Ajax loader
Dynamite Packed Thrillers, Joys of the Flesh, and Other Added Attractions: Reginald Marsh and the Golden Age of Movies
Page 2

The Golden Age of American Cinema, the Hays Code, and “Posteritis” Marsh maintained a lifelong interest in the movies, both as a casual attendee and as a keen observer and recorder. As early as 1913 the young Marsh, then studying at Yale University, began to keep track of and comment upon the movies he saw. [i] Marsh’s day planners from the 1930s and 1940s, in which he took extensive notes about his schedule and activities, show that the artist went to the movies at least once or twice a month. [ii] In these appointment books Marsh would often note the title of the movie he attended and, occasionally, a short one or two-word review. From these entries it seems that Marsh’s cinematic tastes were quite varied, ranging from romantic dramas like Yes, My Darling Daughter (1939) to light-hearted musicals like Fred Astaire’s Swing Time (1936), from literary adaptations like Wuthering Heights (1939) to films with “tough guy” heroes such as The General Died at Dawn (1936). [iii] As a cinephile, Marsh could not have chosen a better home than New York City; not only were there 144 movie theaters in operation in 1936 in Manhattan alone, but the city also secured all the latest films the moment they were released. In fact, New York City movie audiences were voracious and vast enough that the so-called first run theaters—where films were debuted before being sent to smaller markets—had, at two weeks, the shortest lead time of any movie houses in the country. [iv] Marsh was obviously not alone in his love of the movies and for good reason: critics still call the 1930s and early 1940s the golden age of American cinema. Before the onset of the Great Depression the movie industry saw record attendance, selling 110 million tickets a week at a time when the US population only totaled 130 million people. [v] And even once the Depression hit, production companies were able to mitigate much of the fiscal impact, holding box office returns to a modest 10 to 35 percent drop, by relying on the novelty of the ‘talkies’ to attract customers. Although Hollywood did eventually suffer an 85 million dollar revenue deficit among studio and exhibition companies by 1932, the public continued to view the movies as cheap, quality entertainment. [vi] .................................................................. [i] On January 1, 1913 Marsh wrote in his diary, “I went to the motion pictures in the afternoon at the Park Theater and saw ‘Martin Chuzzelwit [sic]’ 3 reels and a [sic] other films.” Below this he drew a sketch of the inside of the theater, even demarcating a group of figures on the screen, with the caption “MOTION PICTURES” below. See the diary for 1913 in Reginald Marsh Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, p. 3, accessed May 1, 2012, http://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/container/viewer/-276566. [ii] These planners seem to indicate that Marsh fully booked each day with different artistic projects, usually spending the daytime hours out in the city sketching or painting in the studio, while his evenings were spent etching. It is therefore significant that his biweekly trips to the movies were apparently the only form of recreation he regularly allowed himself. [iii] Marsh noted attending these movies on April 23, 1939; September 30, 1936; May 2, 1939; and September 10, 1936 respectively. See “The Little Red Book” Engagement Diaries for 1935–1939 in Reginald Marsh Papers, Archives of American Art, pp. 67, 29, 68, and 67, accessed May 1, 2012, http://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/container/viewer/-The-Little-Red-Book-Engagement-Diaries--276573. [iv] Robert Sklar, “Hub of the System: New York’s Strand Theater and the Paramount Case,” Film History 6, no. 2 (Summer 1994): 198. The nature of the “first run” system was such that films might not reach smaller markets—like theaters in unpopulated areas—for anywhere between several months to almost a year. This explains why popular movies could continue to gross major revenue for years to come; though the film would only stay at each theater a couple of weeks, the most sought-after movies would continue to be shown across the country to meet the demand in even the most remote locales. [v] This figure represented the box office attendance from 1930. Colin Shindler, Hollywood in Crisis: Cinema and American Society, 1929–1939 (London: Routledge, 1996), 43. While this is certainly the highest per capita attendance rate of all time, Margaret Thorp has astutely pointed out that many of these moviegoers would have seen more than one film a week. Factoring in potential repeats, Thorp indicates that the true attendance figure for 1939, for example, would have dropped from 85 million to approximately 40 million. See Margaret Farrand Thorp, America at the Movies (New York: Arno Press and The New York Times, 1970), 3. [vi] Sklar, “Hub of the System,” 161; "Unemployment: 'No One Has Starved,'" Fortune 6 (September 1932): 22. Although the film industry as a whole fared far better than many other sectors of American business, the Great Depression still cut short the boom period of the 1920s: 6,500 of the 7,800 movie palaces in the country went “dark” and numerous production companies went into receivership or were forced to close their doors completely. Thomas Doherty, Pre-Code Hollywood: Sex, Immorality, and Insurrection in American Cinema, 1930–1934 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 28.

