Box Office Poison (magazine article)

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Box Office Poison was the title of a magazine article submitted by Harry Brandt in the Independent Film Journal on May 3, 1938. The list was labeled several well-known films stars as a star whose "box office draw is nil".

The article in its entirety was called "Dead Cats" and was published by Manhattan's Independent Theatre Owners Association, Inc. The majority of the article read as follows:

Wake up! Practically all of the major studios are burdened with stars—whose public appeal is negligible—and who still receive tremendous salaries can be numbered. Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Mae West, Joan Crawford, Kay Francis, Katharine Hepburn, Edward Arnold, Fred Astaire, Norma Shearer, Dolores del Río, John Barrymore ... Garbo, for instance ... does not help theater owners in the United States ... Kay Francis ... still receiving many-thousands a week ... is now making B pictures. ... Dietrich, too. is poison at the box office. ...

The article continued, stating the ready answers the stars' had to their labeling:

But a few of the stars themselves had ready answers. Actress Katharine Hepburn last week terminated the RKO 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."

Also in the article, there were some listed as actors who "deserve their high salaries", among them Shirley Temple, Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, Bette Davis, Myrna Loy, William Powell, Jean Arthur, Spencer Tracy, Cary Grant, and Carole Lombard among others. According to Brandt, studios were "safe" in placing these stars in films, knowing their "undeniable" popularity would generate in a substantial profit.


The List
Greta Garbo
Mae West
Fred Astaire
Joan Crawford
John Barrymore
Kay Francis
James Cagney
Marlene Dietrich
Norma Shearer
Dolores del Río
Katharine Hepburn
Edward Arnold