The Box Office Equalizer

Variety’s experiment in extending its box office coverage beyond main city roadshow and first run showed its first results when analysis of a full year of statistics for 1968 produced data for over 700 pictures rather than the hundred or so that qualified for its annual rentals  chart.

The drawback with the existing annual chart was limitation – films had to earn more than $1 million in rentals (the amount returned to studios from the overall gross) to qualify. The tabulation process simply ignored how hundreds of other films performed and therefore as far as Variety was concerned failed to offer the information exhibitors required to run their businesses in more complicated times when increased product shortage was exacerbated by long runs of either roadshow pictures or movies held over for months on end in first run in the big cities.

The business still primarily operated on a stepped released basis. Movies that opened in roadshow or first run remained in their initial theaters until demand was exhausted and only then moved into second-run or multiple run (Showcase) or the drive-ins, leaving those cinemas further down the food chain crying out for fresh product. What companies were meeting that demand and how their films performed at the box office was generally a mystery.

The expanded chart for 1968 covered grosses rather than rentals (the former the overall take, the latter the part of that that went back to the studios). A sample of up to 800 cinemas nationwide first of all cast light on a whole section of mainstream underachievers. To come to an accurate assessment of how these grosses reflected overall a film’s overall annual performance, Variety suggested tripling the numbers. To reach a rental figure, the measurement of profit, you would need to halve that. (More straightforwardly, add 50% to the figures below to work out the annual amount returned to studios in rentals in 1968 and multiply by eight – for inflation – to put these figures into perspective from today’s point of view.)

Among the films mentioned were Burt Lancaster in The Swimmer which was now shown to have grossed $1.314 million, Burton-Taylor fiasco Boom ($557,000), Albert Finney as Charlie Bubbles ($526,000) and films reviewed in the Blog such as The Shoes of the Fisherman ($611,000), P.J./New Face in Hell($415,000), The Lost Continent ($338,000), Sol Madrid ($268,000), Hammerhead ($233,000), Sebastian ($162,000) and The Girl on a Motorcycle ($104,000).

Others worth mentioning were Duffy ($709,000), Elizabeth Taylor, Mia Farrow and Robert Mitchum in Secret Ceremony ($671,00), Michael Caine in Deadfall ($614,000), Lee Marvin in Sgt Ryker ($417,000), How I Won the War ($321,000), Night of the Living Dead (318,000). When we casually refer to movies as flops, we often have no idea just how big a failure they were – these figures redress that balance.

Reissues pulling in decent business included Thunderball ($867,000), The Carpetbaggers/Nevada Smith ($244,000) and on the back of Sidney Poitier’s elevation to box office peaks the seven-year-old A Raisin in the Sun ($159,000)

Much further down the line came Danger: Diabolik on $24,000 and Subterfuge with just $8,500. At rock bottom, ranked 729th, was Tony Richardson’s The Sailor from Gibralter with $1,000 in the kitty.

The survey also served to highlight the impact of the growing number of foreign imports. While sophisticated fare like Therese and Isabelle ($2.19 million), Francois Truffaut’s The Bride Wore Black ($511,000), Claude Lelouch’s Live for Life ($495,000) and Scandinavian medieval drama The Red Mantle ($396,000) had broken out into the mainstream from their arthouse launchpads, the various strands of the spaghetti western genre would have headed straight for the drive-in or Showcase led by A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die ($865,000) and Any Gun Can Play ($230,000).

In part what Variety sought to show by covering such a wider stream of releases was to assess the growing dominance of the sexploitation picture. Around one-third of the movies featured fell into this category. The Female ($492,00), The Filthy Five ($322,000), Inga ($267,000) and Aroused ($168,000) boasted impressive numbers, especially given the limitations of the survey. The fact that many others – Alley Tramp, Touch of Her Flesh, I, A Woman, Hot Spur, Professor Lust and Brand of Shame – even made an appearance on the extended chart showed inherent demand for this kind of product. That most of these achieved only low grosses in the Variety chart was an indication more of the types of cinemas surveyed. It would be a rare first run house that would book a sexploitationer and even the Showcases steered clear. But that they were mentioned at all was indication of a sea change.

