- Pressbooks: Advertisements, Merchandise, and More
The Black Film Center/Archive (BFC/A) recently obtained thirty pressbooks to enhance and increase its existing general collection of pressbooks. Besides the general collection, there are also pressbooks in the African American Contributions to Film Collection, the Hatch-Billops Collection, and the John Williams Collection.
Just what is a pressbook? Pressbooks, also known as advertising manuals, showman’s manuals, or merchandising manuals, were publications issued by studios for the purposes of marketing their films. Pressbooks vary greatly in content and length. Low-budget or B movies typically had small brochures while larger film productions may have included detailed script, cast, and crew information as well as multiple types of advertising. Pressbooks may contain synopses of the film, cast and crew listings, illustrations of posters or advertisements, film reviews, publicity articles about the actors in the film, and promotional plans or exploitation campaigns. Frequently, information about ordering souvenirs and product tie-ins was included. The pressbooks in the BFC/A’s collections range from a single, double-sided, black-and-white page for the film Slaves (1969) to twenty-page color booklets for the films The Jackie Robinson Story (1950) and Carmen Jones (1954).
Prior to the 1980s and national mass marketing, the pressbook was an essential marketing tool. In that era, most film marketing was done by local newspapers and theater owners who may have needed inspiration for their efforts. Pressbooks were one of the mediums by which film studios communicated with theaters in order to market their productions. Because theater owners typically cut out the advertisements and other materials from the pressbooks in order to publicize the movie, and then threw the remaining pressbook away, it is rare to find one that has not been cut and is in good condition. The Black Film Center/Archive’s pressbooks are uncut, with the exception of three—Burn! (1970), One More Time (1970), and Scream Blacula Scream (1973)—and are in good to excellent condition. While the only interesting thing to look at in some pressbooks is the variety, or lack thereof, of advertisements for the film, some pressbooks offer much more. This article [End Page 168] will focus on several outstanding examples of pressbooks in the BFC/A’s collection.
What can be learned by looking at a pressbook? An interesting aspect to examine is how African American actors were publicized when costarring in a film with white actors, especially during the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. A film that had race relations at the core of the story was the 1949 film Home of the Brave starring Lloyd Bridges, Frank Lovejoy, Douglas Dick, Steve Brodie, and James Edwards. Edwards’s character is the lone African American member of a five-man team sent by the army during World War II to map a South Pacific island. His character is the heart of the story. Yet, in the ads featured in the pressbook for the film, he does not receive top billing—his name is included in smaller type below the names of Lovejoy, Bridges, and Dick. Edwards is included in two photographs that could be used for advertisements in newspapers, but he is in the background in one and being carried to safety by the one bigoted white soldier in the other. The synopsis of the film included in the pressbook, which was not to be used for publication, does describe in detail the plot of the story and makes it clear how big of a role Edwards’s character played in the film. Edwards’s picture does appear on the poster for the film although it may not be clear to everyone at first glance that he is an African American.
Another film with race at its core was the 1960 film Sergeant Rutledge directed by John Ford and starring Woody Strode as the title character along with Jeffrey Hunter, Constance Towers, Billie Burke, and Juano Hernandez. The film takes place in the post–Civil War days in the Arizona territory. The 9th and 10th U.S. Cavalry, also known as “The Buffalo Soldiers,” are there to help fight the Apaches. Sergeant Rutledge is accused of the rape and...