It’s time again to share some of my favorite publicity photos from the golden age of Hollywood—and a bygone age of ballyhoo, when actresses under contract to the major studios were kept busy between film assignments shooting promotional stills for hungry newspapers and magazines around the world. I’ve been collecting photos like this for years and never seem to run out of material, especially for Yuletide tie-ins. We begin with an MGM shot from the early 1930s of the delightful Una Merkel offering “her” gift suggestions for practically everyone on your Christmas list. I hope Brother didn’t wind up with emphysema from smoking all those cigarettes—unless his sibling was thoughtful enough to pick out a nice wallet.
CLARA BOW has enough vim, vigor and Christmas cheer to last all year long. Her effervescent personality is just as evident in this still photo as it is in her films. There was no one else quite like her. Incidentally, UCLA Film and Television Archive is programming some of her best—and rarest—films in January.
LOUISE FAZENDA earned her reputation as a comedienne at Mack Sennett’s fun factory during the silent film era, and went on to brighten scores of feature films thereafter. In this late 1920s photo it seems she’s ready for any seasonal activity, from hanging a wreath to snowshoeing through the snow.
Pretty PATRICIA ELLIS was Warner Bros.’ all-purpose ingénue in the 1930s, amassing forty feature credits in eight years’ time, before leaving films behind to sing on Broadway, in nightclubs and on the radio. Here she demurely eats a Christmas cracker—or is she licking a stamp or gift sticker? We may never know unless someone finds the original studio caption.
Here’s the original caption from 1937: “DOROTHEA KENT – petite, blonde package wrapped in cellophane. This charming young actress from the Universal lot is all smiles these days—and no wonder—she made a hit in ‘As Good as Married’ and she’s being groomed for the feminine lead in a new picture called ‘Carnival Queen.’ ”
Jumping ahead a decade, here’s our final photo, with its original 1947 caption: “ ‘TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS… The only creature stirring is Leslie Brooks, who can’t seem to resist a preview look at the packages while no one else is looking. A Columbia star, Leslie shares stellar honors with Jimmy Lloyd in ‘Cigarette Girl.’ ”