This year, one of the many wonderful exhibition on view at Poster House Museum in the Flatiron District of NYC focuses on Lobby Cards advertising Hollywood and East Coast movies made largely by women ~ for women ~ created during the 1910s and 20s. The exhibition, entitled Experimental Marriage: Women in Early Hollywood, is currently on view until October 9, 2022 ~ and the story behind the man who loaned these historic posters to the Museum is as interesting as the exhibition itself.
The posters for this exhibition are on loan from Dwight M. Cleveland, a Chicago real estate developer and historic preservationist, who renovates historic Victorian properties ~ but his real love is his comprehensive collection of vintage film posters, which began in 1977, while he was still in high school. Over the years, this collection grew to include many one-of-a-kind and iconic movie posters from 58 countries, spanning multiple genres.
After years of trying to elevate movie posters to a status above memorabilia, Cleveland exhibited his collection as a solo show for the first time in 2019 at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach. Later that year, Assouline released Cleveland’s book, Cinema on Paper: The Graphic Genius of Movie Posters, displaying his favorite posters along with spirited commentary. Antiques and the Arts Weekly had an interesting article and interview of Mr. Cleveland that you can read here.
His archives include every Best Picture winner at the Academy Awards and the top 100 films of all time as rated by The American Film Institute and The Internet Movie Database. Cleveland has donated a significant amount of his collection to museums around the world, available for public viewing.
Over the years, he keenly observed the narrative of women in early cinema, and their historic contributions to film. The Posters/Lobby Cards in this exhibition cover three main topics ~ Women with Agency; Women who Work; and Marriage or Divorce. It was a job easily accessible for women, since at that time, these jobs were unregulated and nonunionized, and there were fewer barriers for women in this, and the related fields which included producer, director, editor, and writer.
This particular collection ~ silent film lobby cards ~ is comprised of more than 8,500 posters relating to the careers of nearly 1,000 women. The entire collection including posters, lobby cards, books and catalogs, glass slides is about 16,000.
On October 6, 2022, we learned that Dwight Cleveland and Dartmouth College reached an agreement to preserve and digitize the collection to Dartmouth’s Media Ecology Project ~ where a small group of students will carefully remove each card from its protective sleeve, scan and digitize. The project, which began in September, 2022, is expected to be finished later in the Fall. It will provide insight into how the films were promoted and what kind of design features went into the marketing of a film from a given studio.
Cleveland also donated 3,500 lobby cards of silent-era Westerns, featuring stars such as William S. Hart, Jack Hoxie, and Buck Jones, to the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum inn Oklahoma City.
When complete, the lobby card collection will become part of Dartmouth’s Early Cinema Compendium, which will feature 15 collections of rare and valuable archival and scholarly resources. The compendium, which will be published online as part of a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, will also include more than 7,000 frame samples from early and mostly lost U.S. films, plus access to more than 2,500 archival films across the genres of early cinema.