“AD SHARK”

In the October 6, 1914 issue of The Moving Picture World, the leading American film industry trade paper of the day, a curious full-page ad appeared on page 105.  It was an ad by an ad-man advertising his work — his own ads done previously for The Moving Picture World itself.  Below the huge display of his work for the “MPW,” the ad copy explains:

At Liberty–HUGH HOFFMAN–Ad Shark, cartoonist, and motion picture journalist.  Engagement solicited as manager of publicity with responsible motion picture company.  Address care Moving Picture World–NEW YORK.”

Two things strike me about this “job wanted” ad:  First, he’s looking for work with a “responsible motion picture company;” responsible being the word that he is sure to find as the biggest stumbling block in his employment search.  Then again, he knows the game being played, and in the world of moving pictures circa 1914 bombastic self-promotion is the rule not the exception.

Second, it is unclear whether or not he is still employed in some capacity with the MPW — and if so, why is he given the freedom (unhindered by threat of termination) to solicit work elsewhere?  Was he employed simply by the “job,” each ad done by contract for services rendered, but not as a permanent member of the MPW staff?

Maybe THAT’S the explanation for the curious term with which he describes himself (among other self-attributed titles), “AD SHARK.”  A phrase that would seem more appropriate or contemporary with the mid-20th century heyday of Madison Avenue’s mad ad-men.  And at any rate, he seems to be looking for an upgrade — manager of publicity.  He’s tired of being the fellow in the cubicle grinding out the product, the drawings and the ad copy.

Here is a small collection of work by the “AD SHARK(s)” of The Moving Picture World from 1913-1914.  I can’t guarantee that all of them are the work of our particular “ad shark,” Mr. Hoffman, but if you look closely at the examples of his work in his ad, you will get an idea of his style, which is generally reflected in the samples I’ve chosen to highlight here:

[Read full review of “Whom the Gods Destroy” in the June 6, 1914 issue of The Moving Picture World.  (Click to enlarge.)]

The World Film Corporation was the movie distribution firm of Lewis Selznick, a former Pittsburgh and New York jeweler, father of future Hollywood producer David O. Selznick, and David’s older brother who had arguably a bigger impact than David on American film history — the prot0 super-agent to the stars during the golden age of the studio/star system, Myron Selznick.

Review of WFD in MPW, June 13, 1914[Read the full (and very negative) review of “The World, the Flesh and the Devil” in The Moving Picture World, June 13, 1914.  (Click to enlarge.)]

A “state rights” transaction was a sale of the rights to an individual or group to exhibit a film in a single state for a specified period.  As noted in the ad for this “Special” sale, the exhibitor would pay $1200 to the Solax Company and receive the three reels of “Dick Whittington and his Cat,” along with lots of accessories including two styles each of three sizes of advertising posters: “one-sheets” (27″x 41″), “three-sheets” (41 x 81) and “six sheets” (81 x 81 — these basic units of movie poster size have remained essentially the same for a century), plus “lobby photos” (typically 8 x 10 and 11 x 14), glass slides (to use before a movie to advertise “coming attractions”), color souvenir booklets, and advertising heralds which were usually placed by the exhibitor in local newspaper ads for the movie.  No idea if Mr. Hoffman would be involved in any of the designs!  And here’s hoping Dick Whittington and his Cat gave a lot of $1200 climaxes to exhibitors and their patrons, and not just the good folks at Solax.

Solax was the production company of Alice Guy-Blache, a once-forgotten-now legendary pioneer of motion pictures.  She began her career in the mid 1890s with the Gaumont film company.as a secretary/stenographer, but was soon involved in making films — creating sets, costumes,  writing “stories” and directing her co-workers in what were some of the earliest the first narrative films — the first movies to tell a story.  She emigrated to America in the first decade of the 20th century, having married film director/producer/writer Herbert Blache and founding the Solax Company based in Fort Lee, New Jersey.  As with all early female film producers, she was relegated to the margins as the industry consolidated into large corporations during and immediately after the First World War.  She later returned to France and spent her latter days living on a small pension granted her by the French government.

[Read the full review of “The Toll of Mammon” in  the July 4 1914 issue of The Moving Picture World.  (Click to enlarge.)]

Although I am not certain, it is possible that none of the films represented in these historic advertisements from The Moving Picture World have survived.  In those cases where the films no longer exist, these ads and film reviews from the periodicals of their day are nearly the only record and proof that they ever existed.

I particularly want to thank The Internet Archive — their proprietors and contributors for making available online historic motion picture publications such as the MPW, Film Daily, Photoplay and much more.  You may access their collections at http://www.archive.org .