ID:
X2011.4.10368.343
Stanley Kubrick
Shoe Shine Boy [Mickey looking at a movie poster.]
1947
acetate negative
Museum of the City of New York. The LOOK Collection. Gift of Cowles Magazines, Inc., 1956.
Dynamite Packed Thrillers, Joys of the Flesh, and Other Added Attractions: Reginald Marsh and the Golden Age of Movies
Page 3

Remarkably, even at the height of the Depression, movie attendance only fell about 25 percent from its all-time high in 1930. [vii] Much of this can be attributed to the assiduous work of theater owners and the industry as a whole. Whereas theaters in the 1910s and 1920s were ornate and elaborately outfitted with amenities like nurseries and patron lounges, by the early 1930s these extra offerings had been streamlined for ultimate efficiency. Stage shows and live music that had previously supplemented screenings were often cut, staffing was reduced, and theater owners banned outside food so that they could sell snacks to garner extra revenue. Countless, often quirky, giveaways were held to draw in visitors, with prizes ranging from grocery baskets to paid vacations in Hollywood. [viii] Even more effective, however, was the slashing of admission prices. Before the Depression a movie ticket cost, on average, twenty-five to thirty-five cents and would entitle the buyer to a feature film, several shorts, a newsreel and, perhaps, a stage show. During the Depression admission was slashed to an average of twenty cents and, even for that low price, many theaters offered access to double features. [ix] The fact that Marsh highlights this change in pricing structure in his iconic 1936 painting Twenty Cent Movie (WMAA, 37.43) reflects his attention to the particulars that make up an authentic depiction of the movie going experience. Visible above the teller’s head in the box office window is a sign that reads “Now 20¢,” implying that the cost has been lowered to drum up attendance. [x] Yet the most striking feature of Twenty Cent Movie is the overwhelming panoply of signage covering the facade of the theater. Nearly all of Marsh’s paintings, but especially those that depict movie theaters, include legible passages of text, whether in shop windows, on advertisements, in newspapers or, as seen here, on signs and marquees. Many of the artist’s photographs of movie theaters and city streets affirm this interest, having been cropped in such a way as to focus on the content and construction of the signs over their viewers or setting (see, for example, MCNY 90.36.1.1487; 90.36.2.30.1D; 90.36.1.371; 90.36.1.366). [xii] Comparable works, such as the watercolors Ten Cents, Ten Shots (1939) and Eyes Examined (1946), demonstrate that like effective advertisements, Marsh’s careful insertion of signage and text into his compositions helps to draw the viewer into the scene. .................................................................. [vii] Sklar, “Hub of the System,” 162. [viii] Other items known to be offered in movie theater giveaways were Japanese tea sets, china, crockery, waffle irons, vacuum cleaners, refrigerators, home furnishings, cash, cars, trips to Yellowstone, and, in one case, free psychoanalysis and ice cream. Doherty, Pre-Code Hollywood, 30–31. Small town theaters were also open to accepting barters for tickets; a rural theater in Minnesota is said to have hosted “Potato Days” where patrons could bring potatoes to cover the cost of their admission. Herbert Scherer, “Marquee on Main Street: Jack Liebenberg’s Movie Theaters, 1928–1941,” The Journal of Decorative and Propaganda Arts 1 (Spring 1986): 65. [ix] Colin MacCabe, ed, High Theory/Low Culture: Analysing Popular Television and Film (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1986), 72. [x] Although theaters began to reopen and attendance rose as early as 1934, it is entirely possible that the New York City theater Marsh depicts in this painting maintained its Depression-era pricing to stay competitive in the burgeoning market. [xi] Unlike many other painters, Marsh did not see his photographs as readymade templates for later paintings. Instead he preferred to use them as a form of visual notation similar to sketching; one can see that although the photograph 90.36.2.30.1D documents much of the signage that will later appear in Ten Cents, Ten Shots (1939), Marsh has otherwise changed the composition.

