Art from the Golden Age of Movie Magazines

Let it be known that The Retro Set Earl Christy. And Rolf Armstrong. And McClelland Barclay. And R Wilson Hammell. And Charles Edward Chambers. And Marland Stone. And Charles Gates Sheldon. And all of the other American artists from the early 20th century that made up the advertising industry’s great, golden age of illustration. Not only because of what they did for  women’s journals and literary magazines but, of course, for the exquisite works of art created for American movie fan magazines.

Classic movie fans are no doubt already familiar with the names: Photoplay, Modern Screen, Picturegoer, Screenland, PhotoBook, et al. Working largely from celebrity photographs, and in mediums such as oil and pastel, the work of the illustrator was largely functional and not always, shall one call it, artistic (hey, they had a hell of a workload, OK? We’re talking pastel and oil, not Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator). But when they were able to push the creative envelope? The results were downright breathtaking.

According to the superlative website Grapefruit Moon, “The printing industry with its technological advancements and the American Industrial Revolution made for a multicolor offset printing process that was fast, affordable, and flat-out glorious in print. Cover artists were much in demand, earned lavish salaries and often became household names and stars in their own right.”

The artwork contained within this post is representative of the mass produced movie magazine of the early-to-mid 20th century, which in itself, is something of a sociological oddity as explained in the book Inside the Hollywood Fan Magazine: A History, by Anthony Slide:

“The fan magazine is such a seemingly worthless object, and yet it is of interest and value to both the film scholar and the sociologist. On the surface, the fan magazine had its place in the history of popular enteratinment simply as a publicity tool, a relatively pointless excercise in self-promotion by the film industry. … The importance of the fan magazine in American society as an arbiter of (not always good) taste cannot be denied. … The fan magazine documented social change in American life and society.”

And the movie fan magazine’s cover art, too, is a fascinating documentation of the progressing ideas, conventions, and attitudes of American society.

Of course the likes of Norman Rockwell are venerated these days for their work, but we feel it important to doff our cap to the illustrators of the great American movie magazines of yesteryear.

Below is a culled retrospective of some of our favorite eye-popping, sensational, drool-worthy illustrations of that explosively creative era. (And after viewing them, you’ll hardly be surprised to learn that many of the same artists were mainstays in pulp and pinup art … zoweee!)

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Kay Francis
Kay Francis by Earl Christy
Martha Mansfield
Martha Mansfield by Rolf Armstrong
Mary Astor
Mary Astor by Earl Christy
Billie Dove
Billie Dove Charles Gates Sheldon
Jean Harlow
Jean Harlow by Charles Gates Sheldon
Bebe Daniels
Bebe Daniels
Carole Lombard
Constance Bennett by Marland Stone
Clara Bow
Clara Bow by Charles Gates Sheldon
Marion Davies
Marion Davies by Charles Gates Sheldon
Joan Crawford
Joan Crawford by Earl Christy
Norma Talmadge
Norma Talmadge by Earl Christy
Norma Shearer by Marland Stone
Marlene Dietrich
Marlene Dietrich by Earl Christy
Joan Bennett
Joan Bennett by Earl Christy
Carole Lombard by Charles Gates Sheldon
Carole Lombard by Charles Gates Sheldon
Katharine Hepburn
Katharine Hepburn
Barbara Stanwyck
Barbara Stanwyck by Earl Christy
Dolores Del Rio by Charles Gates Sheldon
Dolores Del Rio by Charles Gates Sheldon
Helen Twelvetrees by Rolf Armstrong
Helen Twelvetrees by Rolf Armstrong

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