The Norman Rockwell Museum

Stockbridge, MA



Hooray for Rockwell's Hollywood


Norman Rockwell is often identified with small town New England life. But Tinseltown was sometimes Rockwell's home as well. A new exhibition at the Norman Rockwell Museum focuses on this other aspect of Rockwell's career. Hooray for Rockwell's Hollywood features movie poster and other illustrations created for Hollywood studios. The exhibition, which opened on June 11, 1999 and runs through October 31, 1999, features vintage movie posters, lobby cards and original portraits of movie stars, drawn form the museum's art and archival collections.

Since Norman Rockwell was best-known for his magazine covers, people often are surprised to learn that he also illustrated movie posters. Like the sound bite of a television commercial, the movie poster, with its flash of action and emotion, grabs the viewer's attention by urgently conveying its message with intense colors, gripping perspective, and larger-than-life size.

The six movie posters featured in this exhibition were created between 1942 and 1966: The Magnificent Ambersons (1941), The Song of Bernadette (1943), Along Came Jones (1945), The Razor's Edge (1946), Cinderfella (1960) and the 1966 remake of the classic Stagecoach. Though few in number, the posters were all successful marketing tools and some have become prized among collectors.

A Rockwell poster is easy to recognize since he did not choose to differ his artistic style. To do so would have been at cross purposes with the movie studio's marketing plan to use a star illustrator to sell a movie. In each of the paintings, Rockwell's signature style of precise realism and his hallmark portraiture captured the movie's style. The movie posters, with their Rockwell images and their movie studio's graphic identity, prepared the movie-goer with portraits that fully defined and communicated the character of each actor.

In his portraits of well-known actors, Rockwell infused his canvases with shades and nuances of the personality each actor sought to portray in his or her role. Whether it was Jennifer Jones' religious fervor, Mike Conners' gambler's wile, Slim Pickens' joviality, or Gary Cooper's mild manner, the marquee and lobby cards guaranteed movie fans that all their expectations would be fulfilled for the price of admission. Though its primary purpose was to sell tickets at the box office, a movie poster sought to represent accurately the content of the movie. This was an easy accomplishment for an illustrator whose magazine covers were easily interpreted by hundreds of thousands of readers. (right: Portrait of Ann Margaret, © The Norman Rockwell Family Trust)

Movie posters were produced in varying sizes, each designed to be used in a different way. In order to cater to different segments of the movie-going audience, movies often had more than one poster style. One might focus on action while another on romance. In an attempt to market to female audiences with images of romance, the poster for Along Came Jones featured Rockwell artwork in the main body of the poster, while in a small inset at the lower corner an RKO/International studio artist added a passionate Gary Cooper embracing Loretta Young. (left: Cinderfella)

Individual theaters, with their varying budgets, could choose the promotion products that best suited them. Studio press books showed all of the marketing tools that were available to the individual movie theaters. Included were poster sizes, suggestions for publicity stunts, newspaper ads, and, at times, sample movie reviews.

In an unusually ambitious 20th Century Fox publicity campaign, advertising director Charles Schlaifer decided to use a 150-foot high display of Rockwell's illustration for The Song of Bernadette above a Broadway theater marquee. "It absolutely sold the picture," Schlaifer reflected. It was his opinion that Rockwell's Bernadette was one of the most effective pieces ever created for a motion picture. Three years later, 20th Century Fox again chose Rockwell. This time they wanted him to paint Tyrone Power and the cast of The Razor's Edge, a movie based on the W. Somerset Maugham novel. For this film, Fox launched the most extensive billboard campaign in the history of the company. Five days before the movie's world premier, Motion Picture Daily reported, "For The Razor's Edge, the company is initiating the use of a giant 48-sheet which will key the posting campaign in New York for the world premier at the Roxy on November 19." (left The Rasor's Edge; right: Song of Bernadette)

For Stagecoach, the 1966 remake of John Ford's 1939 hit, Rockwell embarked upon his most ambitious movie poster. He painted twenty oil portraits of the movie's ten stars and a large oil of a stagecoach fleeing an Indian war party. Rockwell enjoyed his Hollywood work and even played a bit part in Stagecoach as "Busted Flush."

The poster for Stagecoach challenged Rockwell with its panoramic scene of galloping horses and rugged mountains. In a letter that accompanied a preliminary drawing sent to 20th Century Fox in 1965, Rockwell wrote, "It was a tough job for me because I am not an expert on horses. " Rockwell's picture file shows his favorite reference sources that assisted him in the anatomy of horses as well as tear sheets of the Rockies - so unlike the familiar Green Mountains in Vermont or Berkshire hills in Massachusetts.

Rockwell had an affinity for the movie industry throughout most of his career. In an interview with Westchester Country Fair in 1928, Rockwell said,"..If I were not an artist I'd like to be a surgeon or a movie director, the latter, particularly. There is a chance to produce beautiful and artistic scenes that the public enjoy and that are as lasting as a beautiful picture."


Read more in Resource Library about the Norman Rockwell Museum

For further biographical information on selected artists cited in this article please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

rev. 10/18/10

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