3 May: Box Office Poison!

In a full-page ad published in the Hollywood Reporter on 3rd May 1938, the Independent Theater Owners Association blamed declining ticket sales on some of the era’s biggest names in cinema, including Mae West, Greta Garbo and Katharine Hepburn – all of whom were labelled “box office poison.” 

The attention-grabbing tagline quickly took on a life of its own and within just four days, more than thirty newspapers across the US had reported on the story.

In this episode, Arion, Rebecca and Olly explain why movie ticket sales were actually dropping off towards the end of the 1930s; revisit how the stars who were named in the ad attempted to laugh the accusation off; and debate who is the box office poison of today…

Further Reading:

‘Why The Legendary Katharine Hepburn Was Declared “Box Office Poison”’ (Slashfilm, 2023): https://www.slashfilm.com/921488/why-the-legendary-katherine-hepburn-was-declared-box-office-poison/ 

• ‘Poison at the box office’ (Vienna’s Classic Hollywood, 2020): https://viennasclassichollywood.com/2020/06/01/poison-at-the-box-office/ 

• ‘Box Office Poison – Celebrities Canceled in the Golden Age of Hollywood’ (Classic Kelly, 2022):