Pressbooks (also known as Campaign Manuals) were notorious for coming up with all sorts of insane and inane devices in an attempt to entice the moviegoer. The extremely handsome 20-page A3 pressbook for Andrew V. McLaglen’s Civil War western Shenandoah (1965) was no different in that respect – “racetrack in your area – hold a Shenandoah handicap.” Or how about this classic: “In Shenandoah the war stops for a cow that wanders between the fighting…a local dairy might be interested: Everything Stops While The Public Drinks Our Milk etc.”
Luckily, the marketeers had some better ideas, mostly based on the traditional folk song of the title which has a hymnal quality. So star James Stewart was roped in to cut a record, released on the Decca label, with special lyrics of that famous song. For a start the idea of Stewart singing was a clever stunt in itself, but the main aim was not to garner some newspaper coverage but to attract the attention of radio stations and use the record’s cover as a means of encouraging music stores to set up window displays.
And never mind Stewart’s contribution to the canon of singers of the song, the marketing team identified more than 30 other versions of the song by the likes of Harry Belafonte (four versions), Jimmie Rodgers (three) and Guy Lombardo and instrumentals by British jazzman Acker Bilk of “Strangers on the Shore” fame and guitarist Duane Eddy. Decca was putting further promotional push behind an album entitled “The Blue and the Grey, Songs of the American Civil War.”
Theater managers were urged to suggest to radio stations they group some of these tunes together “for an interesting period of broadcast listening, perhaps in a musical segment of Civil War songs or a radio contest to identify the vocalist.”
In addition, the marketing team sought coverage in the television pages of newspapers since many of the supporting cast were small screen regulars – Doug McClure star of The Virginian, Glenn Corbett star of Route 66 and James McMullen a regular on Ben Casey – and newcomer Katharine Ross had been featured in a few shows. “You should take advantage of this away-from-the-amusement-section opportunity to pick up extra publicity space directed to the TV page reader!”
Of course, the main purpose of a Pressbook was to provide the theater owner with the actual advertisements for the movie. He or she would cut these out and drop them off at the local newspaper which would use them to make up the ads that ran in the newspaper. These came in a variety of sizes from small single column black-and-white efforts to larger five-column full-color ads.
And they also came with an avalanche of taglines (note the varying use of capital letters) and images. The key tagline was “Two Mighty Armies Trampled Its Valley…A Fighting Family Challenged Them Both.”
Or you might have come across these alternatives –“Like giants they stood in the path of two might armies…and with their fighting spirit challenged them both” or “James Stewart, A Giant Of A Man Who Fought For Shenandoah” and “When History Called for Men and Women Larger than Life…Charlie Anderson and his proud family answered the challenge – with courage mightier than guns – and with love that no cannot could ever shatter.”
And there were more: “They reached for their rifles in the name of love…not hate…to challenge two mighty armies” down to the simpler “Shakes The Screen Like Cannon Thunder” and “Where A Mighty Adventure Was Born.” You might be led to believe from this fusillade of taglines that the marketing department could not make up its minds about which tagline was best and just chucked them all at the theater manager, leaving them to choose.
But that was not the case. The reason behind the disparate taglines was precisely to provide choice, to allow the theater manager to decide how best to market the picture to suit the audience he or she knew best.
2 thoughts on “Pressbook: Sing, Jimmy, Sing – Shenandoah (1965)”
Wow! Maybe I should plan a visit to my local diary to find out how milk is made! I feel sorry of theatre managers who were encouraged to try sone of these stunts…
Some dreamed up worse stunts on their own. Might dig out some for a future post.
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