Pressbooks Collection

Starring and Produced by Mary Pickford

World War II on Film

Engaging with Society through Cinema

What's in a pressbook?

Imagine yourself an executive at United Artists in the late 1930s or early 1940s. A significant film has just been produced for your corporation, and it’s now time to reap the box office returns for all the hard work and financial investment put into the production. UA already has its regular network of theaters set up (via block-booking) to distribute the film. However, like most big-budget films of the day, this film is going to be distributed under a percentage-of-profit structure—that is, your profits are directly affected by box-office receipts. You need to make sure that theaters are actually drawing people in to see this new film. Nationwide promotional efforts probably aren’t a sufficient solution; these are still difficult given the variance in dates and locations of film runs. So what strategy can you implement in order cooperate with exhibitors to ensure that everyone profits upon the film’s release? Why, pressbooks, of course!

Pressbooks reveal the multifaceted approaches used by film distributors to work with exhibitors to maximize the reach and profit of their films. Early on, pressbooks tended to be short and focused on pre-written columns that theaters could submit to their local newspapers to promote the film; later, they ballooned in size, were printed (at least partially) in splashy colors, and included advertising images, posters, heralds, ideas for promotional events, and so forth. Before the advent of YouTube trailers or even saturation booking (the practice whereby most theaters across the nation show films during their first run and, thus, can take advantage of national advertising campaigns), the advertising schemes in these pressbooks promoted cooperation with exhibitors and were designed to maximize box-office profits to the benefit of both distributor and exhibitor.

The collection of pressbooks digitized here includes a wide swath of UA films from the 1920s-1950s. This is by no means an exhaustive collection, but it samples some of the most significant films, directors, and stars the distributor worked with during the “classical Hollywood” era. These include Shirley Temple, Buster Keaton, the Marx Brothers, Lucille Ball, Barbara Stanwyck, Fredric March, Alec Guinness, and of course, the founders of United Artists: Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, and D. W. Griffith. Some of these pressbooks are also disconcerting glimpses of our film past and our social ignorance on issues of race, gender, sexual orientation, and beyond. But whether providing further context to these social ills or simply advising exhibitors on how to run coloring contests for young filmgoers, these pressbooks offer insights into the intersection of distribution and exhibition in the age of the studio system alongside infinite entertainment. -- Connor Perkins, 2020.

Thank you to the Mary Pickford Foundation and the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research for making the scanning of these pressbooks possible. These pressbooks and hundreds more have been preserved in the collection, United Artists Corporation: Series 5.4 United Artists Pressbooks, at the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research.

United Artists Pressbooks: Sortable by Title, Director, and Year

Title Director Year
A Night in CasablancaMayo, Archie1946
Abraham LincolnGriffith, D. W.1930
AmericaGriffith, D. W.1924
An Innocent AffairBacon, Lloyd1948
ArrowsmithFord, John1931
The Black PirateParker, Albert1926
BlockadeDieterle, William1938
Body and SoulRossen, Robert1947
Born to Be BadSherman, Lowell1934
Broken BlossomsGriffith, D. W.1919
ChampionRobson, Mark1949
City LightsChaplin, Charlie1931
The Life and Death of Colonel BlimpPowell, Michael and Emeric Pressburger1945
CoquetteTaylor, Sam1929
CorsairWest, Roland1931
DisraeliKolker, Henry1921
Du Barry, Woman of PassionTaylor, Sam1930
Emperor JonesMurphy, Dudley1933
Foreign CorrespondentHitchcock, Alfred1940
Green for DangerGilliat, Sidney1946
Hallelujah, I'm a BumMilestone, Lewis1933
Hell's AngelsHughes, Howard1930
Home of the BraveRobson, Mark1949
I, AccuseGance, Abel1919
I Cover the WaterfrontCruze, James1933
I Met My Love AgainLogan, Joshua, Arthur Ripley, and George Cukor (uncredited)1938
I'll Be Seeing YouDieterle, William1944
IntermezzoRatoff, Gregory1939
It's in the Bag!Wallace, Richard1945
Kid MillionsDel Ruth, Roy1934
KikiTaylor, Sam1931
Kind Hearts and CoronetsHamer, Robert1949
King of the OlympicsLerner, Joseph1948
Lady of the PavementsGriffith, D. W.1929
LuredSirk, Douglas1947
Mad WednesdaySturges, Preston1947
Miss Annie RooneyMarin, Edwin L.1942
Modern TimesChaplin, Charlie1936
Monsieur VerdouxChaplin, Charlie1947
Moulin RougeLanfield, Sidney1934
Mr. Robinson CrusoeSutherland, A. Edward1932
My Best GirlTaylor, Sam1927
New York NightsMilestone, Lewis1929
No More WomenRogell, Albert S.1934
Nothing SacredWellman, William1937
Of Mice and MenMilestone, Lewis1939
Our TownWood, Sam1940
Prehistoric WomenTallas, Gregg C.1950
RafflesFitzmaurice, George1930
RainMilestone, Lewis1932
RamonaCarewe, Edwin1928
RamrodDeToth, Andre1947
SecretsBorzage, Frank1933
Since You Went AwayCromwell, John1944
Sleep, My LoveSirk, Douglas1948
Son of Frankenstein and Bride of FrankensteinLee, Rowland V., and James Whale1939, 1935
SparrowsBeaudine, William1926
SpellboundHithcock, Alfred1945
Steamboat Bill, Jr.Reisner, Charles1928
Stella Dallas (1925)King, Henry1925
Stella Dallas (1937)Vidor, King1937
Story of GI JoeWellman, William1945
SudsDillon, John Francis1920
Taming of the ShrewTaylor, Sam1929
Tess of the Storm CountryRobertson, John S.1922
The Birth of a NationGriffith, D. W.1915
The BoweryWalsh, Raoul1933
The CircusChaplin, Charlie1928
The Count of Monte CristoLee, Rowland V.1934
The Devil DancerNiblo, Fred1927
The Devil to PayFitzmaurice, George1930
The DoveWest, Roland1927
The EagleBrown, Clarence1925
Four FeathersKorda, Zoltan1939
The GauchoJones, F. Richard1927
The GeneralKeaton, Buster and Clyde Bruckman1926
The Gold RushChaplin, Charlie1925
The Goldwyn FolliesMarshall, George1938
The Great DictatorChaplin, Charlie1940
The House of RothschildWerker, Alfred L.1934
The Iron MaskDwan, Allan1929
The Jackie Robinson StoryGreen, Alfred E.1950
The Joe Louis StoryGordon, Robert1953
The Last of the MohicansSeitz, George B.1936
The Mark of ZorroNiblo, Fred1920
The Mighty BarnumLang, Walter1934
The Night of LoveFitzmaurice, George1927
The NutReed, Theodore1921
The Other LoveDeToth, Andre1947
The Private Life of Don JuanKorda, Alexander1934
The Private Life of Henry VIIIKorda, Alexander1933
The SouthernerRenoir, Jean1945
The Thief of BagdadWalsh, Raoul1924
The WesternerWyler, William1940
Tillie's Punctured RomanceSennett, Mack1914
To Be or Not To BeLubitsch, Ernst1942
Tomorrow, the World!Fenton, Leslie1944
Topper ReturnsDel Ruth, Roy1941
TumbleweedsBaggot, King1925
Wuthering HeightsWyler, William1939