Sources: Syd Silverman, “Computerized Tally of 729 films,” Variety, May 7, 1969, pages 34, 36, 198, 213.

When Box Office Stats Were Born – 1969

On January 1, 1968, U.S. trade newspaper Variety began working on a project that would change forever the way Hollywood operated and the way the public perceived motion pictures. It single-handedly invented box office statistics, the weekly tabulation that is life and death for industry professionals and a terrific game for outsiders, trying to guess how any film will perform in its opening week/weekend.

Although there had been published information on box office, in the 1960s it was not something that generally speaking was of interest to the moviegoer. All the trade papers carried box office details in one way or another. Variety reported the weekly takings in about 300 first-run cinemas in around 20 cities. The rival Box Office magazine considered it more important that figures should relate to a cinema’s average weekly takings and so while not publishing figures produced data on a percentage basis so that managers were not simply blinded by income when they should be concentrating on profit. But while Variety posted a weekly Top 12 chart, it was largely irrelevant because openings were not coordinated as they are now. Variety also produced year-end results but these were based on rentals (i.e. what the studio takes after the cinema share has been parcelled out) rather than gross box office.  

Variety proposed a revolution. Instead of this haphazard manner of gathering statistics, it would turn the whole issue into a cohesive, substantive whole. Investing in an IBM 360 computer, Variety sampled around 650-800 cinemas each week for an entire year in 22-24 of the largest markets plus smaller cities in the country. Given that there were about 14,000 theatres in total in the U.S. this might seem a ridiculously low sample, but in fact about 80% of a movie’s revenues came from a disproportionately small number of cinemas. Cinemas in big cities might have upwards of 1,000 seats with patrons paying top dollar while cinemas in small towns might only have a couple of hundred seats, only play movies for a couple of days, and charge their customers a fraction of big city prices.

Comparisons were made with the Nielsen system used to estimate U.S. television viewing figures which based its reports on a sample of less than 10,000 for an overall audience of 200 million. After running the pilot for a year and comparing it to overall box office, the magazine reckoned that its figures could be multiplied by three to give an accurate measure of how any picture was performing on a nationwide basis.   

The pilot year of 1968 covered  729 titles – far more than might appear in any of the weekly reports – with a total of 35,510 playing weeks and was able to collect figures relating to the number of weeks a movie featured in the chart – i.e. whether a film had “legs” – as well as overall gross. Variety’s previous annual summation involved less than 100 movies because the annual box office chart only covered films which had taken in $1 million or more in rentals. This meant a gross in the region of $2 million.

But low-budget films found it harder to take a big percentage of the box office gross. Where a big picture from a major studio could command at least a 50% share, the smaller pictures often had to do with 30-40% (as I previously reported, Dr No only got bookings in the U.S. by agreeing to take a 30% share of the gross). So for a smaller picture to reach the $1 million rental threshold often meant it had to take in more at the box office than a bigger-budgeted film, perhaps as much as $3 million. Inevitably, such films were not well represented on the annual  chart. In other words, profit outweighed popularity.

But by looking only at gross, and setting down no minimum qualification, the pilot study was able to include far more titles and to bring to wider attention how well, comparatively speaking, some of the less highly-regarded titles performed. By and large box office reporters concentrated on the top films, the roadshows and other big-budget pictures, but “of greater interest,” according to Variety, “is the listing of so many exploitation and sexploitation films about which little is said apart from notorious examples. Reissues, too, are well represented and some are surprisingly high on the list.” 

Variety set out to produce a Weekly Top 50 Chart, based on grosses, to act as “a good barometer of films in current exhibition and their relative positions in regard to each other. The fact that most of the films play through most of the markets results in statistical standardization or any errors in reports and doesn’t change the essential relationship of a film to its competitors.” Receipts for each entry in the Top 50 would show the number of cities and theaters – broken down into Roadshow, First Run and Showcase (ie multiple run) – in which the movie was playing.

