They just don’t take ‘em like they used to. Publicity stills, that is.
Years ago under the old studio system a publicity photographer was assigned to each production. His job was to take interesting photos, like the one above, which might make it in to the newspapers and give the upcoming film some needed publicity.
That’s Carole Lombard, Cary Grant and Kay Francis on the set of RKO’s In Name Only, a 1940 tearjerker (also referred to as “a women’s picture”). They’re trying to portray the dilemma facing their characters in the film.
Publicity stills, in our opinion, aren’t as clever as they used to be, but from the 1920s through the 1960s they were used effectively by the studios. Today’s stars often consider posing for promotional stills beneath them. But stills remain very much part of today’s publicity scheme, with dedicated photographers on sets and locations taking shots – AS a scene unfolds on-camera.
Most of what we see today are still photographs showing a specific star in action — romancing the leading man or lady, leaping over tall buildings, jettisoning out of space ships, whatever. Rest assured that press kits of the upcoming Star Wars title from Walt Disney will feature elaborate publicity stills to be prized by the faithful.
But we are betting that these publicity shots were taken AS the film was being shot, not separately arranged as the above photo was.
To make the point, we include the following photo of Sydney Greenstreet and Ingrid Bergman publicizing Casablanca.
Yes, there’s Bergman posed with Greenstreet in a glossy publicity still designed to “exploit” the 1942 classic. But what’s wrong with this picture?
Answer: it is misleading since Greenstreet had only a small role in the picture.
Those ever inventive studio publicity departments often staged their stills by posing stars together in situations that were not necessarily in the movie. Thousands of these orchestrated photos would be blanketed world wide to what was the communications maw of the time – the vast print media.
Print was king in the U.S. in the 1940’s with nearly 2,000 newspapers published every day. Worldwide, that total was geometrically increased. The global reach of print was staggering back then, and the studios took full advantage.
Photo stills were second only to theater trailers as promotional tools for movies. And, oh how we miss them.