ID:
90.36.1.371
Reginald Marsh (1898-1954)
[Rialto Theatre box office.]
ca. 1938
gelatin silver print
Museum of the City of New York. Gift of Felicia Meyer Marsh, 1990.
ADDITIONAL IMAGES
Dynamite Packed Thrillers, Joys of the Flesh, and Other Added Attractions: Reginald Marsh and the Golden Age of Movies
Page 4

Marsh’s preparatory materials attest to the fact that he did not see these signs as generic filler. Instead, an annotated photograph of theater entrance from 1939 bears the artist’s diligent color descriptions for each part of the overhanging movie poster and box office (MCNY 90.36.1.376). More specifically, the sketches for Twenty Cent Movie show the artist carefully mapped out the placement, spacing, color, text, and even typeface of the placards he would use in his scenes. By focusing on the intricate, patchwork ways the theater’s advertisements fit together—with signage stacked on either side of the entrance, hung in layers and angled downward from the ceiling, spanning the lintels above the doors and the baseboard below the box office—Marsh conveys the vitality of movie theater facades during that period. Though historical photographs tell us that many thirties-era businesses employed similarly overlapping and eye-catching outdoor signage (see, for example, MCNY 40.140.125), theater owners in particular used the exterior of their movie houses as calling cards; a visually arresting display on the front of the theater could not only set you apart from your competitors, but could also subtly communicate to the passersby that this establishment would give you more than your fair share of entertainment value. As S. Charles Lee, famed architect of 1930s-era movie theaters claimed, “the show starts on the sidewalk.” [xii] Marsh’s Twenty Cent Movie clearly captures the energy and production value expected of a major movie theater in the nation’s liveliest city. Yet many scholars have debated which specific theater Marsh’s painting depicts. Most art historians have concluded that the painting represents the famed Lyric Theatre on 42nd Street, which opened in 1903 as an opera house and, after succumbing to the economic pressure of the Depression, was transformed into a movie theater in 1934. [xiii] Among the few historical photographs of this theater that do exist, almost no commonalities can be found with the facade in Marsh’s painting (MCNY 93.1.1.15569; X2010.7.71). An alternate hypothesis has been offered by Sasha Nicholas; based on visual parity with Berenice Abbott’s 1936 photograph Lyric Theatre (MCNY 40.140.160), she has proposed that Marsh’s painting actually represents the Lyric Theatre in the East Village. While Abbott’s photograph does mirror the general architectural framework of the theater in Twenty Cent Movie, its facade is not nearly as overrun by signage as that in Marsh’s painting. Instead, a more exacting historical comparison may be found in Andreas Feininger’s 1940 photographs New York—42nd Street Theater and Times Square Movie Marquee (MCNY55.31.114). The points of parity between the theater shown in Feininger’s photograph and that in Marsh’s painting are striking: the central box office with the admission price in the window, the flanking rectangular pillars filled floor to ceiling with signs, the overlapping planes of photographic posters hung from the ceiling and, most notably, the undulating ceiling faced with thick molding and rows of glittering lights. However, because Feininger’s titles for these works do not specify the theater they depict, we can only assuredly say that Marsh’s inspiration came from a movie house on 42nd Street that was not the Lyric Theatre. [xiv] .................................................................. [xii] S. Charles Lee quoted in Maggie Valentine, The Show Starts on the Sidewalk: An Architectural History of the Movie Theatre, Starring S. Charles Lee (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994), 9. It is interesting to note that in all but one movie-related painting, Marsh does not include the theater’s marquee in the composition. This is likely because the artist wanted to maintain the density of the signage hung below the marquee; incorporating a towering illuminated sign into the work would have taken focus away from the placards and left the artist with a large amount of empty space on either side of the marquee to fill. [xiii] The Lyric, along with the neighboring Apollo Theater, was eventually razed in 1996 to make room for the new Ford Center for the Performing Arts. Cinema Treasures Guide to Movie Theaters, “Lyric Theatre,” http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/9930. [xiv] Next door to the Lyric was a cinema called the Times Square Theatre. It is possible that the title Times Square Movie Marquee is actually meant to reference this theater’s name, but no corroborating photographs of the Times Square Theatre as it appeared in 1940 could be found.

