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Extra! Extra! Newspaper Movie Posters Take You to Where the Action Is

by Allan Maurer (03/25/14).

“Deadline – U.S.A”. (20th Century Fox, 1952) was released as “Deadline” in the U.K. This British quad-style poster (30 inches by 40 inches) sold for $418.25 in a sale of movie memorabilia at Heritage Auctions a year ago.

From cinema’s earliest days, newspapers offered the movies heroes, heroines and a visual shorthand it used constantly not only in the films, but also in the movie posters, lobby cards and stills used to promote them. It’s one of my main collecting areas and, while it’s obvious that I’m not the only one collecting newspaper-themed movie paper, most prices are still quite reasonable.

The close connection between movies and newspapers makes sense. Newspaper reporters go where there is a story. They have a reason to be where the action is, and that’s where the movies like to be. Those films and TV shows about reporters and newspapers inspired me to become one eventually. I mean, who wouldn’t want to have a reason to go wherever the excitement is.

My first encounter with the reporter as hero was watching the late, doomed George Reeves in the early 1950s “Adventures of Superman” TV series, playing the “mild mannered” reporter for a major metropolitan newspaper, The Daily Planet. The role made stills and posters from anything Reeves stared in previously valuable to collectors, although you can grab most items for less than $100. A press book (a promotional book used to cut out newspaper ads and ready-to-print photos) from his only movie appearance in the role, “Superman vs. the Mole Men,” sold for $94 recently. I bought a prop “Daily Planet” newspaper from “Superman Returns” for a mere $12 a few years ago.

“Park Row” is Samuel Fuller’s love letter to the daily newspaper. I love the copy on this lobby card: “She had blood in her veins, he had ink in his guts!” A title card such as this usually is reproduced as a larger half-sheet, which is identical. Fuller also wrote the novel on which the film “Scandal Sheet,” is based. It’s about a murderous newspaper editor (Broderick Crawford) found out by one of his own reporters (John Derrek). I bought an entire set of “Scandal Sheet” lobby cards for $20 recently. This insert-style poster (14 inches by 36 inches) on the right sold for $15 on eBay.

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It would be easier to list the major 20th century actors and actresses who never played a reporter, editor, publisher or photographer than those who did. The major stars of the Golden Age of the movies often did so repeatedly. Gable, Bogie and Cagney played reporters too often to cite, for instance. But Edward G. Robinson, Jimmy Stewart, Orson Welles, Cary Grant and Montgomery Cliff and, more recently, Jack Lemmon, Michael Keaton and even John Belushi are among top actors to played a scribe on the silver screen. Betty Davis, Loretta Young, Rosalind Russell, Joan Crawford and Julia Roberts are among the women also portrayed reporters … and that’s naming only a few.

This too makes sense: many of the script writers who moved to Hollywood to pen movies were previously reporters on major city daily newspapers, including Ben Hecht, who wrote “The Front Page,” release first in 1931 (with a couple of remakes), and as “His Girl Friday” with Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. Samuel Fuller, a former newspaperman who wrote the novel the film “Scandal Sheet” was based on, spent his own money to film “Park Row”—billed as “the picture with the Page-One Punch” in half-sheet posters and smaller title cards—which exalted daily newspapers and even ran the names of the all the U.S. daily papers, including the one I once worked for, behind its credits.

Cagney and Gable played reporters so many times, it was like a second profession for them. Cagney, for instance, was a reporter in “Picture Snatcher” (1933), “Johnny Come Lately” (1943) and “Come Fill the Cup” (1951), among others. An 8-by-10 photo from “Johnny Come Lately” sold for $14 this year and a very good one-sheet (folded) sold for $41 last year. Movie stills from “Come Fill the Cup,” about an alcoholic newspaper editor (Cagney), sell for around $5, sometimes cheaper. A very good one-sheet, folded, sells for $10 to $20.

“Headline Hunters,” a 1955 film from Republic, was directed by William Witney—one of Quentin Tarantino’s favorite directors. Witney, in a long career, directed everything from serials (“Captain Marvel”) to Roy Rogers westerns and noir crime dramas. The posters from this film are very colorful and generally sell for less than $30, with lobby cards demanding even less. This half-sheet in perfect condition sold for $15.

The number of secondary actors and actresses who chased stories for newspapers is legion.

Classic newspaper films from the golden age of cinema include Gable and Claudette Colbert in the multiple Oscar-winning “It Happened One Night,” which leads the pack in terms of the value of its movie paper; 8-by-10 stills have sold in recent years for $17 to $44, good money for stills. A one-sheet recreation sold for $98 not long ago, and that’s unusual for something that isn’t original. You don’t see a lot of “It Happened One Night” items pop up on the movie poster auction sites, and they sell for a premium when they do.

One of the best newspaper films ever made is also widely considered to be one of the finest films ever made period: Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane,” which tops many film critics’ lists of the all-time best films and has for decades. You don’t see many U.S. posters larger than lobby cards appear in auctions these days and, when they do, they fetch a premium price.

