Newsstand: 1925: Motion Picture Magazine

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a virtual newsstand from the summer of 1925

Overview

           Motion Picture Magazine was first printed by Brewster Publications

in February 1911 under the title Motion Picture Story Magazine. The

magazine kept this title until March 1914, when it dropped “Story.” Although this periodical was thereafter called Motion Picture Magazine, the front cover of many issues simply read Motion Picture. The magazine was founded by Vitagraph studio head John Stuart Blackton and his editor and partner, Eugene Brewster, who, in addition to being an experienced editor, was a lawyer and political speaker.[1] Throughout the duration of its publication, MPM remained a monthly release with its sister publication Motion Picture Classic (September 1925 - March 1931).[2] It eventually combined with Hollywood Magazine in the April 1941, thereby adding to its movie fan appeal. The magazine ran for 66 years, ceasing publication in December 1977.

Motion Picture Magazine

 

           When MPM was first announced, it resembled a fiction journal and was aimed toward an audience of middlebrow film exhibitors and enthusiasts (Fuller 133, 136). Although it began in the size and format of the more literary-oriented Century and Munsey’s, Blackton and Brewster chose to include pictures of movie stars on the back of the first issue to test audience response (Fuller 135). Further experimentation with such publicity-inducing tactics was tested out in reaction to readers’ continued fascination with the interworkings of film and its players. A portrait gallery of film players was incorporated into the magazine as early as April 1911 (Fuller 137). This portrait gallery exuded favorability of the stars, while simultaneously fueling an admiration for film and the players of the industry. MPM audiences wanted to break into the movies by submitting their own screenplays and learning how to operate film technology; many fans even entertained the prospect of starring in the next big-budget film. Thus, the extent to which MPM blurred the producer-consumer divide in response to what audiences wanted became the driving force behind its success.

           MPM is famously known as the first fan magazine because it profited from fans’ fascination with films and players, a feat due in part to the magazine’s release one year prior to the emergence of the “star system” in Hollywood. When film was new, actors (or players) were not given recognition because there was no concept of stardom and no system for idolization, such as is seen in the star system. According to Film Facts’ “Annual Top Ten Box Office Stars,” producers were initially resistant to nurturing a star system because they feared that the players would be able to command higher salaries and cost them money.[3] However, this resistance on the part of the producers changed as fans wrote to studios asking the names of players from their favorite films (Steinberg 55). Producers’ concerns later dissipated when star power was shown to contribute to movie appeal. The star system was born in 1910, when producer Carl Laemmle promised to give actress  Florence Lawrence screen credit if she agreed to sign a contract with Independent Motion Pictures, now known as Universal Studios (Steinberg 55). More specifically, the star system was successfully launched due to a publicity stunt involving Laemmle and Lawrence (Steinberg 55). Rumors circulated that Florence was dead during her hiatus, so Carl used the star system to his advantage by taking out advertisements in newspapers to announce that Florence was alive and working on the “best movies of her career,” hence the demand for her personal appearance to prove that she was alive and, indeed, working on movies (Steinberg 55).

           Though in its conception MPM mainly discussed movie plots, it soon adopted a preoccupation with the personalities of the stars; this focus on stardom contributed to the commoditization of media celebrities. MPM, along with other magazines, such as Photoplay in 1912 and Motion Picture Stories in 1913, acted as a platform from which a fascination with the stars was promoted for the sake of profit, hence a commoditization of star construction. Even though most films were silent in the early 20th century, a movie’s success could be guaranteed upon the star power of the main player. Studios constructed their stars by adapting roles and story plots to accommodate individual talents; this type casting, along with clever publicity campaigns, produced large salaries (Steinberg 55-56). The 1925 issue of Motion Picture illustrates a preoccupation with the publicity of the star system because it was at the forefront of fan interest, and the creator, Blackton, saw that it was most profitable to embed his magazine with movie star portraits, news, and gossip.

           The actors featured in the July 1925 issue of MPM were deemed worthy stars because they were divested with a conservative image that defined itself against Modernity (i.e. the flappers and sex pictures of the 1920s). MPM’s movement toward American conservatism served as a marketing ploy which helped establish itself as the most popular film magazine. This act of defining itself as conservative, distinguished, and nonsensational against its less distinguished competitors proved to be profitable for the magazine. In this way, MPM can be said to have sensationalized the notion of nonsensationalism in the 1920s because it commodified its resistance to the Flapper. The resistance is explicitly seen in the article by Harry Carr titled “Sex Pictures Are on the Wane.” Here, Carr positions MPM’s readers in the realm of the “Mature Public” that “will no longer pay money to be shocked by Flappers,” which presumes that MPM’s audience does not watch flapper films or read other sensationalist film magazines (MPM 28). In this article, sex stories are suited more so for the big city and not mainstream America—small towns (MPM 30). Also, MPM represents a move from the trashy sex stories to the aesthetics of acting in a “performance as art” rationale. Evidence to support this claim can be seen in the article by Dorothy D. Calhoun that follows “Sex Pictures” called “When the Director Shouts: Cry! Cry! Cry!,” in which Mae Busch is admired for her ability to cry on cue. This focus on real film as art and its players as artists contributes to the construction of the star as one that is placed upon a conservative pedestal as a means to resist the trashier manifestations of film culture. Such resistance mechanisms may disguise themselves as elitist, but MPM can only be said to be attempting elitism at best because, even though its conservative movement played to middle class women, it made itself available to everyone on the newsstands and did not discriminate when there was profit to be gained.

