“As Told By Helen Ferguson”: Hollywood Publicity, Gender, and the Public Sphere



In December 1949, publicist Helen Ferguson sent off a number of angry letters and phone calls to the Hollywood Press Photographers Association, the editor of Modern Screen magazine, and the Publicity Directors Committee of the Association of Motion Picture Producers (AMPP). Ferguson’s complaints concerned photos illustrating a Modern Screen article on a “hobo-themed” party Ferguson had arranged to publicize her young film actor clients Lon McCallister, Robert Stack, Diana Lynn, Donald O’Connor, Nancy Olsen, Ruth Roman, and John Barrymore, Jr. One photo, which Ferguson found was already in the article layout for the February 1950 issue hitting newsstands in a matter of days, depicted McCallister and Olsen pulling the jacket and shirt of Robert Stack in an attempt to make him stay. The caption reads, “Lon [McCallister] doesn’t want his guests to go. ‘I hate to tear myself away,’ says Bob Stack—as Nancy [Olsen] helps him tear.” A livid Ferguson told Arch Reeve, secretary to the AMPP studio Publicity Directors Committee, that she knew at the time the photo was taken that it would give “the whole layout a bad implication” and would necessitate the exercising of her “kill rights,” which she thought had been honored by the magazine before final layout.


Public Relation Public Sphere Motion Picture Private Life Civic Virtue 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 3.
    Silas Bent, Ballyhoo: The Voice of the Press (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1927)Google Scholar
  2. Scott M. Cutlip, The Unseen Power: Public Relations. A History (Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1994)Google Scholar
  3. Stuart Ewen, PR! A Social History of Spin (new York: Basic Books, 1996)Google Scholar
  4. Roland Marchand, Creating the Corporate Soul: The Rise of Public Relations and Corporate Imagery in American Big Business (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998)Google Scholar
  5. Charles Ponce de Leon, Self-Exposure: Human-Interest Journalism and the Emergence of Celebrity in America, 1890–1940 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002)Google Scholar
  6. Jane Gaines, “From Elephants to Lux Soap: The Programming and ‘Flow’ of Early Motion Picture Exploitation,” The Velvet Light Trap 25 (Spring 1990): 30–43.Google Scholar
  7. 4.
    Roscoe C. E. Brown, “The Menace to Journalism,” North American Review 214 (July/December 1921): 610Google Scholar
  8. Stanley Walker, City Editor (new York: Frederick A. Stokes, 1934), 135.Google Scholar
  9. 5.
    Herbert M. Baus, Publicity: How to Plan, Produce, and Place It (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1942), 213.Google Scholar
  10. 7.
    See Ewen and Larry Tye, The Father of Spin: Edward L. Bernays and the Birth of Public Relations (new York: Crown Publishers, 1998).Google Scholar
  11. 9.
    Richard deCordova, Picture Personalities: The Emergence of the Star System in America (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1990), 140–144.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Gloria Biggs, “Courageous Faith Enables Helen Ferguson to Grasp Right Opportunities,” Christian Science Monitor, August 13, 1951, 10.Google Scholar
  13. 14.
    Mark Lynn Anderson, Twilight of the Idols: Hollywood and the Human Sciences in 1920s America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011) provides a nuanced discussion of problematic historical projects that reduce “sexual identity to ‘the truth of the individual’.”Google Scholar
  14. 15.
    Danae Clark, Negotiating Hollywood: The Cultural Politics of Actors’ Labor (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995).Google Scholar
  15. 16.
    I have not been able to definitively confirm the exact date that Ferguson and Stanwyck began their publicist—client relationship. See Robert de Roos, “Hollywood’s Mother Hen,” TV Guide, November 9, 1961, 28–30; Axel Madsen, Stanwyck (New York: Harper Collins, 1994, 2001), 81–83, 101.Google Scholar
  16. 23.
    See, in particular, Kay Proctor, “Barbara Stanwyck: Woman’s Woman,” Movie Mirror (July 1938)Google Scholar
  17. Sara Hamilton, “Things We Like about Barbara,” Movie Mirror (December 1939)Google Scholar
  18. Frances Clark, “The Queen Says, ‘Nuts’!” Modern Screen (July 1947).Google Scholar
  19. 24.
    Steff F. Phillips, “Barbara Defies Hollywood,” Motion Picture, March 1940, 58.Google Scholar
  20. 25.
    Elsa Maxwell, “Hollywood’s Marriage Morals,” Photoplay, September 1948, 106Google Scholar
  21. Ferguson, “Pomona and the Queen,” 62, 72; “Barbara Stanwyck is Still Stagestruck,” Screen Guide, August 1950, 49.Google Scholar
  22. 26.
    Paul Marsh, “Please Don’t Get Personal!” Screenland, May 1951, 67.Google Scholar
  23. 27.
    Winston Stallings, “This Little Voice Went No No No!” Modern Screen (December 1948)Google Scholar
  24. Louis Pollock, “Why Stars Turn to Prayer,” Modern Screen (September 1949)Google Scholar
  25. Loretta Young, “My Prayer Was Answered,” Modern Screen (May 1950)Google Scholar
  26. Dan Jenkins, “Miracles Do Happen!” Modern Screen (September 1952)Google Scholar
  27. Betty Mills, “For Blessings Received,” TV-Radio Mirror (April 1956).Google Scholar
  28. 31.
    Dean Jennings, “Indestructible Glamour Girl,” Saturday Evening Post, May 28, 1960,108,111.Google Scholar
  29. 32.
    Edith Efron, “The Legend of Loretta,” TV Guide, October 20–26, 1962, 23.Google Scholar
  30. 33.
    Judy Lewis, Uncommon Knowledge (new York: Pocket Books, 1994)Google Scholar
  31. Joan Webster Anderson, Forever Young (Allen, TX: Thomas Moore, 2000).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kathleen A. Feeley and Jennifer Frost 2014

Authors and Affiliations

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations