Painter creates poster movie magic

February 19, 1997


Staff Writer

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - In the 1930s, when Walter Ward, manager of the Capitol Theatre in downtown Chambersburg, wanted to promote an especially big or important movie coming to his theater, he would ask Harry "Rip" Rossman to paint a poster to advertise the film.

The posters, which usually carried a likeness of the main actors and actresses plus an illustration or two on what the movie was about, were mounted in glass-fronted cases attached to several downtown buildings.

Rossman, 88, said he painted as many as 40 of the big posters for Ward. Today, only a handful remain. Most of those are on temporary display at Twice Read Books and Comics at 42 S. Main St.


"I used to paint them three or four times a year in those days," said Rossman, a Chambersburg native who was once a fire chief. He now lives at Menno Village.

He said he doesn't remember any of the movies that his posters promoted.

"I usually only had a description of the movie to work from and photos of the actors," he said. "I was paid $3 to $5 for them. I never kept any. I don't know what happened to them."

A bunch of Rossman's movie posters surfaced in Chambersburg in the mid-1970s. They were tacked up as ceiling tiles in a garage in a house that John Kohler, a local antiques dealer, was selling in an estate sale.

"There must have been 30 or 35 of them up there," Kohler said. He said most were damaged beyond repair, but he salvaged eight or nine. He gave a few away and had the rest framed.

"It was normal for a theater to have posters like that in those days," Kohler said.

The Capitol Theatre, at 159 S. Main St., opened on Feb. 3, 1927. The first movie to be shown on the theater's screen was "Waning Sex," with Norma Shearer, said Paul Cullinane, executive director of Downtown Chambersburg Inc.

"Ben Hur," another biggie of the silent movie era, was playing on the same night uptown at the Rosedale Theater, Cullinane said.

Kohler, owner of Gateway Gallery on Kriner Road, said posters like those painted by Rossman sell for $300 to $800 in good condition.

"There is a market for them," he said.

Rossman started painting signs commercially in 1927. He still paints them, along with Pennsylvania Dutch Hex signs, in his shop on Plasterer Avenue.

He started drawing in high school. His only formal training came in a correspondence course from the Washington School of Art.

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