Cinema entrepreneur Abraham Tuschinski left his mark on the Dutch cinema in the 1920s and 30s. Not only the interiors of his movie theaters were of an unprecedented luxury, also the printed matter for his cinemas was made with great care. Designers like Jac. Jongert, Pieter den Besten, Elias Ott and Adr. Visser made attractive programs in a rich Art Deco style.
Only ‘the best of the best’ was good enough for Tuschinski, who let his movie theaters decorate in a wonderful mix of interior styles. At the height of his movie empire Tuschinski ran 10 cinemas. Most of them were located in his hometown Rotterdam. The most beautiful and only remaining movie theater is Theater Tuschinski in Amsterdam. But the Grand Theatre and Thalia Theater in Rotterdam were also richly decorated in the famous ‘Tuschinski style’. Unfortunately, all the Tuschinski cinemas in Rotterdam were destroyed in the bombing of the city in May 1940.
A lot of printed matter, such as movie posters, programs and the company journal ‘Tuschinski News’, had to be designed for the Tuschinski theaters. These publications were just like the interior designs made with great care and attention. Tuschinski wanted to give his company a rich and modern look. Many printed matter was therefore designed in the style of the emerging Art Deco.
Elias Ott (1883-1969)
One of the first programs for Theater Tuschinski is designed by commercial artist Elias Ott. Ott made the cover design in 1923, only 2 years after the opening of Tuschinski’s movie palace. His design was also used for a show bill. The graceful dancer on the cover tries to catch the golden light rays. She symbolizes the light play of the film.
Ott might also have been inspired by the so-called ‘Butterfly Gallery’ in Theater Tuschinski. The walls of this walkway around the great cinema hall are covered with magical butterfly girls, a popular theme in the cabaret of the 20s. Maybe Ott depicted his own butterfly girl on the program cover?
Jac. Jongert (1883-1942)
For the next season Tuschinski ordered 2 cover designs from Jac. Jongert, who was well known for his modern advertising work. Especially his ads for the tobacco, cigarettes, coffee and tea from Van Nelle stood out because of their bright contrasting colors and modern serif fonts. Jongerts cover designs for the programs of Theater Tuschinski en the Grand Theatre show the same stylistic features as his advertisements for Van Nelle.
Sponsored by van Nelle?
The front and back side form one composition. On the back there’s a Van Nelle ad. It seems that the booklets are sponsored by the company. Even the layout of the pages is designed by Jongert. The gold as an accent color gives the programs the rich look that Tuschinski had in mind. Rarely so much attention was payed to the design of a “simple” program booklet.
Pieter den Besten (1894-1972)
Tuschinki’s house designer Pieter den Besten designed the program for La Gaîté. He had also designed the interior of this chic cabaret in the Grand Theatre. The woman on the cover looks a bit like the famous jazz dancer Josephine Baker. The sexy feather dress, striking hat, long gloves and high boots… everything exudes the atmosphere of the Roaring Twenties. On the back of the booklet the same lady is depicted in a hip outfit from fashion house Gerzon. The message is clear: those who party in La Gaîté, buy their clothes at Gerzon.
Art Deco fashion models
The cover design also shows a striking resemblance with the murals that were found during the restoration of Theater Tuschinski in 1999. From behind thick layers of paint emerged 18 beautiful Art Deco fashion models. They were painted by Den Besten in 1931 for the 10th anniversary of the cinema. Although these wall decorations are more refined than the (much smaller) woodcut for the program cover, there is a clear similarity in the Vogue-like poses and fashionable outfits.
The programs for the Thalia Theater and Cinema Royal are made by the unknown designer Adr. Visser. The cover designs have the same composition; the name of the cinema is placed at the top with underneath the word ‘program’ in bulbous letters and with a jagged outer edge.
Mask of Dionysus
On both booklets are dancers depicted. The women on the Thalia program dance around a mask of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, dance and theater. This theme is often used to illustrate theater and cinema programs. It refers to the classical Greek theater and origins of Western theater arts, and therefore also to the origins of the film.