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TIME Magazine

May 16, 1938

 

Dead Cats

Hollywood woke up one morning last week to find its self-satisfied air full of dead cats. The slingers: Manhattan's Independent Theatre Owners Association. Inc. Their targets: Greta Garbo. Marlene Dietrich. Mae West. Joan Crawford, Kay Francis. Katharine Hepburn. Edward Arnold. Fred Astaire. The reason: These highly-publicized great ones were "poison at the box office." "WAKE UP." screamed the theatre owners to Hollywood's producers. "Practically all of the major studios are burdened with stars—whose public appeal is negligible—receiving tremendous salaries . . . Garbo, for instance . . . does not help theatre owners in the U. S. . . . Kay Francis . . . still receiving many-thousands a week ... is now making B pictures. . . . Dietrich, too. is poison at the box office. ..."

To this harsh squawk against the girls who have been hooking customers into box offices for years, the producers themselves for the most part maintained a shocked silence. But weeks before, Samuel (Quality, not Quantity) Goldwyn. had hit the nail on the head. "It used to be that . . . one picture of a double feature would be bad," he pounded. "Now you got to expect both of them will be terrible. . . The American picture industry . . . better do something, and do it soon."

But a few of the stars themselves had ready answers. Actress Hepburn last week terminated the RKO Radio contract that had brought her from $75,000 to $100,000 a picture and was considering five better offers. "They say I'm a has-been," scoffed she. "If I weren't laughing so hard, I might cry. . . ." Joan Crawford had just signed a new five-year contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer at a figure reported to be $1,500,000. "Box office poison?" chirruped Actress Crawford.

In Boston, maligned Mae West was breakfasting in bed. "Why, the independent theatre owners call me the mortgage-lifter." she burbled. "When business is bad they just re-run one of my pictures. . . . The box-office business in the entire industry has dropped off 30%. . . . The only picture to make real money was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and that would have made twice as much if they'd had me play Snow White."

[Thanks to Norman for this article.]