From her office on Hollywood Boulevard, reporter Ann Lewis covers On the Town. — By KELLI MARSHALL
Created by Charles "Chick" Lewis, SHOWMEN'S TRADE REVIEW targeted movie exhibitors and distributors. Among other things, the weekly publication covered film production, theater safety, lobby displays, box office business, and admission prices. For example, in a 1949 issue, Chick Lewis' column "How to Sell More Popcorn" encourages theater owners to exchange their "outmoded [popcorn] equipment" for the "super-duper models now offered by the leading manufacturers." After all, moviegoers want "cleanliness, courteous attendants, and good equipment."
SHOWMEN'S TRADE REVIEW also included a recurring column called "Hollywood Newsreel," which reported on insider stuff like studio contracts, location shoots, and casting decisions. The manager of "Hollywood Newsreel" was Ann Lewis. Ann, it turns out, was married to Chick's brother, Julius Lewis.
In various capacities, Chick, Julius, and Ann wrote for SHOWMEN'S TRADE REVIEW — a true family affair, you might say.
In March 1942, tragedy struck the Lewis family: Julius Lewis died shortly after finishing his weekly column, a "sudden and untimely death," the publication reported.
Julius left behind Ann and two sons. All are mentioned in the April 1942 issue of SHOWMEN'S TRADE REVIEW:
"Julius's widow, Ann Lewis, is well known to the industry both in New York, but particularly on the west coast where she is West Coast Manager for SHOWMEN'S TRADE REVIEW. Their son, Elliott, who first went to California to at tend UCLA, took up radio and is considered one of the finest young radio actors on the coast. A younger son, Raymond, attends Washington State University where he is taking a Veterinary course."
As the magazine makes clear, Ann's and Julius's older son, Elliott Lewis, made quite a name for himself in Hollywood. He not only performed on the radio, but also lent his voice to several films and television series throughout the twentieth century.
After her husband's death, Ann continued investigating the ins and outs of movie production for her brother-in-law's publication. In addition to "Hollywood Newsreel," she wrote the column "Mrs. Showman Goes Studio Strolling," in which Ann (verbally) walks exhibitors' wives and other readers through studio lots and then reports directly from film sets.
Over the years, SHOWMEN'S TRADE REVIEW covered the production and box office intake of several films in which Gene Kelly starred:
1. The Monster
Lewis describes technical aspects behind Ann Miller's featured number, "Prehistoric Man":
"It took three Technicolor crews and 15 speed graphic cameras to film the big dinosaur dance number for MGM's 'On the Town.'...The sequence had to be made in one shot, because in the finale, the 35-foot skeleton is sent crashing to the floor. It takes three days to reassemble the monster."
2. Skirt Lengths
Lewis also speaks with MGM's costume designer Helen Rose about the "modern style of dresses" she created for On the Town's three female leads: Vera-Ellen, Ann Miller, and Betty Garrett.
At fourteen inches from the floor, the women sport dresses "three or four inches shorter than present fashionable skirt lengths," Lewis writes. Rose believes that after the release of On the Town, women's dress "lengths will definitely be shorter." (She wasn't wrong.)
3. Eastern Sequences
Finally, Ann Lewis informs readers that the cast and crew of On the Town flew to New York City to shoot several scenes — the "Eastern sequences," she calls them. Lewis also reports on the crew's return to Hollywood.
After Chick Lewis death in 1953, SHOWMEN'S TRADE REVIEW would dissolve. But Ann Lewis's writing career would not. In September 1962, a column in BOXOFFICE magazine welcomes reporter "Ann Lewis as assistant to Chris Dutra, western editor and manager."
Thus, for more than 20 years, Ann Lewis — like many other (white) women writers — enjoyed a successful career as a journalist in Los Angeles. Can you imagine the sets she saw? The access she was allowed? The stars she met?
In her book GO WEST, YOUNG WOMEN! THE RISE OF EARLY HOLLYWOOD, Dr. Hilary A. Hallett writes that Hollywood, particularly in its early days, was one of the first industries to open up journalism to both sexes. Much of this, Hallett writes, is because studios were obsessed with appealing to female moviegoers, who, by the early 1920s, supposedly "comprised 75 percent of movie fans" (70). In short, the major studios wanted women to report to women. How fortunate for Ann Lewis. And the fans of Gene Kelly.
Featured image: Ann Lewis dines with Norman Siegel (Paramount's director of publicity) and W. R. Weaver of Quigley Publications, Showmen's Trade Review, April 1949.