Hollywood and Hannagan’s Publicity Machine

Steve Hannagan plugged Sun Valley by convincing Hollywood producers to use Sun Valley as a setting for their movies. It was product placement writ large. His first success was Wesley Ruggles’ movie “I Met Him in Paris” with Sun Valley as a substitute for the Alps. Although Sun Valley is not mentioned in the film, press releases for the movie and the popular press said that it was filmed at the resort.[1]

Lobby Card for ‘I Met Him in Paris’[2]

By the time Steve passed from the scene in 1953, a baker’s dozen of movies were filmed with Sun Valley as the background. Two films starred three-time Olympic winter sports champion: Sonja Henie – Everything Happens at Night with Ray Milland and Robert Cummings in 1938 and Sun Valley Serenade 1941 by Daryl Zanuck[3]

Lobby Card for ‘Everything Happens at Night’[4]

Sun Valley Serenade Shines On | Sun Valley

Lobby Card for ‘Sun Valley Serenade’[5]

Sun Valley was a backdrop for many other movies that needed mountains in the background. For instance, Daryl Zanuck’s 1939 adventure film “Stanley and Livingstone” the mountains of Sun Valley stood-in for African mountains.[6] In the 1940 film, “the Mortal Storm,” Sun Valley’s mountains took a bow as the Austrian Alps[7] and “Northern Pursuit” a World War II film, saw Sun Valley treated as an Artic Mountain Range.[8] Sun Valley was even a setting for an Esther Williams, the swimming queen of Hollywood, in the ‘Duchess of Idaho’.[9]

Esther Williams Uses Hannagan’s Pool[10]

Another movie that employed the vistas of Sun Valley was “How to Marry a Millionaire” filmed in 1953 starring three of the Queens of Hollywood at the time: Marilyn Monroe, Lauren Bacall, and Betty Grable. In this film, Sun Valley was a substitute for Maine.[11] Sun Valley provided directors with easily accessible backdrops for mountain and wintry scenery because it was close to Hollywood.


Three Queens of Hollywood in Sun Valley[12]

Hannagan’s Relentless Sun Valley Publicity Machine

Hannagan and his associates pumped press releases, pictures, and events about Sun Valley to newspapers, movie news services, radio, and major magazines. Sun Valley fame was carried by society columnists, gossip mongers, advertisers and editors looking for stories of the rich and famous. Here are just a few story lines printed by the press about the resort and in several instances publicized Steve Hannagan:

  • Walter Winchell wrote: “Steve Hannagan’s got the town (New York City) in a song, Moon over Sun Valley, – what a press agent.”[13]
  • John Wannamaker’s store (located in downtown Philadelphia) carried this ad: “America will play at home … under the brilliant blue skies of Wyoming’ Sun Valley”[14] (Steve telegrammed the advertising manager telling him that Sun Valley was in Idaho not Wyoming.)
  • Lucius Beebe’s column needled Hannagan, noting that the Sun Valley icon was “naked to the waist and sweating” but his shoes were “cased in the Idaho snow.”[15]
  • The New York Mirror’s movie critic commented that Steve Hannagan somehow induced Darryl Zanuck to turn Sonja Henie’s Sun Valley Serenade into “an unadulterated sales plug for a commercial account (Sun Valley) [that] ever [came] out of … Hollywood “[16]
  • Variety said flatly, “Steve Hannagan’s campaign in Sun Valley, with film tied in, has made skiing the most publicized winter sport”[17]

Three months after the Grand Opening, there was a massive six-page spread in Life Magazine’s March 8, 1937 issue, featuring the Eastern social elite playing at the new Sun Valley Resort. However, the pictures on the article’s last page would give pause to any sensible person planning a skiing holiday at any resort because it showed novice skiers and ski instructors recovering from spinal injuries, broken legs, and sprained wrists.[18]

End Notes

  1. Taylor, Dorice (1980); Sun Valley; Ex Libris Sun Valley; p. 48.
  2. Lobby Card ‘I Met Him in Paris (Retrieved August 24, 2017);;
  3. “Sun Valley Movie History: The perfect location” (retrieved April 2, 2014); The Valley Sun;
  4. Lobby Card “Everything Happens at Night’ (Retrieved August 25, 2017); MoviesPictures.Org.
  5. Lobby Card ‘Sun Valley Serenade’ (Retrieved August 25, 2017);
  6. “Stanley and Livingston”; Wikipedia (retrieved February 22, 2015);
  7. “Mortal Storm”; IMBd (retrieved February 22, 2015);
  8. “Northern Pursuit”; IMBd (retrieved February 22, 2015);
  9. “Esther Williams”; Wikipedia (Retrieved February 22, 2015);
  10. ‘Duchess of Idaho’ Lobby Card (Retrieved August 26, 2017); Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings; May 31, 2016;
  11. “How to Marry a Millionaire”; IMBd (retrieved February 22, 2015)
  12. ‘How to Marry a Millionaire’ Lobby Card (Retrieved August 26, 2017);;
  13. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 176.
  14. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 176.
  15. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 177.
  16. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 178.
  17. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 178.
  18. “East Goes West to Idaho’s Sun Valley, Society’s Newest Winter Playground” (March 8, 1937); Life; Vol2, No.10; p. 27.