Independent Publishers Group Logo

Sign up today...
for featured pop culture and science reads, books for kids and teens,special offers, bestsellers, and more, in your inbox!

Join more than 10,000 readers who get access to monthly insider news & geek-tastic articles ~OR~ choose your specific topics of interest.

The Art of Selling Movies
The Art of Selling Movies

The Art of Selling Movies



304 Pages, 8.5 x 11

Formats: Mobipocket, PDF, EPUB

PDF, $10.99 (US $10.99) (CA $14.99)

Publication Date: February 2017

ISBN 9780998376356

Rights: WOR X BCOM

GoodKnight Books (Feb 2017)


eBook Editions Available

Will it work on my eReader?
Not yet published. Ships 2/20/2017.


The Art of Selling Movies presents the first-ever look at 60 years of newspaper advertising for motion pictures great and small. These ads created by Hollywood and adapted by local and regional exhibitors motivated patrons to leave their homes, part with precious income, and spend time in the dark. Because of the high stakes involved, theater operators used wildly creative means to make that happen. They made movie advertising equal parts art and psychology, appealing to every human instinct (especially sex) in an effort to push product and keep their theatres in business. From the pen-and-ink masterpieces of the 1920s and 30s to location-specific folk art to ad space jam-packed with enticements for every member of the family, The Art of Selling Movies dissects the psyche of the American movie-going public ... and the advertisers seeking to push just the right buttons.


"The Art of Selling Movies represents the King-Kong-sized collection of hundreds of images and clippings gathered by John McElwee and reproduced through the use of innovative restoration technology. The three-hundred-plus pages of old newspaper ads, along with witty captions, effectively opens a velvety curtain into movie Americana."  —Foreword Reviews

"Decades' worth of yellowing movie ads pack historian John McElwee's new volume with lurid, eye-seizing drawings and feverish copy. Such is the legacy of the many theater owners who in years past commissioned ads made solely to push product, whether through sex, star power, FOMO bullying, technological gimmickry, live (yes, live) pony giveaways, appearances by quintuplets, and all-around hysteria. McElwee celebrates the work of the 'folk artists' tasked with creating something grabbing (and sometimes beautiful) in a small box. Fatty Arbuckle is trumpeted as 'the best known fat man on earth.' A Cabinet of Dr. Caligari plug covers all the bases: 'Great! Rotten! Fine! I Don't Get It! What's It All About?' Ad copywriters further tweaked their tone to match national or local tenor. Of course, the illustrations are the draw here, with sensational copy (1917's Cleopatra promises exactly '1,000 Marvelous Scenes) sharing space with massive faces like a cut-out Norma Shearer shouting, 'I Can Take Care of Myself In Your Man's World!' in the liberated A Free Soul (1931), or the painstakingly rendered visages of Gable, Lugosi, and Kong. McElwee runs the lovable blog Greenbriar Picture Shows, likewise devoted to what he calls cinema's Classic Era (generously stretching from the earliest silents to the mid-'60s), and his brisk commentary here has the same folksy wry color. The rich survey is often funny, never dull, delivering 'Sights and Thrills You May Never Behold Again!'"  —Film Comment

"Lovers of old Hollywood and cinema history will be spellbound by The Art of Selling Movies, a 300-page treat packed with photos and vintage advertisements. (My favorites date from the fifties, specifically ads run by small-town newspapers to promote genre fare. One, a spider with a skull's head, is particularly memorable) Featuring everyone from Valentino and Pickford to Bardot and Hitchcock, this is a wonderfully entertaining and insightful coffee table tome."  —The Film Stage 

"'I'd like everyone reading this book to come away proclaiming movie ads a great lost art,' declares John McElwee. It's unlikely his wish will come true, but that's no detriment to The Art of Selling Movies, a panorama of newspaper advertising from the early teens to the end of the 1960s. McElwee's lively and informed commentary runs through more than 400 examples of the strident black-and-white collages that have crammed the entertainment pages of America's far-flung press.McElwee has a consuming fascination with the process that brings Hollywood's astronomically costly products to hometown audiences. The importance of his broad collection is that these ads came not just from the great urban centers, but also spoke for neighborhood cinemas in obscure townships across the States. These neighborhoods were often far away, in every respect, from the studios and executive offices of classic-era Hollywood."  —Washington Post

Author Biography

John McElwee is a lifelong film enthusiast who is a blogger on the Greenbriar Picture Show website, has taught and lectured on film, and has programmed extensively for colleges and universities. He has consulted on various documentaries about Hollywood history and contributed to DVD release of classic films. His feature articles have appeared in Film in Reviews, Monsters from the Vault, and Noir City Annual. He is the author of Showmen: Sell it Hot. He lives in Wilkesboro, North Carolina.