ID:
40.140.160
Lyric Theatre
April 24, 1936
gelatin silver print
ADDITIONAL IMAGES
Dynamite Packed Thrillers, Joys of the Flesh, and Other Added Attractions: Reginald Marsh and the Golden Age of Movies
Page 5

No matter the exact source of inspiration, the similarities between the theater in Marsh’s Twenty Cent Movie and the real-life theater documented in Feininger’s photographs prove that Marsh took far greater care to incorporate the details of actual New York City cinemas into his work than previously believed. In fact, several of the signs in Twenty Cent Movie advertise real movies, though not necessarily ones that would have, in reality, been on view at the time. In the top left of the painting a green and pink sign promotes the 1933 musical comedy Moonlight and Pretzels—listing its stars Leo Carrillo, Mary Brian, and Roger Pryor—and the 1929 romantic drama Dangerous Curves. At the top right another sign advertises the 1934 movie We Live Again, an adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s 1899 novel Resurrection, starring Fredric Marsh and Anna Sten. [xv] Underneath these angled boards are alternating rows of film stills—which Marsh paints in such painstaking detail that the viewer can make out the individual figures depicted in each small image—and generic text-based signs. Each of these contain phrases more scandalous and attention-grabbing than the last: “A Drama of Clamorous Glittering Romance,” “Human Emotions Stripped Bare,” “A Drama of the Under World and its Penalties,” “A Mighty Drama of a Man and Woman Who Rose from the Joy of the Flesh to a Love that Endured to the End of Time,” “Drama Written in [ . . . ] Blood,” and “Deathless Love Endured,” among others. It would be convenient to pass these racy taglines off as simply another iteration—alongside his portrayals of dance halls, sideshows, and burlesque theaters—of Marsh’s interest in the unseemly sides of the city, but their presence in Twenty Cent Movie masks a much greater complexity. By 1910 movie critics were unhappy with what they called the “posteritis” afflicting New York City movie theaters. As one writer decried, theater facades were being overrun with “garish, poster-plastered, cheap-looking, tawdry get-up[s].” [xvi] Like most advertisements, cinema signs tried to draw the attention of the public however they could, often resorting to highlighting the basest aspects of films such as sex or violence. Through the late 1910s several cities—including Cleveland, Chicago, Boston, and Springfield, Missouri—even went so far as to censor the content of movie posters and theater signage. [xvii] Nearly twenty years later regulators had grown less concerned about the advertisements for movies and more worried about the content of the films themselves. The Motion Picture Production Code, commonly known as the Hays Code after chief censor Will H. Hays, was passed in 1930 as a way to “curb [the] crime, brutality, sex, vulgarity, obscenity, and profanity” that had seeped into the film industry with the ‘talkies’ and replace it with “clean and artistic” entertainment. [xviii] Although the onslaught of the Depression made censors wary of enforcing the new regulations, pressure from Catholic interest groups finally facilitated a strict adherence to the code by 1934. [xix] Thus, Marsh’s Twenty Cent Movie speaks to the new era of cinema under the Hays Code; each of the specific movies referenced in the painting, particularly the high-spirited Moonlight and Pretzels, adhered to the strictures set forth by Hays. But the posters, no longer a chief concern of censors, reflect the underlying interest of theater owners and production companies to bring in customers by whatever means they could manage. It is also important to note that posters promoting specific films had to be rented from production companies; with New York City’s high rate of movie turnover and Hollywood’s release of over 650 films a year, theater owners simply could not absorb the costs of posters for every film. [xx] Instead, as seen in Twenty Cent Movie, many had to resort to hanging their own generic signage that could easily reference any number of movies in a particular genre. .................................................................. [xv] Since we know these films accorded with Marsh’s aforementioned taste in movies, the artist may have included them in the work because he had seen and admired them; each also had reasonably successful box office returns and response from the public. And while these two signs are the only confirmed references to actual films in the painting, Erica Doss has suggested that the large poster hanging above the box office depicts Sten in her role as Katusha Maslova in We Live Again. Following this logic one can note similarities between her co-star Fredric March and the man depicted in the hanging poster to the left, and some parity between C. Aubrey Smith, who played Prince Kortchagin in the film, and the man in the rightmost poster. These likenesses, however, remain conjectural in the absence of further evidence. See Erica L. Doss, “Images of American Women in the 1930s: Reginald Marsh and ‘Paramount Picture,’” Woman’s Art Journal 4, no. 2 (Autumn 1983–Winter 1984): 2. [xvi] F. H. Richardson, “Posteritis,” Movie Picture World (June 11, 1910): 987. Cited in Gary D. Rhodes, “The Origin and Development of the American Moving Picture Poster,” Film History 19, no. 3 (2007): 237. [xvii] For more information about poster content and regulation, see Rhodes, “American Moving Picture Poster,” 239–41. [xviii] Steven C. Earley, An Introduction to American Movies (New York: New American Library, 1978), 55. [xix] Shindler, Hollywood in Crisis, 103. [xx] “Films Show Profit on 1934 Business,” New York Times, March 10, 1935; Rhodes, “American Moving Picture Poster,” 230–31.