The weekly Top 50 made its bow on the April 23, 1969, edition, reporting figures for the week ending April 16. Topping the chart was Disney’s The Love Bug (1968) with $551,000 – equivalent to $4.1 million today – from 15 theaters, mostly First Run with two Showcase bookings. Runner-up Where Eagles Dare (1968) hoisted $396,000 from 22 First Run and 6 Showcases. Third came They Came to Rob Las Vegas (1968) on $311,000 from 44 cinemas, 42 of which were Showcase. Fourth and fifth were long-running musical Roadshows, Oliver! on $308,000 from 16 theaters and Funny Girl on $307,000 from 21. The presence of heist picture They Came to Rob Las Vegas with no major stars taking such a prominent position justified the chart’s existence. Exhibitors risking a booking would see at once that it was best played in a Showcase release and could generate a decent average.

Further down the chart the $116,000 from just three outlets for I Am Curious Yellow (1967), in 22nd spot, indicated its box office potential. That was hardly the case for crime drama The Devil’s Eight (1969) with just $67,000 in its opening week from 15 Showcase engagements. Showing initial promise were Hall Bartlett’s college drama Changes (1969) – $25,000 from three – and British shocker Baby Love with $19,000 from two.

The following week (for week ending April 23) the Top Five were comedy western Support Your Local Sheriff (1969) which cornered $572,000 from 58 theaters – 43 Showcase and 15 First Run – in twelve cities, The Love Bug, Where Eagles Dare, Funny Girl and Oliver!   

SOURCES: Syd Silverman, “Computerized B.O. Chart Due,” Variety, April 16, 1969, page 3; “Computerized Tally of 729 films,” Variety, May 7, 1969, pages 34, 36, 198, 213; “Top 50 Weekly Grosses,” Variety, April 23, 1969, 11; “Top 50 Weekly Grosses,” Variety, April 30, 1969, 13.

Year-End Round-Up: Top 30 Films Chosen by You

Top 30

This isn’t my choice of the top films of the year, but yours, my loyal readers. This is a c chart of the films viewed the most times over the full calendar year of January 2021 – December 2021.

