A note from Lindsey: I apologize for the crappy quality of the photos in this post. The issue of Photoplay is too fragile to scan. I also apologize, once again, for the obnoxious watermarks. I don’t prefer to punish all for the mistakes of few, but I’ve seen my scans/photos stolen before and feel the need to protect them!
This post is a part of the Historical Context series, in which I share excerpts from my vintage publication collection.
I was having a Mad Men re-watch marathon recently and it gave me the urge to dig out some of my old magazines and re-read them, at which point I realized… this year marks the 97th birthday of the oldest issue in my collection! I do have a few books that are from the 1800s, but as far as magazines go the June 1916 issue of Photoplay is the oldest that I own. I’ve decided to share some of its contents with you today!
The issue’s cover promises “All the News of the Photoplay World,” including illustrations, reviews of new pictures, star portraits, fashion and short stories. The cover prominently features an illustration of none other than David Wark Griffith, better known as the controversial and pioneering filmmaker D.W. Griffith. The mag promises to share Griffith’s “beginning life story.”
Photoplay certainly delivers on its promise to share the story of D.W. Griffith, devoting many pages to his biography. The story includes interesting tidbits, including a drawing by D.W. himself of the home where he was born and a poem titled “The Wild Duck” which he originally published in 1907.
Another of the mag’s prominent features is a photo spread titled “Popular Photoplayers in This Issue.” The first page of the spread includes a list of the performers, with each following page highlighting a single performer with a photo and a single-paragraph biography. Included in the June 1916 issue are John Barrymore, Mary Boland, Charles Murray, Gertrude McCoy, Charles Clary, Frances Nelson, Billie Billings, Charles Ray, Thomas Jefferson, Mary Alden, Darwin Karr, Anna Q. Nilsson, Thomas J. Carrigan and Eugene Besserer.
I’m much more familiar with Photoplay’s editions from the 1940s and 1950s, but it seems that in the 1910s they were already establishing a reputation of publishing exclusive, in-depth, timely and behind the scenes information. Appearing in this issue are a photo story about Alice Joyce’s newborn baby, dramatic short stories featuring plenty of photos that look like film stills, an article on French wartime films, a wartime fashion special, and abbreviated biographies (similar to Griffith’s in format, but condensed) of some of the rising stars of the day.
The magazine’s also got plenty of fun for the reader. One of the coolest features I’ve seen in any vintage magazine appears here, but not in my later issues of Photoplay: “Seen and Heard at the Movies.” Taking up only a page of space, this recurring feature allows fans to send in funny stories about their theater-going experiences. Though the theater experience has changed quite a bit over the years, it seems that many of 1916’s movie patrons dealt with annoyances we still deal with today: germy seat-neighbors who seem to constantly sneeze directly at you, or the noisy fellow who comes to the show alone and speaks loudly throughout the entire film.
I can imagine that obsessed fans of the time must have anxiously awaited Photoplay’s “Best Photoplay of the Month” pick with each new issue, too. (The title is given to Dollars and the Woman, which is now presumed lost, in the June 1916 issue.)
Readers are kept in suspense with the “Beauty and Brains” contest, for which 11 winners have been chosen… but those choices won’t be revealed until the July issue. A page and a half are dedicated to explaining the judging process of the contest.
And of course, what would a Photoplay issue be without some juicy gossip? In comparison to later issues, this June 1916 edition is far less scandalous. It sticks to major personal announcements and strictly production-based gossip for the most part. Raoul Walsh’s marriage to Miriam Cooper is announced, but in a congratulatory way rather than the snarky type of personal gossip you’d see in a Cal York column. Ruth Stonehouse’s brand new Universal contract is announced. The death of Harold Hubert after being struck by an automobile is mentioned, as are injuries sustained by over 100 people during the filming of The Mother and the Law.
Re-reading this very old issue of Photoplay was refreshing. As fun as the later issues are, it’s always interesting to see the magazine at its roots, doing what it was created to do: share news with movie fanatics rather than sharing often-fabricated tales about the hot performers of the day.