The editors of Photoplay, Julian Johnson and James Quirk, established one of two most popular fan magazines in the early part of the twentieth century. By 1918, the editors could boast a circulation figure of 204,434. The basic format of Photoplay set a precedent for almost all other movie magazines that followed it. It catered largely to the public's craving for information about their favorite stars and reviews of new motion picture releases. A color picture of a movie star, drawn specially for the magazine, appeared on the cover of each issue. Such original art work distinguished Photoplay from other fan magazines and made the covers collectors' items.
Inside the magazine, following a few pages of advertisements and the table of contents, there appeared a section of about 10 to 15 pages of photographs of actors and actresses. The key to this layout was a proper balance between pictures and text. And the text could vary between long articles on screen personalities such as D.W. Griffith and the Gish sisters, Lillian and Dorothy, and short opinion pieces written by the editors.
Julian Johnson, the first editor appointed by James Quirk, the vice-president of the magazine from its inception in 1911 until 1917, started a column called "Close-Ups" in which he commented on the state of the moving picture world. He advanced the notion that a better educated public would lead to better films. In order to make this endeavor seem serious, Johnson and Quirk worked to convince their readers that movies were indeed an art-form. For example, when Geraldine Farrar, an opera singer of high repute, crossed over into the movies, Johnson remarked that "the triumph of active photography" was complete. "Let us never hear again the snivel that photodrama is a minor art, or not an art at all." Active photography, he believed, was "destined to raise the art standard of the world by bringing every art, every land and every interpretative genius to every man's door. Broadway will come to Borneo, and Borneo will go right back to Broadway." In fact many contributors to Photoplay, such as Terry Ramsaye and Burns Mantle, both respected critics, had frequently published extended pieces on the history of the film industry (Ramsaye) and critiques on movies (Mantle) illustrating that they could be considered serious fun. In a series of editorials that praised the democratic nature of movies, James Quick seemed to exemplify the spirit of a new cultural criticism.
Photoplay performed a double service by catering to the fan's appreciation of movies as entertainment and an escape and by treating the photoplay and its audience with a respect normally reserved for elite patrons of fine arts. As other periodicals appeared devoted solely to expert evaluation of film (even the terms had changed), Photoplay settled into a role that accentuated stars over anything else. Photo essays, for example, became the staple of the magazine's success. Fans could browse through pictures of movie stars in and out of their screen roles. Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks—two megastars of the silent era—received considerable coverage on their estate in California known as Pickfair. By the 1940s, Photoplay provided the "pin-ups" that teenagers and young adults prized for their collections of Hollywood's stars and starlets.
A second feature that bolstered Photoplay's coverage of stars was the gossip column. James Quirk reportedly hired a young woman named Adela Rogers St. John to begin a regular column that commented (and speculated) on the lives of the famous. This feature grew into an industry—a rumor mill—all its own. Generations of readers were entertained by the gossip of such notable insiders as Hedda Hopper, Sheilah Graham, Dorothy Kigallen, and one of the most powerful voices (and ears) of them all, Louella Parsons. The most valuable currency in the gossip trade was rumors of love—whether illicit, broken, triangular, or innocent. Photoplay readers had a chance to hear about Charlie Chaplin's marriages and divorces, Rudolph Valentino's mysterious love-life, and in another generation, the public love affairs of Lana Turner, Clark Gable, Errol Flynn, and many others.
Photoplay merged with another fan magazine—Movie Mirror —in 1941 and changed again in 1977 when the name became Photoplay and TV Mirror.
—Ray Haberski, Jr.
Gelman, Barbara, editor. Photoplay Treasury. New York, Crown Publishers, Inc., 1972.
Jowett, Garth. Film: The Democratic Art. Boston, Little, Brown and Company, 1976.
Koszarski, Richard. An Evening's Entertainment: The Age of the Silent Feature Picture, 1915-1928. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1990.
Levine, Lawrence. Highbrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America. Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1988.