  1. The Secret Ways (1961). Richard Widmark in spy thriller set in Hungary during the Cold War and adapted from the Alistair MacLean novel. Senta Berger has a small role.
  2. Ocean’s 11 (1960). Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and the Rat Pack embark on an audacious Las Vegas robbery.  
  3. Pharoah (1966). Epic Polish picture about political shenanigans in ancient Egypt.
  4. Age of Consent (1969). Helen Mirren stars as the nubile muse of jaded painter James Mason returning to his Australian roots.
  5. The Venetian Affair (1966). Robert Vaughn hits his acting stride as a former CIA operative turned journalist investigating suicide bombings in Venice. Great supporting cast includes Elke Sommer and Boris Karloff.
  6. The Golden Claws of the Cat Girl (1968). Cult French movie  starring Daniele Gaubert as a sexy cat burglar.
  7. Moment to Moment (1966). Jean Seberg is caught up in a Hitchcockian murder plot in the French Riviera. Also features Honor Blackman.
  8. It’s Not All Rock’n’Roll (2020).  Ageing rocker Dave Doughman aims to mix a career with being a father in this fascinating documentary.
  9. 4 for Texas (1963). Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin face off in a Robert Aldrich western featuring Ursula Andress and Anita Ekberg with Charles Bronson in a smaller part.
  10. Once a Thief (1965). Trying to go straight ex-con Alain Delon is coerced into a robbery. Ann-Margret is a revelation as his wife. Jack Palance, Van Heflin and Jeff Corey add up to a great supporting cast.  
  11. Stiletto (1969). Alex Cord as a Mafia hitman wanting to retire is pursued by tough cop Patrick O’Neal. Britt Ekland heads a supporting cast which includes Roy Scheider, Barbara McNair and Joseph Wiseman.
  12. Subterfuge (1968). C.I.A. operative Gene Barry is called to London to uncover a mole in M.I.5. Joan Collins provides the romance. Richard Todd, Tom Adams, Suzanna Leigh and Michael Rennie lend a touch of class.
  13. The Swimmer (1968). Burt Lancaster delivers a superlative performance as a man whose life is falling apart.
  14. The Rock (1996). Blistering thriller starring Sean Connery as an ex-inmate of Alcatraz helping Nicolas Cage infiltrate the island to prevent mad general Ed Harris destroying San Francisco. Michael Bay directs.
  15. The Sicilian Clan (1969). Alain Delon joins forces with Jean Gabin to pull off an daring jewel heist with tenacious cop Lino Ventura on their trail. French thriller directed by Henri Verneuil.
  16. The Naked Runner (1967). With his son held hostage, Frank Sinatra is forced to carry out an assassination in East Germany.
  17. A House Is Not a Home (1965). Biopic of notorious madam Polly Adler (played by Shelley Winters) who rubbed shoulders with the cream of Prohibition gangsters.
  18. Pressure Point (1962). Prison psychiatrist Sidney Poitier must help racist Nazi Bobby Darin.
  19. Genghis Khan (1965). Omar Sharif plays the legendary warlord who unites warring Mongol tribes. Stellar cast includes Stephen Boyd, James Mason, Francoise Dorleac, Eli Wallach, Telly Savalas and Robert Morley.
  20. A Twist of Sand (1968). Beleaguered smuggler Richard Johnson spars with Jeremy Kemp in thriller about hidden diamonds in Africa. Honor Blackman is along for the voyage.
  21. Jason and the Argonauts (1963). Ray Harryhausen special effects dominate this legendary tale of the hunt for the Golden Fleece.  
  22. Dr Syn Alias the Scarecrow (1963). Disney movie that was turned into a mini-series in the U.S. starring Patrick McGoohan as the eponymous Robin Hood-type character who assists smugglers.
  23. The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard (2021). Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson reunite for wild sequel also featuring Salma Hayek and Antonio Banderas.
  24. Dark of the Sun / The Mercenaries (1968). Rod Taylor leads a private army into the war-torn Congo to rescue a cache of uncut diamonds. Jim Brown, Yvette Mimieux and Kenneth More co-star. Based on the Wilbur Smith bestseller.
  25. The Guns of Navarone (1961). Classic war mission picture with an all-star cast of Gregory Peck, David Niven, Anthony Quinn, Stanley Baker, Irene Papas and Gia Scala. Adapted from the Alistair McLean bestseller.
  26. Maroc 7 (1967). Gene Barry infiltrates a gang of jewel thieves in Morocco operating under the cover of a fashion shoot. Dazzling female cast includes Elsa Martinelli, Cyd Charisse, Tracy Reed and Alexandra Stewart.
  27. The Satan Bug (1965). John Sturges adaptation of Alistair MacLean pandemic thriller stars George Maharis, Richard Basehart and Dana Andrews.
  28. Five Golden Dragons (1967). Cult thriller with Robert Cummings as the playboy caught up in an international crime syndicate. Klaus Kinski and Christopher Lee head an exceptional supporting cast that also includes Margaret Lee, Brian Donlevy, George Raft, Dan Duryea and Maria Rohm.
  29. Claudelle Inglish (1961). Diane McBain as the poor farmer’s daughter who wants to get rich quick.
  30. Jessica (1962). Angie Dickinson plays a young widow who turns so many heads in a small Italian town that their wives seek revenge.

When Alistair MacLean Quit: Part Two

After the publication of Ice Station Zebra in 1963, Alistair MacLean’s adoring public had to wait three years for its successor – When Eight Bells Toll. As he done before, the author just quit. But unlike the previous disappearing act, when he continued to produce books under the pseudonym of Ian Stuart, this time nothing came down the prolific pipeline. The goose had laid its last golden egg.

After a five-year tax exile in Switzerland, MacLean had returned to Britain in 1962, setting up home first in Farnham, Surrey, followed by a brief hiatus in Ireland before settling down in a Georgian mansion with a two-acre estate in Haslemere, Surrey.

Film tie-in paperback of what might have been Alistair MacLean’s final book.

But as he delivered the manuscript of Ice Station Zebra to publisher Ian Chapman of Collins, he dropped a bombshell. He had made more than enough money. He was fed up with the high-and-mighty attitude of his editors. He was depressed by the sales of Fear Is The Key, which had been a writing breakthrough for him. He had written his last book. Now he was going to become a hotelier and to that end had bought the famous Jamaica Inn plus Bank House at Worcester and the Bean Bridge Hotel in Somerset.

