Hap Hadley Posters

Hadley’s poster for the Oscar-winning 1928 Charlie Chaplin, “The Circus.” Hadley’s soulful depiction of the Little Tramp reflected his background as a caricaturist and cartoonist.
Another of Hadley’s posters for a Keaton movie, this one 1927’s “College.”
The best known of Hap Hadley’s work includes his posters of Buster Keaton’s 1927 classics, “The General.” The only known surviving original of the three sheet for “The General” sold at auction in 1994 for $46,000.

Poster Artists: Alvan “Hap” Hadley

By Allan Maurer

Born in Illinois in 1895, Alvan Cordell Hadley, known to history as “Hap,” created posters for some of the best-loved silent movies, as well as some early talkies. The few original examples that have survived bring astronomical prices at auction, while the reproductions of these classics are some of the best-sellers in the marketplace.

The best known of Hap’s work are his posters of Buster Keaton’s 1927 classics, “The General” and “College,” and Charlie Chaplin’s 1928 Oscar-winning film, “The Circus.” Christie’s East sold the only known surviving original of the three sheet for “The General” at auction in 1994 for $46,000. A restored one sheet of the “blue style” poster for “The Circus” recently sold at auction for better than $13,000.

Hadley’s soulful depiction of the Little Tramp reflected his background as a caricaturist and cartoonist. He began his career during World War I working as an official artist for the Marine Corps, producing propaganda-laden cartoon strips. After the war, he settled in New York City where he dabbled in acting, appearing in the review “Greenwich Village Follies of 1920,” as well as a silent feature directed by George Irving, “Floodgates” (Lowell Films, 1924). His advertising agency developed a reputation for designing the covers of sheet music, including “Show Me the Way to Go Home,” a popular hit in 1925.

Hap’s first known movie poster is a depiction of Clara Bow as the female boxer in “Rough House Rosie” (Paramount Famous Laskey Productions, 1927), surrounded by cartoon faces, all with black eyes. His career continued for some 30 years, during which time he produced movie posters and film titles for all the major studios in Hollywood, especially MGM.

During the 1930s, Hadley produced posters for a number of Howard Hughes films, including “Hell’s Angels” (1930), starring Jean Harlow, and the controversial “Cock of the Air” (1932). Paper from these productions occasionally still shows up at auction. The only known original poster from “Cock of the Air” recently sold for $5,600 at Christie’s London, while a window card from “Hell’s Angels” brought about the same price this year.

Other Hadley posters from less high-profile productions fetch more modest prices. A window card from “Laff It Off,” a 1928 Broadway stage production, recently auctioned for $96. A one sheet of Hadley’s poster for “Reform Girl” (Tower, 1933), featuring rather grim-faced images of Noel Francis and “Skeets” Gallagher brought just $215, while the slightly more attractive poster for “Cheating Blondes” (Equitable, 1933) sold for over $800.

In the 1940s, Hadley created the huge likeness of Roy Rogers seen on billboards during the Republic Productions Roy Rogers publicity campaign and widely reproduced in rodeo magazines.

Hap Hadley died in Los Angeles in 1976.

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  • Mary Beth Ryan

    Uncle Hap was married to my aunt, Margaret Keegan Hadley; his 3rd wife. He did indeed die in 1976, but he died in NY, and was cared for until his death by my Aunt Margaret. He died of Parkinson’s disease. He was survived by Aunt Margaret. Margaret has since died. He does have surviving relatives, related to his second wife.

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