That particular poster was a one-sheet (27" x 41"), half the size of the two-sheets (41" x 54") that fit our giant poster cases. Four of those cases line the wall opposite the box office windows, red and white to match the foyer’s chandelier. The first case always contained the main feature, with a card proclaiming in elegant script, Now Showing. The middle case housed the second feature if there was one — Also Showing — and the last two cases offered glimpses of Coming Attractions.
Some of our coming attractions never actually came — there was a certain amount of dreaming associated with booking movies. What could you do if in your heart you really wanted to show The Wizard of Oz but the neighborhood wanted Towering Inferno?
Back when The Wizard of Oz first came out (1939) the movie and the poster belonged to the distributor — Warner Brothers, etc. — and arrived, often enough, at the Greyhound Bus Station in most small towns as one package, overnighted via bus from the previous small town theater. Under no circumstances could the theater operator collect or give to patrons a beloved poster, because the next theater needed it! For those of you who are collectors, this explains why pre-1940 one-sheets and two-sheets are so rare. For the most part, only “window cards” (14" x 22”) liberally distributed to shopfronts around a downtown area and not re-collected, remain to show us Claudette Colbert or Jean Harlow.
In 1940, the National Screen Service took over the advertising wing of the movie business, and suddenly there were plenty of posters, making it possible for me to snatch that Blazing Saddles one-sheet — and a few other things besides. To make things even more convenient for collectors of the future, those posters bore a NSS identifying system which makes it possible to verify their authenticity.
Like so much else in the industry that surrounded movie palaces, and other single-screen houses, NSS suffered a slow and sad demise with the advent of multi-screen theaters, losing much of its business beginning in the mid eighties and finally disappearing — bought out by Technicolor — a few years after the Millennium.
A few weeks ago, at our favorite Manhattan multiscreen theater, I joined Dean, who was mesmerized by what turned out to be the “posters” for film after film, flashing by, all on a ($70,000) Plasma screen: Coming Soon, Coming This Christmas, Now Showing, and, of course, the inevitable Starts Wednesday.