Ajax loader
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
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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
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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.
Dynamite Packed Thrillers, Joys of the Flesh, and Other Added Attractions: Reginald Marsh and the Golden Age of Movies
Page 9

This need for sensationalism is met in Marsh’s 1944 drawing World of Wax. Depicting Coney Island’s infamous World of Wax Musée—where the latest tabloid villains and silver screen stars were immortalized in life-sized wax statues—the work employs a similar compositional strategy to Marsh’s movie theater paintings. A crowd of patrons stands in high relief in front of the museum facade, itself a flat expanse where Marsh has erased all architectural detail except the agglomeration of signs above. The “exhibitions” promised by these placards include the expected Hollywood favorites—such as Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra (so popular he is listed twice), and other “Famous People Past & Present”—and, in keeping with the strangeness one might expect from an off-kilter attraction in Coney Island, waxen renditions of notorious murders, contracted mob killings, executions, and even scientific monstrosities. [xxviii] A photograph taken by Marsh around 1938 (MCNY 90.36.2.14.5A) confirms the accuracy of the artist’s rendering; everything from the typeface and content of the signs to the planarity of the facade and the curvilinear shape of the barker’s podium are discernible in both drawing and photograph alike. [xxix] These concordances tell us that Marsh preferred to include realistic details in his artwork as a way of endowing his scenes with a plausibility and timeliness. In this case the historically accurate aspects of World of Wax only help capture the odd, morbid character of the museum and its visitors. Much like the dual billboards in Mad Men of Europe, the sensationalism of the museum’s signage is contrasted with a war reference, subtly hidden in the headline of a newspaper being held by a woman at the left of the scene. Lost in the crowd of oglers and revelers alike, the woman reads a New York Post whose front page proclaims “Extra: Attempt to Kill Hitler, Assassination Wounds 2 Nazi Officers.” On either side of her, an older gentleman and young woman strain to read the story over her shoulder. Again, while we cannot be sure what story they are actually reading, Marsh’s reference to the failed bombing of Hitler’s bunkers proves both informational—like the newspaper in One Hour of News—and sensational—like the billboard in Mad Men of Europe and the exhibitions on view in the eponymous World of Wax Musée. The allusion to the assassination plot alongside the real-life crimes re-created by the wax museum suggests that the division between news and entertainment is fluid; the horrors of today’s headlines are fruitful fodder for tomorrow’s scandalizing amusements. .................................................................. [xxviii] These signs advertise, from left to right top to bottom: the Bronx Furnace Slayer, a janitor who disposed of the body of a young girl he had murdered by stuffing it into a furnace in 1941; Bing Crosby; Frank Sinatra; Famous People Past & Present; the Lonergan Murder case, where a husband was charged for killing his famous heiress wife; the Brooklyn Murder Syndicate, another name for the mob hit squad Murder, Inc.; “JAP Atrocities and Shanghai Shambles,” the bloody battles between China and Japan in 1937; “Luna Medina The World’s Youngest Mother,” a Peruvian girl who was confirmed to have given birth at the age of five; the Electrocution of Louis “Lepke” Buchalter, a Jewish mobster and alleged head of Murder, Inc. who received the death penalty in 1941; Frank Sinatra; and the Madeline Webb Case, wherein Webb was convicted of murdering a wealthy woman after a failed robbery attempt by her two male accomplices. [xxix] For more information about Marsh’s use of photographs as inspiration for later drawings and paintings, see footnote 11.

ID:
90.36.2.14.5A
Reginald Marsh (1898-1954)
[Man selling tickets to World in Wax.]
ca. 1938
acetate negative
Museum of the City of New York. Gift of Felicia Meyer Marsh, 1990.
Dynamite Packed Thrillers, Joys of the Flesh, and Other Added Attractions: Reginald Marsh and the Golden Age of Movies
Page 10

