Showmen, Sell It Hot!
Movies as Merchandise in
Golden Era Hollywood

by John McElwee

ISBN: 978-0-9711685-9-6

301-page hardcover with dust jacket
125 full color and 244 B&W images

July 2013

(Author-signed copies available exclusively
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In November 2013, Showmen, Sell It Hot!
won a USA Best Book Award in the category of
History: Media & Entertainment!

Upcoming author appearance:

  • John McElwee's interview with Ed Robertson on TV Confidential aired on broadcast radio stations across the United States in July. Hear the podcast as John talks about the classic age of theatrical exhibition and his award-winning book, Showmen, Sell It Hot!


“After an initial browsing of John McElwee’s SHOWMEN, SELL IT HOT!, I realized this was a book that I wanted to sit down and thoroughly absorb each and every page. As a life-long film buff, I found the book’s subject matter to be both original and insightfully written. A major plus is the generous use of period visuals that were carefully chosen and assembled. In conclusion – ‘Great Stuff!’” says Rudy Behlmer, film historian, whose books include Inside Warner Bros. (1935-1951), Memo From David O. Selznick, Behind the Scenes: The Making of…, and many more.

Turner Classic Movies calls Showmen, Sell It Hot! "vivid" and "eye-popping!" Read the review!

"Every chapter of this lavishly illustrated volume is packed with information that was new to me and fascinating to learn. I can't say enough about this entertaining book or the ongoing research John McElwee offers at his site." says Leonard Maltin, author, film historian, and television personality.

"Catnip for movie buffs, all told in an irresistible, wryly amusing voice... a must-read book!" says Lou Lumenick, chief film critic for the
New York Post.

"Just as the aroma of popcorn is part of a movie theater's excitement, the scent of printer's ink evokes the thrill of opening a picture book, especially a book about classic Hollywood. John McElwee's Showmen, Sell It Hot! deals with the sensual business of selling a movie. It looks, feels, and smells like the lavish movie books of yore. It's elegantly designed, beautifully printed, and, as content should follow form, it's engagingly written, transporting the reader to a time when a theater manager had to be as much of a showman as the producer of the film he was exhibiting." says Mark A. Viera, author of Harlow in Hollywood: The Blonde Bombshell in the Glamour Capital, 1928-1937 (2011), Irving Thalberg: Boy Wonder to Producer Prince (2009), and many other books.

"John McElwee’s passionate scholarship that distinguishes his singular Greenbriar Picture Show film blog is abundantly on display in his first book. John has excavated gold from a heretofore-obscure facet of film history that has been overlooked by nearly all other film historians. SHOWMEN, SELL IT HOT is chock-full of startling research, pithy wit and wonderful graphics. An unqualified smash-hit!” says Alan K. Rode, author of Charles McGraw, Film Noir Tough Guy (2012) and Director/Treasurer of The Film Noir Foundation.

"I can’t remember the last time I’ve enjoyed a book so much!"
says James Curtis, author of Spencer Tracy: A Biography (2011) W.C. Fields: A Biography (2003), and many other books.

"John has ably demonstrated, as no one else has to date, the crucial nature of the motion picture exhibitor who, by way of creative marketing, or not, helps determine the fate of producers and even the memory of deceased stars..." says James V. D'Arc, co-author of Lone Pine in the Movies (2011), author of When Hollywood Came to Town (2010), and Curator of the Motion Picture Archives at Brigham Young University.

"Having been privileged to see galleys of John's book, I can happily attest that it's a humdinger . . . More than a collection of some of the best from Greenbriar, it weaves an interesting tale from the exhibitor's point of view covering the important decades of the movie business. Fabulous photos, an entertaining read, and a terrific education!" says Richard M. Roberts, author of Past Humor, Present Laughter: Musings on the Comedy Film Industry 1910-1945, Volume One: Hal Roach (2013).

Based on his million-visit blog and with new content and many rare and previously unseen images, Hollywood historian John McElwee takes a first-time look at the campaigns to sell the motion pictures generated by Hollywood's fabled movie factories. A network of showmen brought these campaigns to life on behalf of theatres large and small in thousands of locations around the United States and represented the unsung heroes of the motion picture industry. This lavishly illustrated, 304-page hardcover takes a marketing approach to the making and merchandising of important Hollywood pictures. Topics include:

  • Erich von Stroheim's mutilated Foolish Wives
  • Selling sex and salaciousness in the "pre-Code" era
  • The astonishing reissue success of King Kong
  • New sensations Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in Flying Down to Rio
  • The Marx Brothers start over at MGM with A Night at the Opera
  • MGM's packaging of Saratoga following the death of Jean Harlow
  • The powerhouse 1938 combination of Dracula and Frankenstein
  • Jesse James holds up the box office for decades with strong regional selling
  • The making and selling of The Wizard of Oz in 1939 and its theatrical rebirth in 1948 and 1955 before television took over
  • The emergence of John Wayne as an 'A'-picture action star in Stagecoach
  • Maverick filmmaker Orson Welles strikes out with his Citizen Kane launch
  • World War II propaganda pictures and tag lines like "Slap the Jap"
  • The Val Lewton "Thinking-Man's Shockers"
  • The unusual campaign for an unusual picture about Hollywood, Sunset Boulevard
  • Billy Wilder's misfire, Ace in the Hole becomes The Big Carnival
  • The disastrous production and selling of the anti-Communist My Son John
  • John Huston's MGM Civil War debacle, The Red Badge of Courage
  • Selling Marlon Brando and his new kind of picture, On the Waterfront
  • Making sweet box-office music with the sanitized The Glenn Miller Story
  • The unexpected 1954 success of a Little Caesar/The Public Enemy double bill
  • Selling Rebel Without a Cause, Giant, and East of Eden after James Dean's death
  • A new genre, "Fashion Noir," takes off with Midnight Lace and Portrait in Black
  • Alfred Hitchcock's big gamble: Psycho
  • Ghoulish, hijinx-laden campaigns for Hammer vampire pictures
  • Selling the shocker, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
  • The brilliance of the Bonnie and Clyde ad campaign

See the effects of the Depression, censorship, World War II, the Cold War, television, and the counterculture movement on the changing tastes of moviegoers, and the way showmen responded with creative and sometimes zany concepts. With 125 full color and 244 black-and-white images, this is a volume that will leave you wanting more!

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About the Author

John McElwee is a lifelong film enthusiast who began reviewing new movies in print at age 14. He has taught and lectured on film and has programmed extensively for colleges and universities. John has consulted on various documentaries about Hollywood history, a number of these projects using items from his film and still collections. He has also contributed to DVD releases of classic films, including King Kong and The Adventures of Robin Hood. John’s articles have appeared in Films in Review, Monsters from the Vault, and Noir City Annual. Since 2005 he has hosted the widely read Greenbriar Picture Shows web site, which has attracted more than 1 million site visits and recorded more than 3 million page views. This is John's first book.