Posted by Susan Doll on December 24, 2012
During the Golden Age, when most stars were under contract to a studio, posing for publicity shots was part of the job of being a star. When not working on a film, stars were expected to report to the studio’s publicity department to be photographed and interviewed. The publicity departments included press agents who composed biographies for the stars, contributed articles to the fanzines, and publicized individual films from concept through distribution. They leaked details about casting, recounted the stars’ experiences on the set, and arranged interviews with gossip columnists and radio hosts. The low end of a press agent’s job was to spread rumors and stories about certain stars or to arrange publicity stunts. The high end of employees was represented by the staff and free-lance photographers who took thousands and thousands of photos for the studios. Some photos were publicity stills from the latest films; others were promotional portraits designed to reinforce a star’s image to remind fans of their appeal.
According to scholar Richard Dyer, who has written extensively about the nature and meaning of movie stars, four types of information were used to construct and circulate a star image: films, promotion, publicity, and criticism. Promotion includes anything generated by the studio to tout a performer or a film, including stills and promo photos. These photos were routinely sent to newspapers, fanzines, and theaters as well as to any fans who wrote to the studio asking for them.
Another category of photos generated during this time were artistic celebrity portraits, which were larger than the standard 8” x 10” and intended for personal use by the stars or to decorate the offices of studio executives. Print runs were limited, and the photographers employed for these shoots included top artists like George Hurrell, Robert Coburn, Ruth Harriet Louise, Clarence Sinclair Bull, Ernest Bachrach, and Otto Dyar.
Fans, however, were content with the 8”x 10” promo photos, which were printed by the thousands, often with captions and studio logos along the bottoms. Holidays, especially Christmas, provided ample opportunity to promote many stars and resulted in some of the most charming photos, which I offer to all of you on Christmas Eve. Merry Christmas!
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