Publicity and Promotion



PUBLICITY AND THE FILM STAR

Although actors were initially uncredited, favorites soon emerged, even though fans would not know when they might see them next and knew nothing about them. This anonymity was gradually eroded—first within the industry via the trade press. Names were first announced in January 1909, when Kalem identified its actors in the New York Dramatic Mirror via a picture of its stock company with their names printed underneath. A year later, the studio made a promotional poster of its actors available to exhibitors. Other companies released names in the trade press and in their own house journals during 1909, and by 1910, most companies gave screen credits. IMP (a Universal-affiliated producer) was the first to identify a star to the public via a publicity stunt. In March 1910, it signed Florence Lawrence from Biograph, first planting stories that she had died in a

Lobby card advertising for William Castle's The Tingler (1959).

streetcar accident, then denying them, claiming a rival had defamed their star. Lawrence's name was thus released to the public amid widespread publicity.

The film star was perhaps the most important development in film advertising, and the preservation of those carefully-crafted star images was the focus of most Hollywood publicity, a process that reached its peak during the classical era. Star publicity quickly developed around the characteristic intersection of private life and on-screen image, with publicity departments becoming incredibly vigilant about the information given to the press. From their inception, most movie ads centered on stars, but this was only the tip of the iceberg. Much of the Hollywood promotional machine was devoted to testing different star images and marketing and maintaining these personae. Although these tasks were related to the process of film advertising, they were undertaken by separate divisions of the publicity department. Posters, lobby cards, and pressbooks were created in conjunction with the art department, while the publicists maintained star images. In the post-classical era, talent agents and the stars' own publicists took over much of this work, usually for 10 percent of a star's salary.

During the classical era, star publicity predated any individual film and extended well beyond it. Even before stars appeared on-screen, publicists created, manipulated, and distributed manufactured star biographies; set up photo sessions for studio portraits; and guided their stars' off-screen appearances. They also monitored and managed their press, tested their popularity with exhibitors and covered up any scandals or aspects of their lives that did not fit their image. They provided copy and photos for the fan magazines, including "intimate" confessions and peaks into the stars' "real" lives, as well as delivering press releases and promotional copy to protect carefully constructed studio personae. To keep stars—and their films—in the public eye, publicists developed rumors, organized parties, and created awards—tactics that are still popular today. Even the Academy Awards ® were established to keep stars and the film industry in the public eye.

The press was not always easily controlled, however, and the publicists had to work at maintaining a cordial relationship with the media. Even before the star scandals of the 1920s (the suspicious deaths of Olive Thomas and Thomas Ince, Wallace Reid's fatal drug addiction, Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle's murder trial, and the murder of William Desmond Taylor), the press wanted the truth about the stars—for some papers, the more sordid the better. As studio publicity built up interest in stars and helped sell papers, the press—especially smaller papers and the fan magazines—happily printed what were effectively studio press releases. The truth was more valuable and elusive but it could alienate the studios and jeopardize future film coverage. During the classical era, major studios might even pull their advertising from a paper if it reviewed important films badly or presented their stars in a bad light, and this could be costly for both parties. Bad reviews were sometimes changed, but other times the studio made the best of it, as with White Zombie (1932), for which it quoted bad reviews in ads and saw audiences increase. A similar phenomenon occurred decades later when Showgirls (1995) became a cult hit after failing as a serious drama, even being marketed in a special DVD edition with its own drinking game.

But after the collapse of the studio system, publicists faced greater struggles. The 1950s scandal magazine Hollywood Confidential exposed the sordid side of stars' lives, damaging studios' carefully constructed images until it ceased publication after a 1957 libel suit. Other such magazines soon appeared and even parody versions emerged, such as Cuckoo . Studios sometimes cut deals with Confidential and its ilk, selling out some actors to keep the true lives of other, more important, stars secret. But in the wake of these magazines, publicists had to confront the challenge of a more skeptical public aware of studio hype. This was less of a problem in the 1960s to the 1980s as interest in glamour (a term that implies superficiality and possible fakery) waned and Hollywood remodeled itself in the light of a new public fascination with realism. But with a resumed interest in glamour and celebrity since the 1990s, some of these same difficulties have reemerged, along with the centrality of the press agent and the careful molding of stars—this time through their own publicists. "Official" star images (from publicists, talent agents, and the studios themselves) are now countered by independent paparazzi, tabloids, and gossip Web sites such as gawker.com or defamer.com , featuring anonymous (and possibly unreliable) sources that cannot be leveraged or bought off. As stars and their agents lobby state governments to reign in paparazzi, the public's fascination with stars seems to increasingly depend on the pleasure of weighing which images are most "truthful."

SEE ALSO Censorship ; Distribution ; Exhibition ; Internet ; Merchandising ; Stars ; Studio System ; Television ; Video Games

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Moya Luckett



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