A linen-backed Style A 1-sheet from the 1940 release brought $8,222 in 2005 at auction (linen-backing makes a poster easier to frame, preserves it, and generally increases its value substantially), and a set of photo lobby cards from the original release went for just north of $2,000 in 2012. You will see stills from the original release fairly often and they sell for a variety of prices, often depending on the image, with recent prices going from $34 to $82. Lobby cards fetch more than $100 each. Many foreign posters for “Citizen Kane” also bring good prices, but you do have to pay attention to what you’re buying: the film has been re-released many times in the U.S. and abroad. Re-release posters have a code on the bottom right showing the year: R56, R66, R87 or R91, for instance. Many items from re-releases sell for $100 or less. 

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This “Citizen Kane” (RKO, 1941) one-sheet (27 inches by 41 inches) Style A poster (left) sold for $9,560 at Heritage Auctions in 2011. A “Citizen Kane” (RKO, 1941) half-sheet (22 inches by 28 inches) Style B poster sold for an identical $9,560 at Heritage Auctions in 2010.

Humphrey Bogart was a crime-fighting editor in what many consider to be among the best newspaper movies ever made, 1952’s “Deadline – USA.” At the end of the picture, Bogie, talking to a mobster who has tried to shut him down, holds up the phone and tells him as papers roll off the roaring machines behind him, “that’s the press, baby, and there isn’t a thing you can do about it.”

You can still grab “Deadline – USA” posters and photos at reasonable prices. Recent 8-by-10 stills sales were at the $19 mark, an insert sold for $47 and a lobby card brought $46.99. You see them crop up on eBay and sell for even less from time to time. Be careful what you buy, though. Many, many reproductions from this film are on eBay.

The 1950s saw a bumper crop of newspaper themed movies. My favorites include “-30-,” starring Jack Webb, William Conrad and David Nelson. It’s still one of the best newspaper movies ever made, with a jazzy score and a real sense of how daily papers functioned then. Gable again in the newsroom, played a crusty editor vs. journalism teacher Doris Day in “Teacher’s Pet,” a comedy I could watch again right now.

“-30-,” a film staring “Dragnet” star Jack Webb, who also produced and directed the movie, is one of the purest newspaper movies ever made. The symbol “-30-” is how newspaper reporters signaled the end of their story, although it’s not used so much these days. The film depicts a typical night on a metropolitan daily with suspense focused on a young girl lost in the sewers during a rain storm. The personal dramas of Webb as the night editor and the other characters round out the script, which is accompanied by a jazzy score. I bought this poster for $10 and you can still get lobby cards, posters and stills from the film at under $20.

This trend barely subsided even in the later part of the century as Nick Nolte and Julia Roberts battled each other as rival reporters in “I Love Trouble,” the late, missed John Belushi played a Chicago columnist modeled on Mike Royko in “Continental Divide” and a bevy of stars—Michael Keaton, Glenn Close, Robert Duvall and Marisa Tomei—appeared in “The Paper,” which veteran newspaperman and movie critic Roger Ebert said reminded him of his early days on the Chicago Tribune chasing stories. Posters, stills and press kits from all of these films generally sell for $50 or so, often for less than that. 

More than just providing a job for the movie leads, newspapers also offered films a quick, visual way to impart information—the spinning headline device used in countless movies to advance the plot—which carries over to the movie posters, stills and other publicity.

I once tried to list all the other ways films have used newspapers to convey information quickly and visually. They include: a bundle of papers flopped in front of newsstand showing the headline; a headline, photo or story views over someone’s shoulder, in a back pocket on a newsstand counter, on a table, across a breakfast table as someone else reads the front page: a newspaper being blown down an empty street, floating in the sea, folded in a coat pocket, and so on. Films used newspapers as backgrounds in the credits or to instantly establish a situation (engagement, marriage, divorce, crime spree, criminal trial progress and more).

This prop Daily Planet newspaper from “Superman Returns” is one of several in my collection. I have other newspaper props from “The Shipping News” and “Gangs of New York.” They’re generally inexpensive (you can buy this on eBay right now for $1.29 to $9.99.)

You see newspapers used in a similar fashion in many posters, lobby cards and stills. A subset of my collection includes posters showing newspapers, ranging from “Coneheads” to “UFO” and “No Way to Treat a Lady.” 

Newspaper props—that is, newspapers made specifically for a movie—are also collectible. I have, for instance, in addition of the “The Daily Planet,” the newspaper used in “The Shipping News,” among others. They sell for around $30 usually.

The website Slashfilms even did an amusing photo essay showing that a single newspaper prop—the same exact one—has appeared in many, many TV shows.

For a list of some of the better newspaper films (with brief descriptions), click here.


Allan Maurer is a Worthologist who specializes in Hollywood and movie memorabilia and the publisher of the web site BestFilmFests.

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