Vintage: Ballyhoo, Part 7

Posted in Vintage at 5:00 am by Sam

Time for the next entry in our series on ballyhoo — wild advertising stunts actually used by local theaters in the 1920s to advertise their movies. If you don’t already know what this series is all about, I recommend backtracking to Part 1 first.


At the end of the part 6, we had just started the “Society and Fashion” section. The “society picture” was considered its own genre back in the day, as there was tremendously much more interest in society and fashion than there is today. True, the fashion industry is still alive and well, but class distinctions have blurred in western culture over the last 80 years, and it’s unlikely people will go to the movies anymore just to be able to see the upper class dressing up and hobnobbing with each other.

As we’ve seen in past installments, setting up crazy contests for advertising purposes seems to have been popular, and here we have yet another one: the Long Haired Beauty stunt, a contest where you have to have the longest hair. (I know someone who reads this site who would win it.) The bizarre thing is that the prize isn’t pair of free tickets but a “week’s engagement in a prologue number at the theater.” Meaning…hire her to sing a song before each show? Surely I misunderstand.

Dances In the Lobby? Man, I don’t know why we don’t still do this. When I go to the movies, obviously I want to be sashaying around the lobby with everybody afterwards. But now that I think about it, this might actually work for those urban dance flicks like You Got Served and Step Up. Just not where I come from.

I like how French people all wear smocks and carry palettes around everywhere. I went to France once. I forgot my smock, so everybody stared at me. I went to a deli in Paris, and the guy behind the counter had a palette with condiments on it. I asked for ketchup and mayonnaise, and he said, “Stupid American!” but obliged, taking a knife and cutting away some of the red stuff and some of the white stuff, mixing it up a little, and painting it on my hot dog. He was a pointillist, so it took a while.

The Trick Suit Case has got to involve some of the hardest working advertising possible. You hire an actor for the day to accidentally drop movie posters on the ground once in a while. The typo in the write-up conjured a better stunt, though. “Trick suit cast” sounds like somebody sitting in a wheelchair and a full body cast, and every once in a while, he can press a hidden button, and the body cast pops off, to reveal the guy in his spandex, advertising materials emblazoned all over it. Tah-dah!!

You know the Leg Measurements stunt has got to be great with a name like that. The first line, “Double tie-up with newspaper and hosiery dealer” confirms it. (”Buy new Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End L’eggs at a Wal-Mart near you!”) But nothing can prepare you for the actual stunt itself, which involves, sure enough, actually taking leg measurements and ultimately naming a pair of pantyhose after the winner. Imagine how proud you’d be afterward, too, to clip out that newspaper article and send copies to all your friends and family. Of all the women in all the world, you’re the one whose legs are shaped most like Dolores del Rio’s. “Mrs. Parrish, Mrs. Parrish,” I imagine the reporters shouting as they clamber over each other with their outstretched microphones, “Are you surprised, or have you always known your leg measurements were special? Have you considered a career in leg impersonation?”


How do you work up 100 per cent feminine appeal? Lipstick. Lipstick is so powerful a chick lure that you don’t even need to waste it advertising movies women might actually care about. That’s a waste. No, instead, use the lipstick to get them to a war western, then sell them tickets to next week’s society romance.


The Baseball Slang stunt is another crazy contest — one I wouldn’t want to judge, I might add — that would completely break down in the Internet age. If anybody did this, you’d just have to Google for a bit, and somebody somewhere will have an exhaustive glossary of baseball slang. Cut, paste, done.

The Card Cutting stunt is kind of a neat idea, but today, removing two of the aces would surely be something the theater would be required to disclose. For a con artist picture, I have to imagine some theater somewhere hired a guy to run a shell game for free tickets.

Football Stunt No. 2 is a great read. The first sentence starts out ordinarily enough, and then right at the end of it, utter lunacy. Then it’s ruined by the revelation that, well, the footballs are just made of tin or paper mache (any novelty company sells them). Man, I would have loved it if they’d dropped 10,000 actual footballs over a crowded downtown somewhere. People getting divebombed. They duck and cover, but that’s when things get really crazy, because the great thing about footballs is they’ll bounce sideways, where people are hiding in bus stops and under canopies and stuff. If you did that today, I wonder what the fine would be.

