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Tuesday, November 05, 2013

A Great Animator That Drew Movie Ads


Milt Kahl Helps Sell Pics For Fox West Coast

Milt Kahl (at left) was a genius animator among the "Nine Old Men" who'd become legendary in annals of Disney cartooning. What I didn't realize before reading John Canemaker's splendid book about the group, Walt Disney's Nine Old Men and The Art Of Animation, was that Kahl had an early stint doing pen-and-ink ads for the Fox West Coast Theatre chain. He'd gotten the job after working for newspapers. The man that helped him was Rufus Blair (shown below), a name familiar from previous dig into Ace In The Hole (see that chapter in Showmen, Sell It Hot!). Blair would become a chief publicist for Paramount and stay there for many years. According to Canemaker, new hire Milt Kahl was put to work on "car cards," movie advertisements hung on the front of street cars. From there, he moved to doing Fox Theatre ads for newspapers.


Fox Theatres had a strong West Coast presence. They pretty much dominated exhibition in that territory. Ads for their programs are among the most impressive I've come across. Any early 30's example could be called a collector's item. Knowing now that Milt Kahl drew a number of them explains standout quality of those from approximately 1929 to 1933, the period during which he was associated with the circuit. Kahl said in later-life interviews that his pen-and-ink drawings were inspired by Franklin Booth, a landscape artist whose pen-ink stuff I checked on Google and it's indeed fantastic. Artists who drew movie ads didn't generally sign their work, so we can't be positive of which ones are Kahl's. Was Milt a lone wolf for pen-and-ink rendition of star faces during his period of Fox employment?







The Kahl ads were unique to Fox's chain. They weren't generally used in other territories. I haven't come across any from New York or Chicago, for instance. Fox West Coast had their own ideas on how to sell movies, with an in-house art department second to none. This crew didn't rely on pressbooks sent by the film companies. Their own ads were superior and they knew it. Milt Kahl undoubtedly learned a lot working for Fox. He left there in 1933 and landed at Disney in 1934. It's no coincidence that highest grade ads for Fox West Coast appear during Kahl's tenure there. It's almost a shame he didn't stick with them and let cartoons alone, though animation historians could give me a stiff argument there. Greenbriar has posted many Fox Theatre ads in the past, and will undoubtedly use plenty more being armed with knowledge that so many were Milt Kahl's handiwork.


UPDATE --- 11/5/13 --- 2:27 PM --- Reader Rich Tubbs very kindly sent a striking Fox Theatres ad for Dancers In The Dark (1932) with a bold "K" artists' signature on the lower right. Grateful appreciation to Rich for this lovely specimen of pen-ink art.

  And there's more Milt Kahl at Greenbriar HERE.

3 Comments:

Blogger radiotelefonia said...

I love this movie ads, wishing to always wishing to recover those that Osvaldo Venturi made in Argentina while simultaneously producing great posters... usually better than the films themselves.

There are online newspaper microfilms available online from Australia and I have been capturing from them quite a few great pieces of film ads.

2:42 PM  
Blogger Galen Fott said...

I can't be the first one to notice this, but the "Chandu the Magician" poster has the same "K", and the "Island of Lost Souls" poster seems to have a small box towards the lower right that says "MILT KAHL" in it.

2:32 PM  
Blogger fbthani said...

milt kahl was an amazing animator, i hope i can be like him someday !!

8:43 AM  

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