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Exhibit pays tribute to film posters

A major exhibition of original silent-era movie posters by Batiste Madalena opens to the public today at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills.

The 20 hand-painted posters feature the likenesses of such famed performers as Mary Pickford, Wallace Beery, Gloria Swanson and Joan Crawford. They were created by Madalena between 1924 and 1928, when he served as artist in residence at a Rochester, N.Y., movie palace owned by inventor-photographic manufacturer George Eastman.

Dissatisfied with the mass-produced materials supplied by the studios, Eastman persuaded Madalena, who had just won a scholarship to the Art Students League in New York, to delay his studies and create original works for the seven polished-brass display cases at the theater entrance.

During their four-year association, Madalena produced an estimated 1,400 posters _ an average of seven per week, for which he was paid $4.50 apiece.

Madalena lost his job when Eastman sold the theater in 1928. He opened his own art studio in Rochester, and while bicycling home one rainy night was horrified to see his posters set out with the trash.

He was able to rescue only 225 of them, which he stored in his attic for almost half a century. In 1973, he sold the entire collection to film maker Steven Katten and his wife, Judith, who since have made them available to museums and galleries across the country. Madalena died in 1988.

The paintings on display at the academy are a gift from the Kattens, and the first major donation to the recently created Charles M. Powell Repository of Motion Picture Marketing Materials at the academy's Center for Motion Picture Studies. Powell, who died last year, was the academy's first vice president and a 16-year member of the Board of Governors.

The Madalena exhibit is open to the public, free of charge, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at the academy's headquarters, 8949 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. For information, call (310) 247-3000, Ext. 148.