I recently toured the handsome new facilities of Pacific Film Archive and Berkeley Art Museum. As head librarian Nancy Goldman showed the group of art librarians the rich resources of the library, she made passing reference to souvenir movie programs. I thought of my personal stash of programs, collected in the 1960s and ’70s and asked if she might want them for the collection. I never looked at them, but couldn’t bring myself to dispose of them. . I was thrilled when she said yes. Now they would have a permanent home, and be of potential use to future researchers. As I took them off the shelf and packaged them for delivery, I took one last look at these mementos of my youth.
It was a trip down a veritable memory lane, as most of them were bought at theatres along Hollywood Boulevard, where I saw so many movies for the first time. I loved going to the movie palaces along this famous street: Grauman’s Chinese, The Egyptian, The Pantages and The Paramount (aka El Capitan). Sometimes with my parents, sometimes with a school group, but mostly with my grandmother, who lived not far away.
I spent hours reading in magazines about movies being made and eagerly awaited their release. I stepped on or over famous names on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, many of which had to be explained to me by my parents. I was fascinated by special effects, dreaming that one day I would work in the industry. The programs offered a tangible memento of the experience. Filled with behind the scenes stories, biographies of the stars, and stills, some of these promotional materials are merely advertising, others offer fascinating information. Most are standard formats, either 8 1/2 x 11″ hardcovers or 9 x 12″ brochures, others diverge. Is it significant that those for Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and Barry Lyndon are offbeat sizes and shapes?
My eclectic collection boasts many musicals, including classics like My Fair Lady, South Pacific, Funny Girl and Camelot. Julie Andrews is well represented: Thoroughly Modern Millie, Star!, Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music.
Less successful offerings: Sweet Charity, The Happiest Millionaire, Hello, Dolly! and Doctor Doolittle. I bought the soundtracks of many of them, and compared them to the Original Broadway Cast albums that I borrowed from the library. I favored Gwen Verdon to Shirley Maclaine, Mary Martin to Mitzi Gaynor, and Julie Andrews over Audrey Hepburn. But, forgive me, I did prefer Julie Andrews over Mary Martin’s Maria von Trapp.
I would have been ten in 1962, when How the West Was Won and The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm were released at the Cinerama dome, where a few years later the Battle of the Bulge played. Images from the star-studded western were indelibly imprinted on my adolescent psyche; the fairy tale backstory and the war movie not so much.
While waiting to see the film adaptations I devoured lengthy novels like Gone With the Wind, Doctor Zhivago, Hawaii, and Far From the Madding Crowd. I scarcely understood that Franco Zefferelli’s Romeo and Juliet and The Taming of the Shrew were based on Shakespeare or that A Man for All Seasons had been a recent play.
I loved the Biblical epics, The Bible, Ben Hur, and King of Kings. Can I count Cleopatra among the ancient extravaganzas? Other historical favorites were Is Paris Burning and Exodus.
Before the days of videorecording, I often played the soundtrack and looked at the program, reimagining the experience of watching the movie. My bedroom walls were covered with images from magazines and sometimes even record albums, but never, ever, would I cut up my precious souvenir programs.
My penultimate perusal of these artifacts from the past returns me to my adolescent self and my love of movies. They are permanently imbedded in my heart; I no longer need their physical presence to remind me. After nearly fifty years on my shelves I am delighted they are moving to a new home.