ID:
55.31.114
Untitled [Movie Theater on 42nd Street]
ca. 1941
gelatin silver print
10 x 8 1/8 in. (image), 10 x 8 in. (mat)
Dynamite Packed Thrillers, Joys of the Flesh, and Other Added Attractions: Reginald Marsh and the Golden Age of Movies
Page 6

In all, it is easy to see why Twenty Cent Movie is considered one of Marsh’s most iconic paintings. Not only does it represent the artist’s unflagging interest in the city and its arresting commercial signage but it also demonstrates Marsh’s clever interweaving of real-life details into his lively, vibrant scenes. Although painted in a much more subdued palette, Marsh’s Harris Theater, New York, 1940 (MCNY 53.107.3) is similarly successful in its presentation of the documentary and the imagined side by side. The painting depicts the exterior of what was originally known as the Candler Theater, a 1,200-seat Italian Renaissance–style auditorium built in 1913 that was only converted to a movie house in 1933, whereupon it was renamed the Harris Theatre. [xxi] Like the theater shown in Twenty Cent Movie, Marsh’s Harris Theater, New York facade is covered nearly top to bottom with signs: display cases filled with film stills and small posters, huge overhanging photographs of movie stars, and lettered boards that herald the latest theater offerings. Similarities between the two paintings can also be drawn in the striking, almost salacious phrases written on these signs: “Burlesque Dames Quarrel as to Who Will Take the Next Victim Over,” “Country Gentlemen Lured by Slick City Women,” and “She’s Pretty and Will Make a Man of 60 Feel the Thrill of Youth Again.” This scandalous text may well have seemed more at home in one of Marsh’s burlesque paintings if he had not offset it with the phrase “Flirtation: the Well Known Comedy” written across the coy starlet’s bare back in the central poster. Just as he did in Twenty Cent Movie Marsh counterbalances the improbably saucy signage in Harris Theater with several true to life placards as well: a sign for twenty-five cent admission in the box office window; a banner announcing the added attraction of Hollywood stars Lloyd Nolan and Shirley Ross, among others; and several posters for the latest installment of Ralph Staub’s short documentary film series Screen Snapshots, which showed actors at real-life parties and events. Unlike in Twenty Cent Movie, however, the figures in Harris Theater, New York seem to compel equal attention as the signs above them. Given that Marsh depicted the patrons in such a way as to convey interactions fraught with sexual tension—where nattily dressed men approach beautiful, admiring young women and older gentlemen lurk on the outskirts, alternately oblivious and covetous—it is plausible that Marsh included the titillating poster text in order to suggest a latent sexuality behind the city’s everyday encounters. If S. Charles Lee’s show started on the sidewalk, then Marsh’s Harris Theater, New York seems to suggest that the drama unfolding outside the theater merited a show all its own. In this way, Marsh’s movie theater paintings manage to alter the roles we expect from the cinema: actors, frozen in their poster reproductions, fade into the backdrop while the movie patrons, mingling in front of the theater, are transformed into the stars of the scene. Marsh facilitates this unexpected casting by presenting his figures in front of large, planar, sign-covered facades and minimizing the perspectival depth of the entranceways. The space they inhabit is thereby so shallow it takes on the proportions of a theater stage or movie set. [xxii] .................................................................. [xxi] Cinema Treasures Guide to Movie Theaters, “Harris Theatre,” http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/2657. [xxii] Other scholars have referred to the purposeful lack of depth in Marsh’s paintings as something approximating a dream world, a classic relief, or a frieze. See Marilyn Cohen, Reginald Marsh’s New York: Paintings, Drawings, Prints and Photographs (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art in association with Dover Publications, Inc., 1983), 2; Lloyd Goodrich, Reginald Marsh (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1972), 42. Marsh himself agreed with this assessment, claiming that he liked “to take the people and push them right out at you.” Reginald Marsh quoted in Dorothy Seiberling, “Reginald Marsh: Swarming City Scenes by ‘U.S. Hogarth’ Go on a Year-Long Tour of the Country,” LIFE 40, no. 6 (February 6, 1956): 85.

