A magic lantern slide for the Gloria Swanson film “Her Gilded Cage” (1922), listed on EBay with bids starting at $89.
Before movie studios employed trailers to raise audiences’ awareness and interest in attending films, they used lantern glass slides to pitch coming attractions. These slides could promote movies, stars, products and even local businesses.
Primitive cinema in the early 1900s mainly advertised moving pictures through lithographic posters, employing strong graphic images to capture the public’s attention. Companies sprang up to mass produce these posters, but small town theaters often handmade their own creations instead of purchasing professionally produced items in order to save money.
As film studios became more organized in their own form of mass production, they also became more professional in the use of advertising and publicity to sell their product. The use of glass slides and lobby cards employing poster key art as marketing materials became firmly established in 1913.
Lisa Kernan, in her book, “Coming Attractions: Reading American Movie Trailers,” states, “The precursors to trailers were magic lantern slides resembling posters, each film identified with titles and images of its stars or significant elements of its iconography. These were projected between features much like today’s slides of local restaurant advertisements and movie trivia quizzes.”
Created in 1644 by Anthanasius Kircher, magic lantern slides functioned like an early form of PowerPoint, providing educational knowledge, informing viewers, and entertaining audiences. Many churches used them to promote catechism, liturgy and beliefs, while universities employed them in lectures.
By the early 1900s, slides also became a popular way to entertain crowds and promote new songs to potential consumers. Vaudeville and movie houses employed sets of song slides to entertain before shows, with each slide projected on screen listing a few lines of lyrics, illustrated by colorful graphic art.
A magic lantern slide for “Recompense” (1925), starring Marie Prevost and Monte Blue, listed on EBay as Buy It Now for $24.95.
The use of slides to promote films was possibly introduced in 1912, but they regularly began appearing at moving picture theaters in 1913 publicizing coming attractions. Most slides employed illustrated key art found on the movie’s poster, or representative images from the film. Later, some slides employed lobby card images or even publicity stills from scenes. They came black and white, tinted, and hand-colored.
Slides were rectangular (3 ¼ x 4 inches), consisting of double-paned glass taped together by binding them, usually with black tape, around the edges. One pane contained the emulsion, the other protected it from scratches and damage. Sometimes, one piece of glass was surrounded by a thick cardboard frame, which was cheaper to produce but more likely to be damaged.
Within a couple of years, generic slides promoting stars, directors, studios, and even theaters ran before shows. Generic images of major stars were used to attract fans of that actor to theaters, and so on with generic director and studio slides. Many theaters also employed slides to teach etiquette, promote upcoming releases, advertise local businesses, and ballyhoo special occasions or products.
Amusement Slide Co. promoted illustrated lantern slides in a February 1912 Motography ad, noting that they also sold postcard projections and stereopticons.
A gag magic lantern slide, listed on EBay as Buy It Now for $14.99.
A Jan. 4, 1913, ad by ABC Slide Co. of Salem, Mass. in Moving Picture World pushed creating your own slides, and suggested to motion picture operators, “Make slides of local events. Attract crowds. Outfit and instructions.”
Manhattan Slide Co. ran several advertisements in 1913 issues of Exhibitor Times, stating, “Lantern slides for all makes of films. Reproduced with special pictures of the most striking scenes. Mailed to you at 25 cents each. They will attract the Public to your Theatre.”
By 1913-1914, several major manufacturers moved to the forefront of producing motion picture lantern slides: Century, Excelsior, Keystone, and General Film Co. Keystone manufactured stereopticons and photograph postcards as well as slides. The General Film Co. was the National Screen Service of its day, releasing product by all of the Motion Picture Patents’ Companies, like Edison, Essanay, Lubin, Selig, Vitagraph, Biograph, Thanhouser, and Keystone.
With the advent of sound, motion picture studios began relying on film trailers to publicize coming attractions, and the use of lantern slides slowly faded away, virtually disappearing in the 1950s. They made a comeback in the 1990s, when major theater chains and local screens began running pre-show slides advertising local businesses and charities, movie trivia contests, and promoting upcoming films.
For further information on coming attraction slides, check out Rob Byrne’s great website, www.Starts-Thursday.com.