Classic Movie Posters Saved…

FILM HISTORY

Former Loew’s usher rescues hand-painted movie posters

 

 Movie posters saved

An usher back in the glory days of Atlanta’s Loew’s Grand, Herb Bridges knew the value of hand-painted posters found abandoned in a metro storage facility.

 

Promos from the 1930s and ’40s found in abandoned storage facility

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The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Sunday, December 14, 2008

 

They’re stacked against walls inside a century-old house in Sharpsburg like some fanboy’s oversize trading cards: hand-painted movie posters depicting bygone Hollywood royalty.

 

Clark Gable, Jane Russell, Mickey Rooney when he was a fresh-faced, hayseed kid.

 

Titles from the ’30s and ’40s are lined up like a Turner Classic Movies grid: “The Outlaw,” “The Bridge of San Luis Rey,” “Angel on My Shoulder.”

 

Yet their vivid green and orange backgrounds, ruby-red lips and blue-black hair glow with eternal youth in the weak light scattered under the rooms’ 14-foot ceilings.

 

“I’m just glad they were saved,” said Herb Bridges, 79, a retired rural mail carrier raised in the same house he now uses as a kind of seven-room storage unit for his various collections. “They’ve given me a lot of pleasure for more than a year. Now I’d like to share them.”    (Click on ‘Continue Reading’ for more)

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Bridges’ poster collection from the long-gone Loew’s Grand theater is a rare artifact both of old Hollywood and old Atlanta. It was featured in a recent issue of Architectural Digest, and about a dozen of the posters were exhibited last month at the Centre for the Performing and Visual Arts in nearby Newnan.

 

An earlier, more celebrated collection of hand-painted posters from the Eastman Theater in Rochester, N.Y., is being exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

 

“They’re an important part of film history,” said Anthony Slide, co-author of “Now Playing: Hand-Painted Poster Art from the 1910s Through the 1950s,” published last year.

 

They’re also a barely known part of that history. From the silent-film era until the 1950s, some movie houses across the country, including in Atlanta, had staff artists who painted as many as eight posters each week to promote the arrival of a new movie.

 

The mass-produced lithographs provided by the studios were far cheaper. But in a TV-less era, when downtown theaters often competed within blocks of each other, some managers believed the handmade posters gave them an edge.

 

“These beautiful posters represented an extra service by the theater managers,” said Kathryn Fuller-Seeley, associate professor of film at Georgia State University. “They were not something just packaged out of Hollywood. The management was determined to link the movies to the local culture.”

 

The artists were largely anonymous, their 48-by-36 boards either painted over for the next week’s film or tossed out. Posters by Batiste Madalena on display at the MOMA survived only when they were discovered in a trash bin, said the exhibit’s curator, Ron Magliozzi.

 

Bridges ushered at the Loew’s Grand, on Peachtree Street downtown, one summer as a teenager. He worked with the artists there but never got to know them. Every Thursday night, he’d go back to their shop behind the stage — cluttered with paints, chalk crayons and movie publicity stills — to take the new posters to the glass display cases out front, and he’d bring back the old ones.

 

“I was frightened of them,” he said of Sid Smith and Charles Reese Collier, the Loew’s staff artists whose signatures are on only a handful of the posters in Bridges’ collection. “These were professional painters. They’d say, ‘Careful with my work, kid. Don’t smear it. Don’t drop it.’

 

“They were lords and kings of their domain,” he added. “Ushers were just paid peons and not allowed back there except to take the new posters out.”

 

Bridges never thought about the artists again until last year. He got a call from a junk dealer in Carrollton who’d found 70 of the Loew’s posters in an abandoned storage facility.

 

Bridges gets a lot of calls from junk dealers. He once owned what was considered the country’s largest “Gone With the Wind” collection. Christie’s auctioned it off several years ago in New York for about $350,000.

 

So Bridges went to Carrollton to see the posters.

 

“I was just fascinated by them,” he said. “I did some wheeling and dealing and bought them. Now I got to pay for them.”

 

He’s not sure how. He doesn’t want to sell the posters to a private collector. He’d rather have them displayed in a museum or tour the country as a traveling exhibit.

 

“I believe it’s art,” he said. “Not compared to a great Rembrandt or anything, but in its field.”

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