ID:
53.107.3
Harris Theater, New York
1940
ink
paper (fiber product)
watercolor (paint)
H: 27 in, W: 40 3/4 in
Dynamite Packed Thrillers, Joys of the Flesh, and Other Added Attractions: Reginald Marsh and the Golden Age of Movies
Page 7

Newspapers, Sensationalism, and the Mad Men of Europe Much like the patrons in Twenty Cent Movie and Harris Theater, New York, the figures shown in Marsh’s 1940 watercolor One Hour of News (photograph of work, MCNY 90.36.2.7.5B) are seen in front of the shallow entrance of a movie theater. Here, however, the artist has cropped out all of the posters and billboards that crowded his other movie paintings to focus on a practical, informative aspect of the cinema: the news. In a time before the popularization of radios or the advent of television, people had to rely on newsreels and newspapers to learn about current events. With One of Hour of News this intersection between entertainment and information is made plain: above the heads of the exiting patrons signs promise “one hour of news” in “air cooled” comfort and, at the left of the composition, a woman stands reading a newspaper, as if to follow up on the stories she just saw on the newsreel inside. [xxiii] The headline of her paper is clearly legible and informs us that the “Dictators Agree to Armistice”—a June 22, 1940 treaty signing that officially recognized the overwhelming Nazi victory in the Battle of France. With the newspaper open, we cannot tell whether or not the woman is actually reading the article on the armistice, continued on a following page, or something frivolous like her horoscope. Still, given that Marsh could have simply made the headline illegible or referenced any story he liked—several of his other paintings, such as Negroes on Rockaway Beach (1934) and Why Not Use the “L” (1930), include newspaper headlines that reference high profile romantic spats and sex scandals—it is telling that the artist chose to reference a war story. .................................................................. [xxiii] Before the widespread installation of air conditioning units in private homes, public buildings like movie theaters were the best places for people to ward off summer heat. MacCabe, High Theory/Low Culture, 75.

