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Gotta Dance! Movie Musical Posters

Gotta Dance! Movie Musical Posters

What a perfect marriage: posters celebrating Hollywood
musicals at the summertime mecca for dance, Jacob’s Pillow, in the Berkshire
mountains of Massachusetts. And who better to serve as guest of honor than
Marge Champion, still vital at age 95? If, like me, you won’t have a chance to
visit the Gotta Dance! exhibit in
person, curator and collector Mike Kaplan has put together a souvenir book.

As Mike tells it, “The book was realized after having
received requests for one at each of the previous five Gotta Dance! exhibits. As the audience at Jacob’s Pillow is so
dance-oriented and attracts nearly 100,000 visitors, this was a now or never
opportunity. Waiting for a publisher (there is interest) would take at least a
year. So it’s self-published for the time being (Lagoon Press) and can be backordered online at The Pillow Store at online at Jacob’s
 or through (310)

“All of the exhibits have been satisfying,” he reports, “but
this one is the most special as it came about because of Marge Champion, who is
a patron of the Pillow.  Their key
exhibit space, Blake’s Barn, was donated by Marge to the Pillow from her
property and is named for her son, Blake, who was a fine dancer and Pillow
student who died in a tragic car accident when he was 25. This is also Marge’s
95th birthday year, so the Pillow, spearheaded by Norton Owen, their amazing
director of preservation and archivist, wanted to celebrate her. He had seen
the exhibit at Lincoln Center and asked if I had more than just one poster with
Marge & Gower Champion (which I had) and knew more should be available. So
it began. Sixty posters are included (103 are in the book), with six of the
Champions, the best being the artful Swedish poster of Everything I Have is Yours, which took a great deal of sleuthing to
locate. It provides a striking contrast to MGM’s pedestrian version, also on
view; this enabled me to blast the mediocre movie posters produced here in the

“I tried to include every major star dancer in the book and
almost all in the exhibit as well as examples of how dance images were used to
sell dramatic and comedic films. Between the exhibit and the book, Lillian
Gish, Greta Garbo, Laurel & Hardy, Loretta Young, Laurence Olivier, Bob

Hedy Lamarr, Claudette Colbert, Lee Tracy, etc. are also
seen in dance mode. Though there were more posters (81) in the California Heritage
Museum show, this one has the most feeling, maybe because of Marge, the Pillow,
and a two-story effect. People want to move and dance when they go through it. (If
there are more exhibits, I want to have a prop bin with top hats, straw hats,
canes, umbrellas, etc.) I missed getting a picture of a couple who were
celebrating their anniversary and posed in front of the Astaire-Hayworth French
poster for You’ll Never Get Rich, joined
at the hip.

He continues, “Almost all of the caption text in the book
appears as ID’s in the exhibit. The book also has four separate sections with
essays: Swedish Design, The Magic of Fred
Astaire, Water and Ice,
and The
Champions: Marge and Gower.

“Response so far has been gratifying. The first shipment of the book sold
out and some have already sold from the second shipment which arrived Monday.
The books thus far have all been spiral bound, which people seem to prefer as
they open flat. The problem in doing a limited number at a time is that the
price is $65 but I guess that’s in the art book range.”

“Besides being able to see the posters displayed and
enjoyed, my mission is to have the movie poster, at its most creative,
appreciated as a legitimate art form.”

Mike Kaplan was ahead of the curve in that area. While
dilettante collectors like me despaired at the rising price of vintage Hollywood
posters, years ago, this movie marketing executive took a different route. He
pursued foreign-language posters, which were still affordable, and developed a
keen eye for the most striking designs. In recent years he has curated a number
of gallery exhibits; when I saw Gotta Dance! at the California Heritage Museum
a year or so back, I was blown away.

But he’s not finished yet. “In future exhibits, I intend to
have posters of Snow White and the Seven
, the Blue Fairy reissue of Pinocchio,
and the dancing hippos in Fantasia,
as Marge was the model for all, which I had forgotten. Marge’s father, Ernest
Belcher,  was the dean of dance directors
in the 20’s-40s and taught Crawford, John Gilbert, Shirley Temple, Cyd Charisse,
etc. The oldest poster in the exhibit (also in the book) is The Spanish Dancer (1926), which became
a Pola Negri vehicle after Valentino refused to do it when he was in a fight
with Paramount. The Spanish Dancer was
among Belcher’s credits, though ‘choreographers’ didn’t receive screen credits.
I had no idea. [It’s all] serendipity, like how much of Gotta Dance! has evolved.”


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