, studio advertising increasingly leveraged the drawing power of their performers.  According to researcher Mitchell A. Flagg "By 1909, picture personalities began to appear in films, either using their own names or names the public assigned to them... film companies built brand loyalty through product individuation—the recognition and identification of an actor from film to film." 
Artcraft Pictures advertising Douglas Fairbanks (c. 1917-19) and Mary Pickford (c. 1913-15)
 Film historians today recognize Florence Lawrence as the first publicly recognized movie star.  Lawrence first appeared on screen in 1906 and over time became exceptionally (though anonymously) popular with a public that knew her only as "The Biograph Girl,"  known only by her nickname since at the time actor's names were not credited in film titles nor divulged by the studios.  This all changed in 1910 when Carl Laemmle founded his IMP (Independent Moving Pictures) Company in 1910.  To stir publicity for his new studio, Laemmle, who had just hired Griffith away from Biograph, started a rumor that she had been killed in a streetcar accident.  Days later he announced to everybody's relief she was still alive, and would soon be appearing in IMP productions.  Overnight everyone knew her name, and as legend has it, the star system was born.
Paramount stars Vivian Martin (c. 1916-19), Lina Cavalieri (c. 1917-19), and Enid Bennett (c. 1918-20)
The emergence of the star system is also evident in lantern slides of the silent era, particularly in the late 1910s.  While most coming attraction slides promote specific film titles, it is not uncommon to find studio issued slides directly promoting star personalities. 

G.M. "Broncho Billy" Anderson (c. 1911-16)
The practice of using slides to promote individual stars appears to have run its course by the the early 1920s.  I have approximated the dates on these examples based on the years the performers were under contract to their respective studios.  Considering the stylistic similarities of the Artcraft and Paramount samples, it seems reasonable to assume they were produced in roughly the same time frame, probably around 1917-18.  The G.M. Anderson slides are somewhat more difficult to date.  Anderson starred in his "Broncho Billy" westerns from 1911 to 1916, but given that I have discovered no motion picture advertising slides prior to 1913, it seems reasonable to assume that these two slides were produced some time between 1913 and 1916.


  1. How fabulous to find your blog on glass slides. I love them and always enjoy seeing them since many of them represent not only the slide but give an example of what the half sheet on a film looked like. From what I can see I'm going to learn plenty about the history of the glass slides. Very cool and fabulous scans of the slides, nice and clear and spectacular.

  2. Interesting, too, to note that the Broncho Billy slide on the left (as his original name GM Anderson) is a slide that is custom made for a theater, promoting the theater as well as the star. Similar slides exist for Clune's Theater, best remembered for being the site of the premiere of The Birth of a Nation.

  3. Hey rudyfan1926, many thanks for the kind words. I'm actually hoping to learn a lot myself. There isn't much documented on the topic and I have high hopes that knowledgeable readers will actively contribute. By the way, know where a guy can find some nice Rudy slides? I'm not shopping - just wanna look.

  4. Tracey, thanks for the idea! I think there's a definitely digging to be done on the topic of venue-issued slides that promote a specific title or star. Watch for an entry in the coming weeks.

  5. Silent Robert, shoot me an email at rudyfan.geo(at)yahoo.com I'm pretty sure I can find some on my PC for you


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