The 400-year-old inn, immortalized by the Daphne Du Maurier book and Alfred Hitchcock film, was a solid going concern, takings from accommodation and food augmented by income from three bars and a souvenir shop. MacLean was a hands-on manager and felt immediately more at home dealing with real people than sitting in a lonely room pounding out his fiction. He had come to the conclusion that writing novels was “not a moral way of earning money.”

In dreaming the dream, he was especially particular, having inspected over 100 hotels before plumping for Jamaica Inn. He had the idea that hotel-keeping was in his blood. His younger brother Gillespie was a hotelier and since he could not afford a hotel of his own Alistair had bought him one near Fort William. Gillespie, however, was less than enthusiastic about the notion of operating three hotels far apart, and doubted his brother’s skills. Alistair showed little aptitude for running a business. He failed to understand the importance of stock-taking and before he could get to grips with the basics had already invested in a beer-making operation.

In despair he turned to his older brother Ian who was a high-flyer at Shell. Sensibly, Ian did not give up the day job but trying to keep an eye on a failing enterprise proved impossible. Alistair lacked people-management skills and was a poor judge of character. It was no surprise the hotels failed to flourish.

That Alistair MacLean returned to writing at all was the result of a leap of faith by producer Elliot Kastner who had parlayed $1,000 for the rights to Ross MacDonald novel The Moving Target and another $5,000 for a screenplay by William Goldman into a $3.3 million private eye picture Harper (1966) starring Paul Newman, along the way netting a cool half a million bucks for himself. In Britain to make Kaleidoscope (1966) with Warren Beatty, Kastner opened a production office at Pinewood. Aware that MacLean had no books to sell, his entire portfolio already snapped up and since his retirement nothing in the locker, he went down another route. He suggested MacLean write an original screenplay, offering $100,000 plus a share of the profits and the book rights.

Apart from the money they brought in, MacLean had not been too happy with Hollywood’s treatment of his novels. Richard Widmark had substantially altered The Secret Ways (1961), Carl Foreman had not only added characters to the film version of The Guns of Navarone (1961) but appeared to have appropriated the entire work and applied a possessive pronoun to the main title credits as if he had dreamed up the whole thing instead of just, as producer, putting the package together. The Satan Bug (1965), too, had been considerably changed and judging from the number of screenwriters hired for Ice Station Zebra, which had not gone before the cameras at this point, it was more than likely the producers had moved away from the Chayefsky treatment which MacLean had approved.

At least at the start, Kastner seemed trustworthy and his enthusiasm was flattering. After convincing the author that he had an ear for cinematic dialogue, and that his plots were ideal, Kastner handed MacLean some sample screenplays. Although MacLean was interested he told the producer he was too busy to commit right away. Assuming this was a reference to the hotels, Kastner was surprised to learn that, unbeknownst to Ian Chapman, MacLean had already renounced his retirement and was working on When Eight Bells Toll. A deal for Where Eagles Dare was struck on January 15, 1967. Eight weeks later MacLean delivered the screenplay.

Four years after apparently giving up writing forever, he had stumbled into a new career. And it wasn’t just Kastner queuing up to buy his work. Since “you can sell a picture just on the basis of his name,” Alistair MacLean remained a major attraction for filmmakers. By 1969 all 14 of his novels (up to Puppet on a Chain) had been bought for the movies, Ransohoff picking up the rights the previous year to The Golden Rendezvous, published in 1962, lining up MacLean for screenwriting duties.  Another seven original screenplays, with book deals pending, had also been purchased by producers including two sequels to When Eight Bells Toll, a pirate tale Swashbuckler and a western Deakin (renamed Breakheart Pass).

He never quit again.

SOURCES: Jack Webster, Alistair MacLean (Chapmans, London, 1992 paperback) p118-132; “New York Sound Track,” Variety, My 8, 1968, p30; “Film Slump No Problem for Alistair MacLean,” Variety, p35.

What Was On – London’s West End – Week Ending October 11th 1969

A total of 23 cinemas – comprising 22,000 seats – made up the roster for London’s West End, the most important cinemagoing location in the United Kingdom. All films had their British (occasional European or World) premiere here. Eleven cinemas could accommodate over 1,000 patrons, the biggest being the Odeon Leicester Square with 1,994 seats. At the other end of the scale and just round the corner from that Odeon was the Cinecenta, a multiplex of four tiny screens, highly unusual in Britain where the doubling and tripling of cinemas was in its infancy.

