The Fine Art of Film Posters: Selections from the Los Angeles Public Library Collection


The posters in this exhibition date from 1913 to 1943 and reflect developments in movie history. In 1909, William Selig moved the base of his operations from the East Coast to Edendale, known today as Echo Park. Other entrepreneurs followed, and soon Hollywood was populated by such stars as Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, and Mabel Normand, all of whom went on to become producers, directors, and writers.

As the industry grew, certain practices became standard, and movie posters came to reflect the billing order of a film’s cast through the size and placement of an actor’s likeness and name. For example, Joan Crawford is clearly the star of Montana Moon. Not only is she the object of desire in the poster, her name is above the film title. The rest of the cast gets second billing below the title and in a much smaller font. Many of these second-billed cast members went onto have illustrious careers with their own name above the title. Conversely, individuals once popular enough to have their name above the title are no longer familiar to modern audiences.

Today, credit blocks consume approximately an eighth of a poster’s layout and include credits for a range of filmmakers, including the producers, director, writers, art director, costume designer, cinematographer, effects teams, and musicians. But the idea remains the same, to convey to a potential audience the who and what of a movie: who’s in it and what’s it about?v

The twenty-six posters in this exhibition are drawn from the special collections of the Frances Howard Goldwyn Hollywood Regional Branch Library, which re-opened in 1986. In April 1982, an arson fire destroyed the building and devastated the collection of the Hollywood Branch Library. The community rallied to rebuild the branch and the Samuel Goldwyn Foundation contributed nearly $4 million to restore the collection and construct a new branch, named in honor of Samuel Goldwyn's mother, who frequently used the branch and was a strong library advocate. The new building, designed by architect Frank Gehry, opened to the public in 1986, the same year, ironically, that the Central Library was nearly destroyed by a fire. The posters in this exhibition are part of the branch's special collections, which the public was instrumental in rebuilding after the fire. Today, the Goldwyn-Hollywood Branch serves more than two hundred thousand patrons a year and is a vital resource for the community.

Curated by Anne Coco, with special thanks to Judy Hermann, Branch Manager Frances Howard Goldwyn Hollywood Regional Branch Library, and Kelly Wallace, Adult Services Librarian.