Gangsters, G-Men, Prostitutes, and Punishment Knowing Marsh’s interest in the overlap between news and entertainment, it comes as no surprise that the artist should be equally intrigued by the dramatic death of the infamous John Dillinger. Through the early thirties young Dillinger and his gang electrified the country with their improbably successful string of bank robberies in small towns across the Midwest. By 1934, after adding murder and prison break to his growing rap sheet, Dillinger was named public enemy number one by the Bureau of Investigation (later known as the FBI), inadvertently securing his everlasting celebrity status in the eyes of the American people. At the time Americans maintained an anti-capitalist sentiment that translated into widespread approval of dashing, renegade gangsters like Baby Face Nelson, Al Capone, and John Dillinger. Policemen were often thought to be as corrupt as their criminal counterparts and gangsters quickly took their place as anti-hero pop icons. [xxx] Picking up on this craze, Hollywood production companies released a flood of movies with plot lines pulled directly from newspaper recaps of the latest gangster crime sprees. [xxxi] The fact that such films did not sit well with the Hays Office and were often subject to intense censor scrutiny in no way diminished their popularity. It was therefore unimaginably ironic that on July 22, 1934 famed outlaw John Dillinger was shot down by government officers outside Chicago’s Biograph Theater after attending the evening showing of the gangster movie Manhattan Melodrama. No Hollywood scriptwriter could have imagined a more fitting or cinematic end to the story of such a notorious criminal yet Hays forbade the industry from filming Dillinger’s tale, claiming that such a movie would be “detrimental to the best public interest.” [xxxii] Nonetheless Hays did not have the power to ban Dillinger’s story from being told through other artistic media; between 1938 and 1940, Marsh created three works that portray the events of that fateful day. Two of these works—one inscribed with the date 1939 and one published in the March 11, 1940 issue of LIFE magazine—are nearly identical, providing almost cinematic portrayals of the gangster’s dramatic final moments (photo of LIFE work, MCNY 90.36.2.62.2E). [xxxiii] In the bottom right of these works Marsh has depicted the infamous Anna Sage, a Romanian-born madam, and to her right, prostitute Polly Hamilton, both of whom harbored Dillinger in the months leading up to his death. In the weeks following the shoot out, the press not only uncovered the identities of these two women but also discovered that Sage had conspired with the government to bring Dillinger in, hoping to receive immunity and the $25,000 bounty in exchange for her cooperation. Sage arranged with the government officers, commonly known as G-men, to accompany Dillinger to a showing at the Biograph Theater and to wear a bright orange dress in order to stand out in the crowd. [xxxiv] Both of these portrayals draw the viewer’s focus to Hamilton and Sage—the former of whom the press would mistakenly refer to as the “Lady in Red”—as they run from the hail of bullets fired by the swarm of G-men into a crumpling Dillinger on the left. In 1938 when Marsh first approached this subject, completing the tempera painting Food Store (Death of Dillinger), he obscured some of the specific historical references that eventually made the 1939 and 1940 versions so uncharacteristically narrative. [xxxv] The cropped neon Biograph Theater sign, the lowered point of view, and the compression of the space within the 1938 painting all heighten the tension of the moment and confuse the order and meaning of the events. Still, the shallow stage-like setting joins the fleeing women, Dillinger, and the G-men in perilously close proximity and included just enough cues to the actual event—Sage’s dress, the theater marquee advertising Manhattan Melodrama, the gun in Dillinger’s hand—to make clear that these people are no longer mere movie patrons but have transformed into actors of their own cinematic gangster drama. .................................................................. [xxx] Al Capone, for example, was frequently asked to play himself in films and attend various high-society functions as the guest of honor. Shindler, Hollywood in Crisis, 120. [xxxi] Many theaters owners tried to discourage this criminal hero worship by distributing information during gangster films that reminded viewers just how evil these men were. Audiences, however, remained enthralled. As Robert Sklar has incisively explained, “Gangster movies were not Depression success stories [ . . . ] they were films of social pathos. If a disordered society led an individual to lawlessness, his strength could not compare with the deviousness and force available to a lawless society.” Sklar, “Hub of the System,” 181. For more information about the public response to gangsters and the subsequent establishment of the gangster film genre, see also Shindler, Hollywood in Crisis, 117–19. [xxxii] Will H. Hays quoted in Doherty, Pre-Code Hollywood, 137. Audiences would have to wait until 1945 to see Dillinger’s story played out on the silver screen. Since that time, however, eight feature-length and made-for-television movies have centered on the subject. [xxxiii] Although Marsh completed numerous preparatory sketches that focused on the same scene or subject, it was exceedingly rare for him to repeat compositions in finished work. In fact, these portrayals of Dillinger’s death comprise the only exceptions to this rule of which the author is aware. With that said, very little has been written about these works and their dating is therefore somewhat tenuous. Because the writer from LIFE claimed that Marsh created The Death of Dillinger specifically for the article, I have tentatively dated the version their reproduce to 1940. For more information, see “The Death of Dillinger: A Painting for LIFE by Reginald Marsh,” LIFE 8, no. 11 (March 11, 1940): 70–71. It is interesting to note that the 1939 version, which closely resembles the version published in LIFE, was actually owned by LIFE’s founder and publisher Henry Luce. [xxxiv] Witnesses, misreading the orange dress under the brilliant lights of the theater marquee, later claimed Sage was wearing red. Sage, dubbed the “Lady in Red,” soon became an integral part of the Dillinger legend. For more on Dillinger’s exploits and the fateful events that led to his dramatic death, see Dary Matera, John Dillinger: The Life and Death of America’s First Celebrity Criminal (New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2004). [xxxv] Some of this narrative quality, at least for the 1940 version, may be explained by its use as a LIFE illustration.

ID:
90.36.2.62.2E
Reginald Marsh (1898-1954)
[Painting by Reginald Marsh.]
ca. 1939
acetate negative
Museum of the City of New York. Gift of Felicia Meyer Marsh, 1990.