The Bathing Girls idea is just wonderful. There’s no fear of feminist protest or legal repercussions, nothing. Just get some girls in bikinis and have them play leap frog and deliberately cause a traffic jam — maybe even an accident, if you’re lucky! I’m not sure how the promotion of the actual movie happens with this stunt, but who cares!?


The Gambling Club stunt is pretty funny, for two reasons. One, I bet the cops just loved the hate mail. Two, it seems designed to cause a Ralphie-esque “It’s a crummy commercial!” moment with somebody who, for some reason, had gotten all excited about the new club. Disillusioning the public, one poor individual at a time.

The Horse Pictures stunt is cute. They should still use that today. All it takes is hanging signs on some of the horses in town.


  1. Aaron (35) said,

    July 19, 2007 at 3:20 pm

    One trend I notice throughout today’s entries, and that I probably missed before, is making stuff up about the stars as part of the promotion. “Oh yeah, he just loves long haired women!” “This face powder was given to you specifically from our star!”

    The best part about the Dances In Lobby is that it lasts from 11pm all the way to 1pm. Now, I think this was about the time that marathon dancing became a fad, but still, that’s probably a typo.

    I’m confused on how the Lucky Shoes stunt involves the movie, or even the movie theater. “Hey, theater managers! Here’s something you can tell the local shoe store to do! Sure, it doesn’t help you any, but hey, they’ll appreciate the advice!”

    For the Leg Measurements, I think “she” refers to the star, not the winner. Although your way is much better.

    I like the idea in Football Stunt #3 of getting the local football hero to kick a football from a random street corner and watch everyone scramble to get it. I’m sure it’s a quite safe process.

    Another great part about the Bathing Girls stunt is that films have “bathing girls” angles. Although, I’m not sure why it’s in this section, since I would expect Adventure and Sports movies to be the least likely to have bathing girls.

    The Star-Cutout is one complicated puzzle.

    The Masked Car stunt is awesome simply because of it’s title. “Who was that masked car anyway?”

  2. Sam (405) said,

    July 20, 2007 at 11:29 pm

    LOL! I completely missed that about the Lucky Shoes stunt. That’s so wonderful. Love your other comments, too. I reread the Star-Cutout one, and yeah, I think if anybody even understands those instructions, they deserve all the free tickets you can give them.

    What is it about these things that is so hilarious?

  3. wintermute (157) said,

    July 24, 2007 at 10:20 am

    The “Card Cutting” stunt ends with the phrase “If the girl is clever, she can talk up the picture while handling the cards.”

    I may be reading too much into this, but it sounds suspiciously like “Because girls of average intelligence can’t shuffle and talk at the same time.”

  4. LaZorra (60) said,

    July 24, 2007 at 7:11 pm

    Yay for long-haired beauties! Hehe. Does this mean I have to sing now? I think the “prologue number” is not her singing, but her standing in the lobby solemnly announcing “Ten!” one evening, and “Forty-seven!” the next. Also, what if the girl with the longest hair is no beauty at all? That would be a rather amusing situation.

    Love the line in “Fashion Designing” that says, “Drawings can be made in crayon, oil, ink, or pencil.” Crayon? Do they want eight-year-olds entering the contest? And I want to see how one can draw with oil (oil paint, I am assuming, although perhaps they expect the woman to trace her design out on paper with olive oil). I also like the use of the word “feminine” as an adjective for “interest.” Though it isn’t grammatically incorrect, “feminine” isn’t totally synonymous with “female,” either. Maybe that’s only amusing to me, I don’t know.

    Is it just me, or does “How to Stage Show” sound like the setting for an excellent slapstick comedy? Pratfalls abound as patrons attempt to fight their way into a movie theatre amidst roses galore in the lobby! Featuring Jerry Lewis as the harried theatre manager and Rue McClanahan as the cranky old lady who thinks she should win first prize for her magnolias.

