Awhile back I took a deep peek inside several issues of Harrison's Reports to get a look at which mid-30's era movies the film exhibitors were reporting as actually making them money. That series came to an end when I sold the collection before I could finish (Whoops!).
But I was digging through some old issues of The Hollywood Reporter archived at the fantastic Media History Digital Library and I think I found something just as good as those Harrison's Reports lists!
The Hollywood Reporter also polled the film exhibitors and they came up with an annual top 10 list of the biggest earning directors in Hollywood.
The Media History Digital Project holds two volumes of The Hollywood Reporter, January-June 1933 and the same months for 1934. Luckily The Hollywood Reporter published these reports in May, so I was able to peruse two of them.
Judging by the text inside the latter of those two reports, The Hollywood Reporter had only conducted this poll in one prior year, for 1931-32. That remains a mystery unless, or hopefully until, the Media History Digital Project gets their hands on a January-June 1932 volume. If you ever see it in their possession, let me know, and I'll add the findings to this post.
The Ground Rules
The 1932-33 report, found inside the May 22, 1933 edition of The Hollywood Reporter gives the better explanation of the poll, though I assume it was conducted similarly each year.
The poll was sent out to 4,000 exhibitors of all types: "the first run, second run, the neighborhood and the small town exhibitor."
The following question was posed:
"How would you rate the leading box office directors on pictures made since May 1, 1932? Your rating should be given on the basis of earned money for you on the play of the pictures."
Also included was a list of each director's films released during the time period.
At the end of The Hollywood Reporter poll for best box office directors was a brief note qualifying the results in explaining that the selections had a lot to do with how much the exhibitor paid for each movie and the overall expense of its play. "In short, money made is money earned, and the ballot was on the quality of the pictures in net earned dollars."
So without further ado ...
Top Money Director for 1932-19331 - Alfred E. Green is referred to as the overwhelming winner. The movies named as those pulling in the bucks under Green's direction were all Warner Brothers titles: Union Depot, Silver Dollar, The Dark Horse led the ballots with It's Tough to Be Famous, The Rich Are Always With Us and The Parachute Jumper also named.
2 - Sidney Franklin is second without any competition for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer produced titles The Guardsman, Private Lives, Reunion in Vienna and Smilin' Through.
3 - Lloyd Bacon, another Warner Brothers director, for Fireman, Save My Child, Famous Ferguson Case, Miss Pinkerton, The Crooner and, what is referred to as "the big box-office hit of the past two years," 42nd Street.
5 - Stephen Roberts, referred to as a "surprise winner," with Lady and Gent, Night of June Thirteenth, Sky Brides, and his portion of If I Had a Million all pointed at.
6 - Howard Hawks for Scarface at United Artists, and Tiger Shark and The Crowd Roars at Warner Brothers.
7 - Victor Fleming with the MGM trio of Red Dust, The Wet Parade and White Sister.
8 - Jack Conway scores with more out of MGM, Red Headed Woman, Arsene Lupin, Today We Live and Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (Um, Conway's not credited for the last two of those and the Fields movie was from Universal which may call all of this into question).
9 - Mervyn LeRoy, another Warner Brothers' director with I Am A Fugitive from a Chain Gang given the lion's share of the credit for placing him on the list at all. Also named were Elmer the Great, Hard to Handle, Three on a Match, Two Seconds, High Pressure and Heart of New York.
10 - Eliott Nugent, for two at Warner's that James Flood is listed as co-director on, Life Begins and The Mouthpiece as well as Whistling in the Dark for MGM.
Another interesting note at the bottom of the listings mentions how surprised they were to see that the "money pictures" were the same across the country regardless of neighborhood: "Hit pictures were hit pictures, regardless of the location and the type house."
Best Box Office Directors of 1933-1934
The following year's report came out of the May 31, 1934 edition of The Hollywood Reporter. Pages appear not to have been numbered, but you'll find the original article on page 1,264 of the January-June 1934 volume of The Hollywood Reporter.
Voting methods weren't mentioned in this report, though I presume they were similar, if not the same, as the previous year. There was disappointment from the editorial team who mention that "There were fewer replies this year than either of the other two years that this publication solicited this information"
1 - Frank Capra through strength of two from Columbia, Lady for a Day and It Happened One Night.
2 - George Cukor is said to have given Capra a decent run on the strength of Little Women at Radio and Dinner at Eight for MGM.
4 - Mervyn LeRoy racked up Tugboat Annie at MGM and Gold Diggers of 1933, Hi Nellie, The World Changes and Heat Lightning at Warner Brothers.
5 - Raoul Walsh makes the top five on the strength of The Bowery at Twentieth Century and Going Hollywood at MGM.
6 - Alexander Hall, referred to by The Hollywood Reporter as a "dark horse," makes the list with Torch Singer, Mrs. Fane's Baby is Stolen, Girl in 419, which he co-directed with George Somnes, and The Midnight Club, all for Paramount.
7 - Richard Boleslavsky only trailed Hall by a few votes with his MGM films Storm at Daybreak, Beauty for Sale, Fugitive Lovers and Men in White all named.
9 - Archie Mayo, said to be propelled onto the list by the success of the notorious Convention City, with The Mayor of Hell, Ever in My Heart and Gambling Lady also named.
10 - Lowell Sherman, seems to almost qualify with an asterisk as The Hollywood Reporter scolds exhibitors for including She Done Him Wrong which technically qualified for the previous poll. But they allowed the title to count anyway since it was successful enough to still be showing throughout the period covered by this poll! Also counted for Sherman were Morning Glory for Radio and Broadway Thru a Keyhole for Twentieth Century.
Interesting lists, huh? Since we're voting with our dollars I'd step right up and give Roy Del Ruth my money in 1932-33 as often as possible, though I also love the output of that year's winner, Alfred E. Green.
1932-33 seems more earthy than 1933-34, doesn't it? Sure, the later year claims Convention City, but '32-33 counts three Warner Brothers' directors among its top four and the movies they worked on are all the typical working class (i.e., gritty) movies we think of as coming from the studio.
Then again, there's plenty of that on the later list from '33-34 too, it's just the names behind them are much better remembered, especially when comparing the Top 5 from each year.
No William Wellman?
Biggest surprise to me, especially given the overall blue collar feel of the lists, was the absence of William Wellman from either list.
Using The Hollywood Reporter's May 1 cut-off date as given in the first poll and the release dates posted to the IMDb, Wellman's qualifying movies for 1932-33 would have been: Love Is a Racket, The Purchase Price, The Conquerors, Frisco Jenny (all 1932), Central Airport (1933).
For 1933-34 he would have had, in my mind, an even more impressive grouping of Lily Turner, Heroes for Sale, Midnight Mary, Wild Boys of the Road, College Coach, Female (all 1933), and Looking for Trouble (1934).
I can only think that he lacked a blockbuster? Perhaps they simply underperformed or maybe they cost the exhibitors more to rent. Still, many of them are of the same tone and quality as those Roy Del Ruth and Alfred E. Green movies in the first poll, so I'm at a bit of a loss.
Could The Hollywood Reporter have left him off the lists they sent out to exhibitors? The fact that they sent out such lists seems to skew any potential accuracy of these polls. That is, unless they sent out lists of every film released by every director for each period.
Did The Hollywood Reporter polls miss any of your favorites from these two periods?