Milt Kahl (at left) was a genius animator among the
"Nine Old Men" who'd become legendary in annals of Disney cartooning.
What I didn't realize before reading John Canemaker's splendid book about the
group, Walt Disney's Nine Old Men and The Art Of Animation, was that Kahl had
an early stint doing pen-and-ink ads for the Fox West Coast Theatre chain. He'd
gotten the job after working for newspapers. The man that helped him was RufusBlair (shown below), a name familiar from previous dig into Ace In The Hole (see
that chapter inShowmen, Sell It Hot!). Blair would become a chief publicist
and stay there for many years. According to Canemaker, new hire Milt Kahl was
put to work on "car cards," movie advertisements hung on the front of
street cars. From there, he moved to doing Fox Theatre ads for newspapers.
Fox Theatres had a strong West Coast presence.
They pretty much dominated exhibition in that territory. Ads for their programs
are among the most impressive I've come across. Any early 30's example could
be called a collector's item. Knowing now that Milt Kahl drew a number of them
explains standout quality of those from approximately 1929 to 1933, the period
during which he was associated with the circuit. Kahl said in later-life
interviews that his pen-and-ink drawings were inspired by Franklin Booth, a
landscape artist whose pen-ink stuff I checked on Google and it's indeed
fantastic. Artists who drew movie ads didn't generally sign their work, so we
can't be positive of which ones are Kahl's. Was Milt a lone wolf for
pen-and-ink rendition of star faces during his period of Fox employment?
The Kahl ads were unique to Fox's chain. They
weren't generally used in other territories. I haven't come across any from New York or Chicago,
for instance. Fox West Coast had their own ideas on how to sell movies, with an
in-house art department second to none. This crew didn't rely on pressbooks
sent by the film companies. Their own ads were superior and they knew it. Milt
Kahl undoubtedly learned a lot working for Fox. He left there in 1933 and
landed at Disney in 1934. It's no coincidence that highest grade ads for Fox
West Coast appear during Kahl's tenure there. It's almost a shame he didn't
stick with them and let cartoons alone, though animation historians could give
me a stiff argument there. Greenbriar has posted many Fox Theatre ads in
the past, and will undoubtedly use plenty more being armed with knowledge that so many were
Milt Kahl's handiwork.
UPDATE --- 11/5/13 --- 2:27 PM--- Reader Rich Tubbs very kindly sent a striking Fox Theatres ad for Dancers In The Dark (1932) with a bold "K" artists' signature on the lower right. Grateful appreciation to Rich for this lovely specimen of pen-ink art.