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.