Box Office Poison

Where the term originates from and who was involved in it

Hi, I'm Kat!
What I am most passionate about is to inspire you to see that your life is your own and biggest masterpiece.

Have you ever heard of the term “box office poison”? 

This is a term that has been coined in  1938 in Hollywood and had a dramatic effect on the careers of some high profiles actors and actresses. Basing it on last weeks’ episode, in which I outlined the Old Hollywood studio system a little bit, this episode makes a little bit more sense in the overall view of Hollywood back in the 1930s. So, the studio system was in effect with eight studios ruling the industry. 


So, little reminder: During the days of the studio system, big stars got contracts for high salaries for either a length of time or a number of pictures they would have to do with the studio. And that contract was in place – whether the movies were making great revenue or not. Thus, it was the time of the million-dollar mediocrity, because there was not much effort to produce really good movies. Most of them were just average. And the stars signed to the studio were put into whatever movie the studio producers saw fit for the image they wanted the actress to portray. 

In 1938, Harry Brandt, the president of the Independent Theatre Owners Association penned an ad that was published in The Hollywood Reporter. It’s title was “Wake Up! Hollywood Producers” and it basically stated that highly paid stars receive big salaries and are put in big pictures but do not have any draw at the box office and, thus, the independent theatre owners suffer from this system in place.

The ad calls out the actors and actresses they deem having a basically inexistent box office draw are Mae West, Edward Arnold, Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Katherine Hepburn, Fred Astaire, Kay Francis and many others. One sentence towards the end of the ad reads “Dietrich, too, is poison at the box office.” And this is were the moniker “Box Office Poison” comes from. 

Afterwards some more lists have been published, but this is the original one that claimed box office. Ironically, some of these have come to become the biggest stars of Old Hollywood and did recover well from the little dent in their public image. Although it did take some effort – and some did vanish and could not recover. 

This just shows – even if you are on top of the world, are the most glamorous and envied person, someone might rain on your parade and you need to pivot, deal with new circumstances, adapt – and always have your own back. This is a lesson we all need to learn and embody. Success or wealth or anything external is not who you are, circumstances change – but you will always be you. 

With all my love!




In the Shop

Joan Crawford Giclee Print
Jane Russell Giclee Print
Breakfast at Tiffanys Giclee Print