The Politics of Fan Magazine Research

Curator's Note

Back in 2009-2011, when I was writing my dissertation on the history of the gossip industry, primary sources were hard to find.  I was a poor graduate student, I had little money for research trips, and gossip isn't the sort of thing that travel grants wanted to fund.  I amassed piles of eBay treasures and chance reprints, but I mostly relied on microfilm of Photoplay, the behemoth of all classic fan magazines.  Photoplay wasn't alway the most popular of the fan mags, but it was always the classiest: it had the best drawings, the most genteel articles.  It was, in other words, thoroughly middle class.

To extrapolate about the industry at large from Photoplay would have resulted in some dubious research.  I scrapped some other sources together, but as I revise that dissertation, I'm also able to revise, texture, and expand my conclusions -- and it's all because of the Media History Digital Library.  The attached article, "What the Stars Pay for Their Clothes," is from a November 1930 issue of New Movie Magazine, a publication that only existed for six years yet played a crucial role in the industry at large. Available at Woolworth's across the country, it sold for a dime when all the rest of the high-end magazines sold for a quarter -- the perfect solution to Depression-era penny-pinching . Its success eventually forced the other magazines to reduce their prices, but New Movie's significance is more than industrial.  How might an article like this one, concering stars and their expenditures, have differed from one in Photoplay?  How were issues of consumption framed differently for differently classed intended audiences?  

New Movie Magazine and over a dozen other classic fan magazines are available, in beautifully scanned, key-word searchable PDF form, via the Media History Digital Library.  Their availablity -- and searchability -- will not only make my own work more robust, but hopefully inspire a new generation of star scholars.  Over the past year, I've been amazed at how the digital availability of these sources has changed the scope and impact of my courses in Hollywood Stardom. Archival work, and the important research it produces, should never be limited by the scholar's class or status in the academy.  The MHDL helps ensure that won't be the case.  



Great post, Annie! You make some of the same excellent points here that you made in your terrific SCMS paper earlier this year on the "Hegemony of Photoplay." The data about JSTOR article citations that is available on Lantern's homepage (click "Filter > Fan Magazines", then "List") really backs up your point. I'm so glad that the combination of the MHDL's collections, Anthony Slide's recent book, and your research and analysis can help us more scholars move away from assuming that "fan magazine" is synonymous with "Photoplay." EH

As Eric points out, you make some great points about the hegemony of Photoplay and fan magazine audiences. As my subject line suggests, I actually want to add to your point about the accessibility and downloadability of documents on MHDL and share an anecdote from my last trip to the Herrick Library. A few months ago I went to the Herrick to reread some articles. When I went to pull the issues at the reference desk, the first thing the librarian said to me was, "Have you checked the Media History Digital Library for these? It might be easier to look at them there and they don't have our copy restrictions." Unfortunately this was a magazine that is not (currently) available on MHDL, but I think her comment really speaks to the strength of MHDL's collection and some of the necessary and frustrating restrictions in archives. I think the photocopy restrictions make me more discerning with my copies (because you have a limit and they can get expensive), but these rules can also be frustrating. My take-away from her advice was that as a graduate student at USC and in Los Angeles, I have had the good fortune to live near a number of archives. However, my geographic privilege does not increase my photocopy allowance!

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