The earliest lobby cards from the 1910s were mainly printed in brown and white rotogravure. Most of these posters were dull reproductions of photographs, although some coloring was added in by hand or stencil (i.e., Ballet Girl; The Kid). In the 1920s, lobby cards began to use cut-out effects: black and white photographs were cut apart and mounted on plain backgrounds or assembled into a montage of pictures or drawings. Hand-designed letters and titles were then added to the cards.
It is the photogelatin process, otherwise known as the heliotype collotype process, which emerged in the 1920s, that became the most widely used printing method for lobby cards between the 1920s and 1950s. The popularity of this process is due in part to the resulting textured and colorful images. Although similar to the more expensive lithographic process, photos reproduced using the photogelatin process was usually duller and not as rich. However, the photogelatin process was ideal for printing smaller posters such as lobby cards, which were meant to be seen up close and not from afar.
In the silent movie Ballet Girl, Alice Brady (1832–1939) is a carnival performer who must painfully choose between her career as a ballerina and her romance. Brady was also the daughter of the president of World Film Studios, William Brady. The movie is based on Compton Mackenzie’s 1912 best-selling novel Carnival.
As early as the 1920s, studios began to recognize the importance of star power and began showcasing the names of popular actors in addition to the movie titles. The bigger the star, the bigger the name appeared on the poster. Popular stars such as Charlie Chaplin (1889–1977) were often involved not only in the production of their films, but in the design of their posters as well.
As reflected in one its famous opening titles (“A picture with a smile, and perhaps a tear”), The Kid was one of the first films to combine drama with comedy, a signature style that characterized many of Chaplin’s future films. In the film, Chaplin plays the endearing “Tramp.” The abandoned child is played by Jackie Coogan (1914–1984), who would later become the first major movie child star. In the film, both the Tramp and the Kid resort to scamming people in order to survive.
Color gloss lobby cards were hand-tinted photo stills printed on glossy, 11 × 14” card stock paper. They were produced for special productions and usually in limited numbers.
In this film directed by Raoul Walsh (1887–1980), two cat burglars and adversaries, Ricky Morgan (Douglas Fairbanks Jr. 1909–2000) and Jim Dial (Alan Hale, 1919–1990), are unaware they are in love with the same woman, Glory Fane (Valerie Hobson, 1917–1998). When Jim Dial dies, Glory Fane is accused of plotting his murder and Ricky Morgan takes the rap in order to protect her. In the end Jim Dial’s death is ruled a suicide and both Ricky and Glory are set free to continue their romance.
Charlie Chaplin’s popularity as a silent film star extended to the era of sound film. In the 1930s, audiences who were accustomed to sound still clamored to see silent pictures in which he starred. The New York–based “King of Comedy Corp,” previously named Exhibitors Pictures Corporation, capitalized on this phenomenon by re-issuing ten Chaplin films originally produced for the Essanay Film Manufacturing Company. His Night Out was one of these re-issued films with its title changed from the original A Night Out (1915)—re-edited with new subtitles, a music score, and added sound effects.
Charlie Chaplin receiving an Honorary Oscar® - 44th Annual Academy Awards®.