9/13/2007

Vintage: Old Timey Advertising

Posted in Vintage at 5:00 am by Sam

This week’s Vintage post is a fun one. Here’s a treasure trove of assorted advertising for things that don’t even exist today, outside of museums, antique stores, and attics that haven’t been cleaned in 80 years.

Filmedor

Here’s an entertaining ad with a neat picture of the device. Run the film through that little machine there, and it’ll automatically apply a cleaning lotion to the film. Did it really work, or was it the equivalent of a 5 cent bottle of Cure-All Elixir you might have bought from an itinerant peddler? I have no idea, though I wish I did.

I also wish people had taken care of that brittle nitrate stock after its commercial value had passed, not just during. Film was considered much more disposable than it is today. People hadn’t quite caught onto the idea that film was history and worthy of preservation. In the 1920s, film was exciting entertainment but not something you’d necessarily preserve for posterity. Once a movie’s commercial value dried up, the film was melted down for its silver content. Yes, certain films were most certainly recognized as works of art and worth preserving on those grounds, but the idea wasn’t as inclusive or pervasive as it is today. So if you see a vintage ad for film preservation like this one, it’s a good bet the primary purpose was for theater owners to extend the commercial life of their prints.

Pipe Organ

I love pipe organs like this one. Few antiques inspire me as much as something like this would. It’s not just the artifact itself, it’s how completely foreign the idea and the mechanics of it are today. Imagine a modern dance club playing the latest hip hop on some kind of device where rolled up paper caused a human-playable instrument to play itself. You might as well imagine speakeasies grooving to CDs and surround sound.

So is that “(two hour) rolls” or “two (hour rolls)”? Probably the latter. Imagine being able to play two straight hours of music without stopping in the middle to rewind? That’s right, the National Theatre Supply Company is deeply committed to Better Living Through Technology!

Film Curb

Here’s an ad reminiscent of “The Folly of Fools,” in very first Vintage post. Clearly this ad comes from a time when people’s attention spans allowed them to actually read copy. And not only to read it — to actually think about it for a moment. There isn’t one editor today that would let an ad like that pass, even in spite of the wordiness. They’d be afraid the public wouldn’t understand the sarcasm.

Recently, in Roger Ebert’s Movie Answer Man column, he answered a question about the emergence of great Mexican film directors and whether “American film directors” includes them or not. Technically, Mexico is in North America, but commonly the word “American” is used to refer only to the United States. Ebert’s response was wry, mentioning Iceland as a North American “off shore island.” The next week, a guy wrote in to correct him, saying that Iceland was part of Europe, and Ebert told the story about how he fought with his editor to include that joke. Surely, Ebert reasoned, such a joke in the context of the topic would be understood by the public. With all the letters Ebert gets, I can’t figure out why he thought that.

Anyway, that Film Curb ad is a great read. Decidedly distinctive!

Asbestos

The word “asbestos” sure catches the eye today. Seeing it advertised — unabashedly, no less! — is a bit of a jolt, simultaneously inspiring amusement and making my skin crawl a little.

I’ve been having a similar experience this past week, as I’ve been listening to old Abbott and Costello radio shows during my commute to and from work. Abbott and Costello were sponsored by Camel cigarettes. Each show has four ads for Camel cigarettes, one before, two in the middle, and one at the end. I didn’t realize how accustomed I was to not having cigarette ads on television or radio until I heard the first one. It was pretty disconcerting to hear the cheerful narrator wax on about how Camels are cool and refreshing. Test Camels out on your T-Zone — that’s T for taste and T for throat — and find out for yourself why more Americans smoke Camels than any other brand.

Many of the commercials, at least one per episode, bring up doctors, and say how some hundred thousand odd doctors were asked what cigarette brand they smoke, and more doctors said Camels than any other brand. Even knowing the history of smoking in this country, it’s still surreal to hear things like that. Ok, the health hazards of smoking weren’t well understood in 1944, but to constantly be talking about what cigarettes doctors prefer belies at least a cursory health concern. Well, as long as you smoke Camels, you’re ok.

I’m getting seriously sidetracked here, but it’s an interesting tangent, so I’ll keep going. A nice thing to see was the attitude expressed towards the servicemen in the military fighting the war in Germany and Japan. Each week, a particular soldier was honored for service to his country — usually, some outstanding achievement in battle was described — and in that soldier’s honor, Camels donated 300,000 cigarettes to military personnel abroad. After the war ended, the cigarettes were donated to military hospitals (!). This country’s support of its servicemen during World War II, as evidenced by the surviving media materials from the time, was wonderfully admirable. Imperfect, surely, but comparing World War II to Vietnam, the other extreme, is a shock. But again, the idea of supporting the troops by giving out free cancer agents is a bitter irony.

DeVry Camera

Finally, here’s an ad for a brand of movie camera. Is it possible to imagine how sleek and modern that piece of machinery must have looked in 1928? No, to me it looks like a terrible attempt at a piece of espionage equipment. You carry around something that looks like a small suitcase, but really you’re secretly filming confidential proceedings. Well, it’s a secret if everybody ignores the humongous lens sticking out the side.

Actually it’s impressive that they were able to make something seemingly fairly portable this early. A lot of the earliest films are so static largely because the cameras were so big and heavy that they were impractical to move. But here’s a camera that looks mobile, relatively speaking, which had to be especially important for newsreels.

I don’t recognize most of the men in the portraits. Sam Wood is a pretty big time director, though, who was one of the directors on Gone With the Wind. His own films include some greats, like The Pride of the Yankees (1942) with Gary Cooper and Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939) with Robert Donat. Charles Hutchison, mentioned (and misspelled) in the ad, was not a name familiar to me, but one of his early films was apparently called Miss Trillie’s Big Feet (1915) which is as fine a title as you could ever ask for.

1 Comment »

  1. Nyperold (116) said,

    September 13, 2007 at 12:39 pm

    Hey, it’s just like a player piano, only it’s an organ!

    I had, and maybe still have, the classic “Who’s On First?” story on audiocassette, and yeah, it’s kinda funny to hear that kind of advertising. I can’t even remember ever having seen a cigarette ad outside of a magazine. But then, how many products have been on the market throughout history, where they’ve been out there a while, and some people start saying, “Hey, there’s a problem with this product,” and other people go, “Bah! Scientific studies have shown that this product is perfectly safe,” and then after a while, they figure out that there actually is a problem, and pull it, or put advisories on it.

    It’s one of those deals where the problem takes longer to surface than the test period takes into account, and by the time they have problems, the product is out on the market.

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