The Indiana University Libraries Moving Image Archive (IULMIA) is happy to announce its recent acquisition of the film collection of Hal (1899-1991) and Kathryn (1908-1981) Stewart. The married couple owned and operated the Denver branch of the Ideal Pictures Corporation, one of the major distributors of nontheatrical film in the middle half of the last century. The Stewart Collection’s 662 film reels and Ideal catalogs are the artifactual remains from the couple’s four decades of working in the nontheatrical film field from 1941 to 1980.
The Stewarts’ work in the film business started much earlier than their time with Ideal. According to their daughter Susan Stewart Moss and son-in-law Robert Moss, the generous donors of this collection, the Stewarts met in 1925. Kathryn was employed as a silent film accompanist at the Star Theater in Fort Lupton, Colorado. The Star was one of a small chain of theaters owned by Hal and his brother in Colorado and New Mexico. After they married, the couple traveled around the eastern United States showing films such as De Mille’s King of Kings (1927) and The Silent Enemy (1930) in small towns without movie theaters. At some point in the mid-30s, after returning to the Rocky Mountains, the couple entered the distribution business founding Barnes-Stewart Films. How the Stewarts became involved with Ideal is still being researched. Their experience as itinerant exhibitors is one possible connection as Ideal specifically marketed its rental service to what were called at the time roadshow men.
The Stewart collection represents only a tiny percentage of the thousands of films distributed by Ideal. In fact, the ever-expanding size of its rental library was one way Ideal promoted its service above other nontheatrical film distributors of the time such as Films Incorporated and Bell & Howell. However, the films in the Stewart Collection offer a representative sample of the large number of film genres Ideal rented under the umbrella term nontheatrical film. This collection shows how nontheatrical film was more of a business model incorporating any type of movie that could be used outside of an initial theatrical run than a genre or formal set of filmmaking techniques. For example, the Stewart Collection includes educational films, travelogs, sponsored films promoting Pan Am airlines and Standard Oil, B-Westerns, serials, musical shorts, and US government produced propaganda films from World War II.
IULMIA’s staff is still inventorying and inspecting the films in the Hal and Kathryn Stewart collection. Future blog posts will use this collection to examine what nontheatrical film was and who would have seen these films. Upcoming installments in this series will explore nontheatrical film circulation through a close look at the business practices of Ideal Pictures and its founder Bertram Willoughby, and highlight individual films in new digital transfers to look at the specific genres of nontheatrical film including travelogs, religious films, and promotional films.