           According to David Bordwell’s citation of the American Newspaper Annual and Directory from his book The Classic Hollywood Cinema: Film Style and Mode of Production to 1960, MPM jumped from a circulation of 248,845 in 1918 to 400,000 in 1919 (99). By the 1920s, circulation surpassed half a million. When it was first published, the magazine had an equal amount of men’s and women’s ads to compliment the movie fiction within the magazine. But as the fiction disappeared in favor of audience-incorporation strategies, such as the “Ask the Editor” feature, the ads in Motion Picture began to appeal to women, more so than men. Ads for freckle remover, weight loss, shampoo, moist rouge, and movie actresses interplayed effectively with the idolization of the stars prevalent throughout the magazine because the magazine conveyed a general theme of beauty tied to success. Therefore, the featured articles and portraits of glamorized film stars complimented the numerous advertisements for beauty products.

           The apparent decrease in male readership occurred as the production aspect of film within the magazine shifted toward a consumerism that associated itself with the feminine. The image of the female-dominated movie fan and film magazine reader was promoted within MPM in the 1920s. Kathryn H. Fuller’s “Motion Picture Story Magazine and the Gendered Construction of the Movie Fan” from At the Picture Show estimates that males represented 10% of the question-and-answer columns in MPM in the early 1920s (Fuller 148). Fuller claims that men were reproached for being too “‘fanatical’” (Fuller 143). Women, on the other hand, were not ostracized for being fans. Interestingly enough, the rise of the female movie fan correlated with the increase in female advertisements and consumerism within MPM.

           As the more distinguished of fan magazines, MPM prided itself upon being the first of its kind. The timing of its first publication coincided perfectly with the emergence of the star system, which occurred one year prior and sealed the deal with the magazine’s future success. Audiences’ fascination with film and stardom further fueled MPM’s continued popularity. MPM’s role in constructing the star proved profitable for itself and the movie industry. In its commoditization of star construction in the 1920s, MPM resisted Modernism by defining itself against the sensational, thereby sensationalizing the notion on an imposed nonsensationalism. Rule number seven from “Ten Reasons Why You Should Read Motion Picture Magazine” states, “Because it is dignified yet snappy, engrossing without being sensational” (MPM 116). MPM’s self-proclamation here that is it “dignified yet snappy” summarizes the July 1925 issue, meaning that it had elitist tendencies which resisted modernity, yet made itself available to the masses via the newsstands.

 

—Contextualization by Justin McCoy

 

Notes

[1] Fuller, Kathryn H. “Motion Picture Story Magazine and the Gendered Construction of the Movie Fan.” At the Picture Show: Small-Town Audiences and the Creation of Movie Fan Culture. Smithsonian Institution: Washington, 1996. 133-34.

[2] Koszarski, Richard.  An Evening's Entertainment:  The Age of the Silent Feature Picture, 1915-1928.  University of California Press:  Los Angeles, 1990.  Google Books.  p. 193.

[3] Steinberg, Cobbett S. “Annual Top Ten Box Office Stars.” Film Facts. Facts on File, Inc: New York, 1980. 55.

 

Works Cited

 

Bordwell, David. “Standardization and Differentiation: The Reinforcement and Dispersion of Hollywood’s

           Practices.” The Classic Hollywood Cinema: Film Style and Mode of Production to 1960. Google            Books. 1985. p. 99.

Fuller, Kathryn H. “Motion Picture Story Magazine and the Gendered Construction of the Movie Fan.”

           At the Picture Show: Small-Town Audiences and the Creation of Movie Fan Culture. Smithsonian            Institution: Washington, 1996. 133-149.

Motion Picture. Vol. 29 No. 6. New York: Brewster Publications. July 1925. 1-132.

Steinberg, Cobbett S. “Annual Top Ten Box Office Stars.” Film Facts. Facts on File, Inc: New York, 1980. 55-57

 

click cover for magazine

July 1925

Genre:

Arts and Entertainment

Publisher:

Brewster Publications

Place of Publication:

New York

Years of Run:

As Motion Picture Story Magazine, February 1911 – February 1914

As Motion Picture Magazine, March 1914 – December 1977

 

Frequency of Publication:

Monthly

Circulation in 1925:

248, 845 by 1918 (Bordwell); 400,000 by 1919 (Bordwell)