Dear Mr. Valentino … Fan Photos and Form Letters

Fan Photos have been one of my favorite items to buy and sell during my time selling vintage movie collectibles. These are the typically 5" X 7" sized photos, though sometimes larger, printed on a heavy stock paper (like card stock), usually with facsimile autographs of their stars they picture. They were produced in quantity and shipped out by the studio or star's own publicity team in response to fan letters especially during the 1920's and 30's. Often the standard 5" X 7" would be stamped with an offer on back to receive a larger photo, say 6-1/2" X 8-1/2", 7" X 9", or even 8" X 10", in return for a fee ranging from a quarter to a dollar.

What I like about them, besides their great look, is that they are the types of items ordinary fans of the period would typically collect. I've bought many such collections and have seen the photos often with pin holes in the corners for wall display, glue on back for scrapbook saving, or helpful notes on back with information such as the star's name, date of photo receipt, or well before the IMDb, lists of film credits.

The fan photo was typically sent out in a studio or even star customized envelope with a form letter inside. Several years ago I'd posted a collection of fan photos with envelopes to the site, and I've also created several pages (all in need of an update!) showing a variety of the fan photos themselves, here, here, here and finally here, but other than the single Ruth Roland example on the page of photos with envelopes this is the first grouping of the form letters I've had to show off.

Written by the star or studio's publicity team, they are often extremely appreciative in tone and usually mention past, present and future projects. Yet another facsimile signature finishes each letter so that our period fan would wind up with two autographs! Boy, I hope that's not what they thought, though sadly many modern discoverers and resellers often think that's what they've got.

Following are all of the fan letters I recently acquired:.

Two replies from Colleen Moore within a short period of time shows us that the first and last paragraph of her letters remained the same while a good amount of detail about her current projects were talked about in the middle of her correspondence. In this first mailing she talks of recently completed Ella Cinders (1926) and her next film, Delicatessen (1926, retitled It Must Be Love) ...

...while this slightly later letter mentions It Must Be Love and her next film, Twinkletoes (1926) as recently completed with work beginning on Orchids and Ermine (1927).

Esther Ralston's letter seems a bit more conversational than some of the others but manages to drop mention of returning from work on Old Ironsides (1926) and really talks up Children of Divorce (1927), even mentioning her co-star Clara Bow. Ralston's letter also makes brief mention of how excited she is about her first starring picture, Fashions for Women (1927).

Florence Vidor's brief letter comes off as gracious, though maybe a little bit too much so. Mention is made of her two most recent efforts, The Eagle of the Sea (1926) and The Popular Sin (1926):

Lillian Gish's letter doesn't even mention current projects but just by taking the added step of dating the letter and naming her correspondent it seems so much more personal than some of the others:

Beyond the "My dear friend" greeting, Noah Beery's letter comes off as very warm with mention of himself as an "old villain." Beery's letter notes that after playing such a "terrible fellow" in Beau Geste (1926) Paramount reforms his image somewhat in his latest release, The Rough Riders (1927).

Two examples from Ronald Colman, the first so bland that I think I'd yawn upon opening the envelope:

Colman must have put someone better under hire to come up with this other letter which mentions "one of the surest criterions of success" as being the "approbation of one's friends" and then suggests the addressee make a point of seeing his latest efforts, Stella Dallas (1925) and The Winning of Barbara Worth (1926). A little pushy? Hey, you wrote him:

Valentino's letter mentions how hard he's fought for the success he's finally attained and that he's working harder than ever now that he's got it. Probably the highlight of this one though are the notes our collector has scrawled on the page, I especially get a kick out of the comment, "Oh, you Sheik!!"

This one is made all the more interesting just by the history around it, from Wikipedia: "During the search for Lorelei Lee, fans sent 14,000 letters to Paramount Pictures. Each suggested a choice of an actress for the role. In return, every fan was mailed a photo of Ruth Taylor when she was selected for the part. It was the largest shipment of pictures of one person ever shipped from Hollywood." Well, here's one now. Taylor is so appreciative that I get the feeling Mr. Lasky himself penned the draft of this letter!

Vilma Banky returns the favor to her The Winning of Barbara Worth co-star making mention of Mr. Ronald Colman. She'd also co-star with Colman in the Spanish bandit picture if it's The Night of Love (1927) as I suspect:

I've put a few of these up for sale, you can check availability on eBay.

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