George Gallup in Hollywood

Article excerpt

Ohmer, Susan. George Gallup in Hollywood. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006. 284 pp. $24.50.

Susan Ohmer's gracefully written and carefully argued scholarship fills voids in the histories of survey research, audience research, and film marketing as she describes the earliest use of quantitative studies to analyze films and their viewers. Additionally, her work is a valuable contribution to the elusive biography of George Gallup. Using archives, interviews, and secondary sources, George Gallup in Hollywood provides additional details to the silhouette that was Gallup's life.

Gallup's opinion polls were first syndicated in newspapers in 1935, and todays polls asking registered voters about their election-day intentions are a direct legacy. His first presidential prediction made his name well known across the United States. Because of the fame resulting from his correct prediction of Franklin D. Roosevelt's re-election to the presidency in 1936, and the Literary Digest's failure to do so, Hollywood called. Gallup took his research methods to Hollywood and worked with filmmakers until his incorrect prediction that Thomas Dewey would be elected president in 1948. To meet film producer's needs, he adapted the survey methods that he had developed for studying newspaper readers and voters.

Ohmer is the William T. and Helen Kuhn Carey Assistant Professor of Modern Communication in the Department of Film, Television, and Theater at the University of Notre Dame. This book is a revision of her dissertation, Measuring Desire: George Gallup in Hollywood, which won the Society for Cinema Studies Dissertation Award in 1998.

Her description of Gallup's career from his college days until he began working for film producers is excellent: complete, readable, and the best currently in print. She integrates material from earlier interviews with Gallup and his close colleagues with histories of psychology, marketing, and social science, thus historically locating his career innovations. Although she has done an excellent job with the available material, it is important to note that his life is preserved in a spider-web of documentation. As such, there is much more air than documentation. Providing the foundation of his early life was necessary to her purpose, however, because his Hollywood work was tightly linked to his earlier research. …