The Iowa native who pioneered modern public opinion polling is closely associated with political polling, but George Gallup did groundbreaking work for Hollywood clients in the 1940s.
Greg Prickman is director of Special Collections and Archives for the University of Iowa, which is the new home for George Gallup’s work papers.
“The collection goes all the way back to his time in Iowa, when he was a student here at the university, and that era is when he started to experiment with some of his techniques,” Prickman says. “He did some polling for The Des Moines Register and some other types of polling and then eventually grew into what we know as the Gallup Poll.”
George Gallup was born in Jefferson, Iowa in 1901. He taught journalism after earning three degrees from the University of Iowa and worked for a New York City advertising firm then, in 1935, he founded the company that’s now known as The Gallup Organization. In the 1940s, Gallup used polling to measure the appeal of Hollywood movie ideas. Prickman says the details are laid out in Gallup’s papers that are now housed at the University of Iowa.
“It’s very fascinating,” Prickman says. “I mean, they would poll to the extent of questions like: ‘Would you go to see a film with Title A or Title B?'”
Gallup worked with Hollywood legends like Walt Disney and Samuel Goldwyn. Gallup’s polling came up with forecasts for box office receipts for specific films.
“They were polling on people’s reactions to actors, to plots, to descriptions and then also they would do the sort of audience screening information about how people responded to actually viewing a preview of a film, which we’re very familiar with that today,” Prickman says. “But they did work like that for all the major studios.”
Gallup is credited with coordinating the polling for “The Best Years of Our Lives” — one of the most-researched films in Hollywood history. The 1946 film won eight Oscars.