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Early Movie Posters

Movie poster for Wings (1927)These five movie posters from a small-town theater show the variety of films available in the 1920s.

Movies have entertained us for well over a century.  Even in the earliest years, their genres varied from drama to comedy, and from live-action to animation.  These five movie posters show the variety of films shown at the Crystal Theater in Ottawa, Kansas, during the 1920s.  Donated by Arthur Bidwell of Baldwin City, they are in the collections of the Kansas Museum of History.

Wings (1927)

It's a movie plot staple--two men from different backgrounds, in love with the same girl.  In this film, both become fighter pilots in World War I, and the rivals eventually become friends.  But who will get the girl in the end? 

Wings is a silent film with many elements commending it to moviegoers.  The female lead was Hollywood’s "It girl" and ultimate flapper, Clara Bow.  Richard Arlen and Charles "Buddy" Rogers played the men who were in love with her.  The film featured spectacular aerial scenes directed by William A. Wellman, himself a pilot in the Lafayette Escadrille (the French flying corps) during the war.  

Movie poster for The Covered WagonToday the movie is remembered for having won the first ever Academy Award for Best Picture, along with a second award for engineering effects.   Kansans who saw the movie in 1927 might have recognized Buddy Rogers as one of their own--born and raised in Olathe, he attended the University of Kansas.

The Covered Wagon (1923)

Wagon trains gather at Kansas City on their way to Oregon in this silent film based on a novel by Emerson Hough.  The novel includes references to Pappan's Ferry, which crossed the Kansas River at present-day Topeka. 

The movie's plot is peppered with the dangers of traveling the Oregon Trail in the 1840s, but perhaps nothing was more dangerous than the love triangle created by two men trying to win the affections of the same girl.

Movie poster for London After Midnight (1927)Most cast members are best remembered by fans of silent films, except possibly for Alan Hale, Sr., who had a long career as a character actor.  His son, Alan Hale, Jr., later played the Skipper on television’s Gilligan's Island.

London After Midnight (1927)

One of many lost films from this era, the last known print of London After Midnight was destroyed in a 1967 fire at the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) studios.  Historians and artists have since recreated this silent film using still photographs of scenes from the movie. 

The story involves vampires creating havoc in London.  Its director, Tod Browning, is best known for the 1931 film introducing actor Bela Lugosi as "Dracula."  But in this film, his star was Lon Chaney, dubbed "The Man of a Thousand Faces."

Movie poster for Body and Soul (1927)Chaney is perhaps best known for silent versions of The Phantom of the Opera and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  He often used makeup and various devices to turn himself into hideous on-screen characters.  This skill made him one of the top box office draws of the 1920s.

Body and Soul (1927)

Also lost over time, this silent film falls back on a familiar plot device.  It involves a brilliant surgeon with a drinking problem and a dashing ski jumper, both of whom--you guessed it--are in love with the same woman. 

Probably the most recognizable name in the cast is Lionel Barrymore, member of the renowned acting family and great-uncle of actress Drew Barrymore.  Lionel often is remembered as Mr. Potter in the Christmas classic, It’s a Wonderful Life.

The Texan (1930)Movie poster for The Texan (1930)

The only sound film in this collection of posters is The Texan, featuring Gary Cooper in an early starring role.  His co-star, Fay Wray, became forever linked to one of cinema's great monsters when she starred in King Kong a few years later.

The movie is based on an O. Henry short story entitled, "The Double-Dyed Deceiver."  Cooper plays the Llano Kid, who flees to South America after killing a man in a gambling hall.  There, he is persuaded to play a ruse in order to gain a small fortune by playing a rich man's son who hasn't been seen in years.  The Kid comes to discover that the man he impersonated is the same person he killed in Texas.

The Kid tries to win the affection of a woman but, interestingly, has no rival for her affections.

Entry: Early Movie Posters

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: April 2012

Date Modified: December 2014

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.