    What exactly are “evening clothes,” and why would they be a draw?

    The “Silhouette” stunt specifies that the girl should wear an outfit similar to the star’s, yet you aren’t even going to see the bloody thing except in, well, silhouette. Unless she’s sporting a pair of wings or a crown or something, how is anyone going to know about the outfit? Especially from a second-story window. :-p

    I also think a trick suit cast would be incredibly better than the suggested gag.

    Legend says that Vanna White got her start performing the “Animated Sign” stunt. (Or it should, anyway.) Seriously, “Watch a girl stick letters on posterboard over and over” is the greatest way to drum up interest in a movie EVAR.

    I like the doll dressing bit. I just do. I find it odd that the TEN best would be displayed, since ostensibly they would all look rather the same.

    Lipstick? Did you say lipstick? *swoon*

    The “Walking Contest” is . . . well, it just is. It finishes at the movie theatre, but where does it start? The suggestion of newspapers profiling “contestants, [and] their equipment for the hike . . .” makes it sound like a real undertaking, heh. And what makes it a contest, exactly? It doesn’t seem there is anything to be won. Weird.

    “Amateur Boxing” would be so legal in California. Not. :-p

    At first I thought “Baseball Slang” suggested getting people to make up new slang terms using baseball words. Awarding free tickets to those who sent in the most entries made no sense at all, LOL.

    I am sure the theatre’s lobby-bound employees LOVED the “Model Airplane” idea.

    “One or two small stuffed monkeys peering through the shrubbery will heighten the effect” is possibly the greatest sentence I’ve ever read.

    “Rig up a miniature prize ring” made me think at first that the theatre was supposed to make up a ring about three inches tall and wide, with little tiny buckets and things. I don’t think that would be very effective. :-p

    I have just revised my previous statement about the greatest sentence I’ve ever read. Dude, even dropping paper mache footballs would get you fined today. I do love the idea of some goob climbing a clock tower a la Back to the Future with a whole armload of tiny footballs with paper parachutes and unleashing them on the people below, though.

    Football stunt #3 is great, too, especially for people who are not aware of what is going on. “Hey, that nutjob’s kicking footballs at me!”

    What’s the best way to increase publicity for a movie? Interfere with transportation and get the police involved, of course!

    “Star Cut-Out” may be unnecessarily complicated, but what got me was that the star was assumed to be female. Does it make sense to surround a glamorous female (or feminine, as they would say) star with photos of a local baseball team?

    I find it interesting how “Score Cards” finds it necessary to painstakingly explain how a raffle works. Perhaps they were uncommon then. *shrug*

    I like how only girls are eligible to compete in “Swimming Contest.” Either men can’t swim, or no one wants to see them in swimsuits, I guess. I also like how it dictates that there be three swimming and five diving events, and then doesn’t specify what those are.

    In “Field Meet,” the straightforwardness of the sentence “Place orchestra in the street” absolutely cracks me up. I see a rather troubled-looking orchestra hoping that tonight is a light rush hour.

    “Masked Car” is one of those ideas that makes you wonder what you need to smoke in order to understand the logic behind it.

    “Gambling Club” also cracked me up. Man, talk about a cop-out. *ducks and runs for cover*

    For “Football Celebrity Night,” using the term “send-off” to describe a welcome home party really threw my brain for a loop. Silly me, I thought a send-off was a goodbye party.

    Even in the thirties, were there enough horses in towns to allow “Horse Pictures” to work? And how, exactly, does one hang a sign on a horse? Would it be around the neck? A huge sandwich sign worn sideways? Do these people know that horses can be extremely skitterish when strange people try to approach them with large fluttery objects? Or that people might not want to come out and find that someone has hung advertisement on their horses? I wonder if it was ever an annoyance like those folks who stick advertising for local bars and things under your windshield wipers.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.