Historic Memphis FILM ROW

        ...a bit of Hollywood on the Mississippi


Location!  Location!  Location!  Located at the center of the Mid-South with access to major roads, bridges, and railroads, Memphis was very attractive to Hollywood when the Motion Picture studios began planning a distribution system to move their films out quickly to Arkansas, West Tennessee, Mississippi, and Missouri.  Movie theaters changed their programs several times a week and the films had to be ready to ship at all hours of the night.  An area of one-story brick buildings in Memphis was established around Vance and 2nd Street, which became known as "Film Row".   Film Row rose to prominence in 1925 when the major studios began opening their individual distribution buildings.  And at its peak, over 650 theaters in the mid-south were served out of Memphis. 


Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Warner Brothers Columbia 20th Century Fox

Hollywood had planned an elaborate system of distribution, which was designed to give them the biggest profits and the largest share of the box office, by cutting down on the necessity for long shipments.  Trucks would move in and out of Film Row at all hours - moving the latest films to all parts of the mid-south.  By 1937 there were nine film exchanges in the Film Row area - Metro Goldwyn Mayer, Warner Brothers, 20th Century Fox, Columbia, RKO, Republic, Paramount, Monogram and Universal.  


Paramount               R K O Universal Republic

Other studios followed.  Each of these exchanges employed around 30 people and had fireproof vaults to protect the building from the extremely flammable film.  The most powerful Hollywood studios at this time, not only made films, they distributed them, and owned the movie theaters where they were shown.  The film industry reached it's peak in 1946 as 90 million people per week filled the movie theaters.  The war years were extremely successful for Hollywood.  But in the years after World War II, people began moving to the suburbs and taking their theaters with them.   And then television kept them at home.   Downtown theaters started closing.


United Artists


To compound the closing of theaters, Hollywood experienced yet another setback:  The Supreme Court ordered the studios to divest themselves of their theaters.  By 1958 Memphis Film Row was becoming a ghost area.  In 1955 there had been 25 distributors, but only six years later there were just 16.  Today there still exists some bits of evidence in the area to remind one of its association with Hollywood - several logos remain on the sides of the buildings.  But as in all areas of downtown Memphis, some buildings have been demolished.   A few of the studio buildings are now occupied with new  businesses and others are vacant..




Map showing Film Row    1st National Pictures Warners Metro Goldwyn Mayer

Columbia M-G-M 20th Century Fox Warners

Film Row



Film Row



Film Transit, Inc.
was founded in 1936 by M. H. Brandon at 311 S. Second - right in the middle of Film Row.  Their mission was to transport all these films from theater to theater in small towns throughout the mid-south.  They're still in business and have now moved to their current home at 3931 Homewood Road, Memphis, where they are a carrier of small package freight.


The Film Row location of Film Transit   





National Screen Service was a company which controlled the distribution of theatrical advertising materials from 1940 through the 1980s.  They produced posters, and most accessories for virtually every movie released in the U.S.  Some of the most stunning poster art of the 20th Century originated during this period.  National was called upon to provide advertising art for the theaters at any given time.  Even if a movie were re-released after 10 years, they had to have the advertising material ready for distribution.  Thus, they opened an Exchange office in the middle of Memphis Film Row at 500 S. Second. 


The company was actually formed earlier in 1920 to produce and distribute movie trailers on behalf of the movie studios.  Over time they gradually took over production and distribution of other forms of movie advertising, including movie posters.  During the 1980s, movie theaters changed from small individual screens to large multiplexes and the amount of advertising space for a given movie was limited.  As a result, the large movie posters dropped down from 4-sheet size to just the one-sheet size.   Eventually, the major studios took back control of their own advertising, and this greatly reduced National's presence.  They were bought out by Technicolor in 2000.


      NSS location on Second Street




When National Screen Service ceased most of its movie poster printing and distribution in 1985, some of the posters that had been stored in exchanges around the country, ended up in the hands of private collectors.  Now there is a thriving, and very lucrative collectibles market in movie posters.  They have even crossed over into the realm of "Fine Art".  Some of these posters have become quite valuable, with a few rare examples bringing $500,000 or more at auction.  The current record price for a movie advertising poster was set in 2005 for the 1927 film "Metropolis".  There are only 4 known copies of this poster and it sold for $690,000. 

As a result of the demand, some of the more popular movie posters are being reproduced by forgers.  Reproductions can be distinguished by size, printing quality, and paper type.  In addition, the originals had a National Screen Service code on them.  Below are some of the most sought after movie posters by collectors.  The horror movie posters and science fiction posters are in the range of $100,000,  and up.


The most valuable poster on the row above?  The 1931 Frankenstein Poster sold for $198,000


In addition to posters, National Screen Service produced "Lobby Cards".  They were smaller, usually 11 x14 or 8 x 10, and were issued in sets of six or eight.  Lobby cards were introduced in the 1910's and were meant to complement the posters for display in the lobbies or the foyers.  They are also very collectible.  The current record price for a lobby card is $44,812 for the 1935 "Dracula".  The sets of cards are generally broken up and sold individually - but then collectors try to collect a full set.  Ironically, the cards produced in Mexico  to publicize American movies are more valuable than those produced in the U.S.  Below are some of the more sought after Lobby Cards - sets of 8 and 6 - and 2 examples of Mexican Lobby Cards. 


Dracula $44,812

Metropolis Bride of Frankenstein Casablanca




Set of 8

Set of 8

Set of 6

Mexican Card

Mexican Card


 <  National Screen Service Magazine "EN ESS ESS"  Volume I, No 6, 1946

Beth Imes of Columbus, Mississippi, found this 1946 magazine among her parents papers.   Thanks to Beth for allowing us to scan and post the entire magazine on this page "In memory of Marguerite Ryan Hickel and A. D. Hickel, Jr., who both worked at National Screen Service in Memphis in the late 1930's-early 1940s, fell in love and married shortly after the end of WWII".


Theater Poster Exchange, located on Calhoun in Memphis, was begun by Henry Werling in the late 1940s.  They used to service a lot of little towns in the Mid-South.  Because the theaters in these towns changed movies every 3 days, they would rent a poster for a very nominal fee and then send the poster around the territory to the other small theaters.  When it was done, most of the paper advertising would be returned to the poster  exchange.   Because all the advertising was mass produced and relatively inexpensive, no one seemed to care if they didn't get it all back or if some of it went to the wrong exchange.  The Theater Poster Exchange is still in business, now called "Luton's Theater Poster Exchange" at 3800 Contractors Pl, Memphis.


Logos of other studios whose films were distributed through Memphis Film Row



  Vintage Memorabilia of Memphis Film Row ...


Columbia Invoice - 1939 1940 Directory 1948 Directory


Monogram Logo







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Republic Building