Thursday, June 27, 2013

Screenland Ads (Silent Hollywood, 1922)

Good morning!

I spend a good amount of time yesterday on my lunch hour looking through the new additions to the Media History Digital Archive online. If you're a fan of early American silent cinema, FOLKS. This is a digital bonanza of print resources on the beginnings of twentieth century studio system. As much as I love peering into the coal-black eyes of exotic temptress Nita Naldi in contemporaneous publicity stills, what I really love in these old Hollywood fan magazines are the ads. You get a microcosm of the moviegoing public's wants and needs, hopes and desires, just by looking at the kinds of ads magazine publishers would stuff into these gossip rags!

There's weird, there's weirder, and there's weirdest. Let's start with this Vi-Rex Violet Rays ad, for example:

This is essentially an ad for at-home sun lamp treatments, but do you or do you not love the H.G. Wells style illustration art presentation going on in this front-of-magazine ad? Look at the silhouettes on the people inside the lightbulbs! I love that the woman's figure looks suitably curvy, and the man's suitably costaud. One thing I didn't pull out of these pages to show you, which were just as proliferate as the health ads, were the ads for "art photography", which would pretty much consist of long, wavy haired women of average build standing 90% naked in an outdoors setting, covering some of their form but bare-breasted to the wilderness and quite "artistic" in their nudity. I remember Jean Harlow, Harlean Carpenter at the time, got in trouble with the studio later for having done some of these "anatomy studies" early in her career (see here if your modesty won't be bruised). Scandalous, people!

This ad is probably my favorite from the whole run available on the site:

"You look just swanky," the liberated flapper's dining companion says to her, admiring her pretty coiffure. Little does he know her bob is still present, just camouflaged by an extra-long faux "fall" to cover up her rash, faddish hair shearing! I think it's interesting that you can send in a sample of your hair for them to match it. And considering stories like "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry, I'm assuming that is genuine human hair. Wouldn't it be weird if there was somewhere TODAY where you could take your recently cut hair to sell? I know you can do Locks of Love to make a worthy charitable contributions of hair, but isn't it weird to think about hard-on-their-luck girls cutting their long hair and selling it? 

These ads from the same 1923 issue of the magazine address both sides of the bust issue-- you can either reduce an overly matronly bosom, or develop an underwhelming bust-line! Either problem is not a problem. I love the name "Growdina" for the company itself. Notice in the Growdina ad it is never explicitly mentioned by what method your bust will be developed. Creams? Exercise regimens? What?

There were an alarming number of revolver ads in the back of these magazines, I guess so you can keep up with your favorite silent screen hero or villain in terms of firepower. I only ever remember disgraced business men "ending it all" in silent movies with a well-placed pistol in the plot. Look at the bullets lining up and being fired in that one ad on the far right! Crazy.

Something to go along with your art photography order? How about a pamphlet about how procreation works (or how to avoid it)? "Brides vs. Babies" is the best byline of this triad. Or maybe, at the top left, the boast that there is "nothing else like it in the country". I found an 1880's "marriage information" manual once on, but it was kind of hilarious for the fact that it never got around to brass tacks as far as the actual act of human reproduction. There were kind of ribald jokes, and lots of innuendo, but as far as mechanics, nada. Can you imagine being the poor benighted bridegroom trying to decode what exactly to do on his honeymoon? I hope these manuals were more forthright with their explanations.

And of course, it wouldn't be a women's interest magazine if there wasn't a substantial number of "gain weight, lose weight" ads. I didn't see many for "gaining weight", like those old WATE-ON or yeast tablet ads from the thirties, but I wonder if that's because the Great Depression was yet to come? These creams and bath treatments promise to slenderize your figure, but I just don't know if I trust anything outside of exercise and portion control to keep a gal fit and lean. Note that there weren't any ads for either of those courses of action towards weight reduction in the issues of Screenland I read.

I couldn't resist this Fitzgerald-esque illustration from an article about whether or not starlets should marry (or maybe about stars from the future? I can't remember):

And thought you might get a suitable kick out of this article called "How Do You Dance", featuring Gloria Swanson (a HUGE, glamorous star at the time, and later film icon Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard) and sex symbol Rudolph Valentino showing a few steps for good measure:

So! What do you think about these vintage ads? Isn't it funny how similar the needs and concerns of twenties' people are to 2013 people? Have you found any really great vintage online resources lately? Let's talk!

I gotta get back to work, but I'll see you back here tomorrow for Photo Friday! Til then.


  1. Oh, Gloria! I've got a braid of my own hair saved away in a box, a relic from an ill advised haircut back in the 80's. I have used it now and then to dress up my bun, just like Miss Swanky. It's probably 2 feet long. But that's nothing like G-ma's braid!! For years, mamma had a beautiful braid of black hair in her treasure box. It was thick! and shiny!I guess G-ma had a heart attack back in the day and they cut off her hair. I would drape it over my shoulder and mince around, pretending to be beautiful. Then one day I was at Auntie's house and I found an identical braid. It was the other half of her head! She had TWICE the hair normal mortals are entitled to.

    1. I bet you looked SO swanky. I love the discovery of the SECOND braid! My great-grandmother used to talk about how her mother had the most beautiful, thick, straight blonde hair, and had a similar braid of it in the bottom drawer of her vanity. She used to complain that, in the ten children her parents had, ALL of them had inherited their father's thin, unruly hair instead of those luscious locks!

  2. 2 things, I suddenly have a weird urge to read 1920s sex books and I think you can still sell your hair to wig makers or people in other countries. I'm pretty certain that it's still "a thing"

    1. Haha, maybe I should investigate! Where can I sell this hair when I decide to go Mia Farrow chic again?!

  3. I have a enjoy Coca-Cola sign off a scoreboard from 45 years ago 8ft x 2ft . Do you have any idea what it's worth.



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