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Hollywood 1938

Hollywood 1938: Motion Pictures' Greatest Year

Catherine Jurca
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 284
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  • Book Info
    Hollywood 1938
    Book Description:

    InHollywood 1938, Catherine Jurca brings to light a tumultuous year of crisis that has been neglected in histories of the studio era. With attendance in decline, negative publicity about stars that were "poison at the box office," and a spate of bad films, industry executives decided that the public was fed up with the movies. Jurca describes their desperate attempt to win back audiences by launching Motion Pictures' Greatest Year, a massive, and unsuccessful, public relations campaign conducted in theaters and newspapers across North America. Drawing on the records of studio personnel, independent exhibitors, moviegoers, and the motion pictures themselves, she analyzes what was wrong-and right-with Hollywood at the end of a heralded decade, and how the industry's troubles changed the making and marketing of films in 1938 and beyond.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95196-9
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction: Hollywood Looks at Its Audience
    (pp. 1-12)

    Hollywood 1938is a book about movies; the industry that produced, distributed, and exhibited them; and the relation of both to the public during what might well be considered, to that point, motion pictures’ worst year. The American film industry faced a bewildering array of problems in 1938, most of which were only resolved or, more accurately, postponed by the box-office miracle known as World War II. An unanticipated decline in attendance and revenues began in the fall of 1937, with the recession that brought more than a year of economic recovery to a halt. There were labor troubles; television...


    • CHAPTER 1 Annus Horribilis
      (pp. 15-27)

      Let’s enter the campaign by way ofThe Goldwyn Follies(1938). No film better represents the problems the industry faced in 1938 or the way that films might be imagined as vehicles for addressing them. Released six months before MPGY began,The Goldwyn Folliestakes as its subject the difficulties of making movies for a recalcitrant public, on the eve of the industry’s singular preoccupation with them, and exemplifies those difficulties through its own troubled reception. The film deals with the challenge of pleasing the public by creating a surrogate for it, to whom it assigns the task of demonstrating...

    • CHAPTER 2 Exhibitors, the Movie Quiz Contest, and a Divided Industry
      (pp. 28-60)

      The campaign was first announced in the trade press on July 18, 1938. Details remained sketchy for the next week or so. Lacking a name, a slogan, a budget, and a strategy, it was variously described as a “pep drive,” “a nationwide ‘go to movies’ week,” an “advertising campaign,” and a “national ‘go to the movies’ season.” By July 27, when some three hundred representatives from all branches of the industry, including independent exhibition, gathered at the Astor Hotel in New York, the general scope of the campaign, as well as many details, had been determined. As its newly appointed...

    • CHAPTER 3 The Campaign and the Press
      (pp. 61-94)

      The proposed solution to the damage caused by the intra-industry bickering and the surplus of bad films was not, in the end, for Hollywood to “shut up” so much as for it to “talk back,” to “give our side . . . to the public.” The film industry budgeted $575,000 for institutional advertisements, almost twice the amount ($315,000) set aside to administer and award prizes in the movie quiz contest. The vehicle for delivering its story was some eighteen hundred daily newspapers in the United States and Canada. As local forms of address, newspapers spoke directly to readers from within...


    • CHAPTER 4 “The Finest Array of Productions”
      (pp. 97-200)

      In many ways the campaign films resembled any three-month slice of Hollywood product at the transition to a new season. There were films across a range of budgets, from costly spectacles to programmers and the cheap Bs that produced reliable profits, if little glory, thanks to block booking and double features. Superspecials were very much in evidence:Marie Antoinette, The Great Waltz,andSweetheartsfrom MGM;Alexander’s Ragtime BandandSuezfrom Fox;Men with Wings and Spawn of the Northfrom Paramount;Carefreefrom RKO;You Can’t Take It with Youfrom Columbia. Four were left over from the...

  8. Conclusion: Motion Pictures’ Worst Year
    (pp. 201-222)

    The MPGY campaign got off to an excellent start, amid the blaze of publicity for which the industry was so famous. Reports in both the trade and mainstream press touted its salubrious effect on box-office receipts, beginning with a big Labor Day weekend. The numbers were predictably fuzzy and flexible but communicated an aura of triumph. A 10 to 30 percent increase in box office over the previous year was cited, with improvements as great as 45 percent in some areas. An Associated Press story announced that the film business “was leaping into the black from the red” as “every...

  9. APPENDIX 1 Newspapers in the Sample, by State
    (pp. 223-226)
  10. APPENDIX 2 Motion Pictures Included in the Motion Pictures’ Greatest Year Movie Quiz Contest, by Studio
    (pp. 227-230)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 231-262)
  12. Index
    (pp. 263-272)