ID:
90.36.2.7.5B
Reginald Marsh (1898-1954)
[Painting by Reginald Marsh.]
ca. 1938
acetate negative
Museum of the City of New York. Gift of Felicia Meyer Marsh, 1990.
ADDITIONAL IMAGES
Dynamite Packed Thrillers, Joys of the Flesh, and Other Added Attractions: Reginald Marsh and the Golden Age of Movies
Page 8

To be clear, Marsh was by no means a political artist. But, like any intelligent and informed citizen, he did show a personal interest in important historical events, recording the day Britain declared war on Germany in his day planner and photographing newspapers with stories of key allied victories (MCNY 90.36.2.70.3B). [xxiv] Thus we can understand his inclusions of specific references to the war, particularly through the use of newspapers, as doubly effective. On one level, by communicating information about major international events, these stories serve as a timestamp for the painting, instantly orienting the viewer to the particular historical moment in which the scene takes place. [xxv] On another level they are a source of factual information that grounds the scene in reality and acts as foils for the scandalous fictionalizations so often proffered by Hollywood and other entertainment industries. Yet where One Hour of News primarily uses its war reference as a way of situating the scene in time, the watercolor Mad Men of Europe (1940) draws a connection between World War II and the movies in order to highlight the public unquenchable thirst for the sensational. The work is composed of a theater entrance that greatly resembles Harris Theater but with one key difference: its billboard-sized advertisements depict movies with far more foreboding storylines than we have otherwise encountered in Marsh’s work. Next to a sign ironically promising “Dynamite Packed Thrillers” the artist has reproduced a poster for the British war propaganda film Mad Men of Europe, released in the United States in early 1940. The clearly written subtitles on this billboard bleakly claim that as “Death Rains on London” the viewer will see “England Invaded by Parachute Troops” and “London Bombed to Bits Before Your Eyes.” [xxvi] These phrases correspond to the penchant for aggrandizement that Marsh and the movie industry shared, but with more complicated implications. Since the film and painting were completed over a year before the United States joined the Allied cause, Marsh’s Mad Men of Europe can be seen as an example of the American public’s morbid curiosity about the results of a war that had not yet truly begun to affect them. Rather than pure factual information, as was evidenced by the newspaper in One Hour of News, here the stories of war are shown as “dynamite” entertainment. As already demonstrated by the salaciously worded signage in Twenty Cent Movie and Harris Theater, New York, Marsh’s Mad Men of Europe represents the public’s unwavering interest in spectacle and sensationalism, no matter what form it takes. The poster depicted alongside the Mad Men of Europe billboard confirms this by advertising the 1940 drama Babies for Sale—a film about a reporter who uncovers a black market baby trading ring. With the same dramatic language used to describe the death and destruction in Europe, the Babies for Sale placard heralds the fictional account of “infants sold over the counter for cash” and promises an “adoption racket exposed.” Taken together, both movie posters demonstrate the public’s persistent fascination with all things lurid, scandalous, and thrilling; Mad Men of Europe proves that in the mind of the audience it does not matter whether the shock value stems from war films or tales of infant kidnappings. In the end it all boiled down to entertainment. [xxvii] .................................................................. [xxiv] The words “war declared” and “WAR” are prominently written along the top of the September page of Marsh’s 1939 day planner. Britain declared war on September 3 of that year. See “The Little Red Book” Engagement Diaries for 1935–1939 in Reginald Marsh Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, p. 72, accessed May 1, 2012, http://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/container/viewer/-The-Little-Red-Book-Engagement-Diaries--276573. [xxv] Marilyn Cohen notes that the trope of the newspaper as a record of a specific day (or the passing of many days) was used by painters and 1930s-era filmmakers with regularity. For more information, see Cohen, Reginald Marsh’s New York, 2. [xxvi] Reproductions of posters for the movie show that Marsh did not stray far from the originals, retaining the strong diagonals created by upturned searchlights and the billowing descent of incoming paratroopers. Such posters do not, however, include the subtitles seen in Marsh's painting. [xxvii] One of the reasons for the continued success of the movie industry, even during the Depression and war years, is that Americans found the cinema to be an inexpensive, accessible form of escape. In fact, the genre of the screwball comedy came of age in the early 1930s as a way for Hollywood to offer American citizens an hour of two of respite from the worries and conflicts of the day. With this in mind, it becomes understandable that American audiences were drawn to scandalous or aggrandized storylines, as it would have made their own troubles seem much smaller and more manageable.

ID:
90.36.2.70.3B
Reginald Marsh (1898-1954)
[Felicia Marsh in bed with The New York Times.]
ca. 1944
acetate negative
Museum of the City of New York. Gift of Felicia Meyer Marsh, 1990.