Classic Hollywood: Posters that make you feel you ‘Gotta Dance!’

The French poster of the musical "Carefree," which was called "Amanda" in France, is one of Kaplan's favorites.
(The Mike Kaplan collection)

They don’t make movies like they used to in the golden age of Hollywood, and they certainly don’t design film posters with the same invention and artistic flair.

These days, most movie posters feature some sort of image from the movie with type. But between the 1930s and 1950s, movie posters were true works of art that are treasured by collectors today. Such acclaimed artists as Al Hirschfeld and Norman Rockwell created indelible images that often were at least as entertaining — and sometimes more — than the films themselves.

The 85 vintage posters from musical and dance movies currently on display at the California Heritage Museum seem to leap off their canvases. One look at Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing “The Yam” in 1938’s “Carefree” or Gene Kelly lifting Leslie Caron as they dance in “An American in Paris” and you’ll want to put on your dancing shoes.

“Gotta Dance! The Art of the Dance Movie Poster,” which continues at the Santa Monica museum through Sept. 23, features posters from the collection of Mike Kaplan, who fell in love with movies and their posters as a child. When he went to work in the movie industry in the 1960s, he began collecting these posters. A producer (“The Whales of August”), Kaplan was also a marketing executive at MGM and Warner Bros.and oversaw the marketing for the 70-millimeter re-release of Stanley Kubrick’s"2001: A Space Odyssey” and then worked with the director on the release of"A Clockwork Orange.”


The exhibition is an international affair with posters from France, Germany, Denmark, Italy, Argentina, Belgium and Sweden, among others. The “An American in Paris” poster from France was once owned by Kelly.

The heyday for the Hollywood posters, Kaplan said, was the 1930s, but by the 1940s, the international markets caught up with and surpassed the U.S. in terms of vision and color.

“Europeans were very smart in what they wanted to promote,” said Kaplan. “The Swedish posters for ‘That Night in Rio’ with Alice Faye and Don Ameche. The third star in the movie is Carmen Miranda and the entire poster is Carmen Miranda. The artist added a special kind of silver paint to her costume. In Italy, with ‘The Great American Broadcast,’ the poster is of the Nicholas Brothers dancing. They were, like, 10th billed. But they realized they were a special phenomenon. It’s the only poster of the Nicholas Brothers and they are in full acrobatic flight.”

Here are a few of the posters on view at the museum with comments from Kaplan:

“Amanda”: The French poster of the musical “Carefree,” which was called “Amanda” in France, is one of Kaplan’s favorites. “That to me is the iconic Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The costumes and the colors are great. You have them in full flight and they are in formal dance wear.”

“Le Laitier de Brooklyn”: French artist Bernard Lancy captured the vibrancy and zaniness of the 1946 Danny Kaye Technicolor musical comedy “The Kid From Brooklyn,” which was the actor’s second film with Virginia Mayo. Producer Samuel Goldwyn gets the “film by” credit, not directorNorman Z. McLeod.

“42eme Rue”: This Art Deco Belgium poster of the seminal 1933Warner Bros. musical “42nd Street,” which featured Busby Berkeley’s surreal dance numbers, shines the spotlight on the dancers.

“Strike Up the Band”: The renowned caricaturist Hirschfeld designed this breezy poster for the 1940 Judy Garland-Mickey Rooney musical comedy, which captures the two stars’ youthful exuberance. Kaplan says “it’s just a knockout.”


“Menschen Im Hotel”: Not every poster in the exhibition is from a musical. This German poster designed by the artist Meinss for the 1932 Oscar-winning best picture “Grand Hotel.” Greta Garbo, who played a Russian prima ballerina, was just one of the many stars of the melodrama but was made the focal point because she had the biggest following in Europe.