Although the roadshow was beginning to die the death in the United States, it remained very big business in London. the longest-running film was The Lion in Winter (1968) still taking £4,803 at the 600-seat Odeon Haymarket in its 40th week, equivalent to $11,046 (taking inflation into account that would amount to a colossal $83,248 at today’s prices). So you can see the advantage of letting films run and run in one location rather than shifting them out as soon as possible onto the circuits. Although roadshow tickets were more expensive than continuous performance, there were substantially fewer showings, a roadshow might be screened 15 times a week compared to 35-40 in continuous.

Top film of the week was aerial spectacular roadshow The Battle of Britain (1969) with an all star cast which took in £17,104 ($39,339) in its third week at the 1,654-seat Dominion. Setting a house record in its debut, Midnight Cowboy (1969), going down the continuous performance route at the 1,004-seat London Pavilion, knocked up £11,577 ($26,627).  Third, with £8,255 ($18,986) was Oscar-winning musical Oliver! (1968) in its 38th week at the 1,407-seat Leicester Square Theatre.

Sam Peckinpah’s controversially violent The Wild Bunch (1969), blown up to 70mm, came fourth at the 1,568-seat Warner Theatre with £8,091 in its seventh week. The sophomore outing at the Odeon Leicester Square of John Wayne and Rock Hudson in The Undefeated (1969) rammed home £6,094. Holding down sixth spot was the 70mm Cinerama disaster epic Krakatoa-East of Java (1968) with £5,091 in its tenth week at the 1,121-seat Astoria.

The Lion in Winter placed seventh. Eighth was a surprise package, Easy Rider (1969), racking up an extraordinary £4,493 in the tiny 272-seat classic Piccadilly. Omar Sharif as revolutionary Che! (1969) was next, first week at the 1,159-seat Carlton bringing in £4,475. Rounding out the top ten was The Fixer with £4,460 in its second week at the 1,366-seat Empire. The last three movies were all in continuous performance.

Reissues were surprisingly popular. Gone with the Wind (1939), also showing in 70mm, was in its 12th week – after a long run at the Empire – at the 1,360-seat Odeon Marble Arch while The Jolson Story (1946) starring Larry Parks played separate performances at the 1,394 Metropole in an eight-week run.

Also making their debuts were Cannes Award Winner Z (1969) at the 546-seat Curzon, The Royal Hunt of the Sun at the 713-seat Odeon St. Martin’s Lane, documentary Footprints on the Moon – Apollo 11 at the 570-seat Rialto, and in move-over The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie at the 550-seat Studio One.

Other long-runners were: Barbra Streisand giving an Oscar-winning performance in musical Funny Girl (1968) in its 38th week at the 760-seat Columbia; Where Eagles Dare (1968), also in 70mm, in its 30th week at the 412-seat Ritz, after a long run at the Empire; Ice Station Zebra (1968), filmed in 70mm Cinerama, in its 28th week at the 1,127-seat Casino Cinerama; Robert Aldrich’s The Killing of Sister George (1968) also in its 28th week at the 648-seat Prince Charles; and Oh! What a Lovely War (1969) in its 26th week at the 972-seat paramount.

Other films still showing include The Graduate (1967) in week fourteen at the 154-seat Cinecenta 4 and Goodbye, Columbus (1969)  in week five at the 820-seat Plaza.  

In those days the length of run a film racked up in the West End impacted on when it would go into general release. So if a film ran for six months in the West End, it could delay its circuit release for that length of time.

Movies were judged as much by length of run as box office. Except in the case of specialize product, a film achieving “legs” was seen as indicative of its future performance. There was  subtle marketing going on here – West End films were advertised every day in the London evening newspapers so if a film ran for six months that was six months of daily exposure of that picture for the rest of the city’s inhabitants who, unable to afford West End prices, were desperate for it to appear at their local cinema.

SOURCE: “Box Office Business,” Kine Weekly, October 11, 1969, p8.

Film into Book – “Hostile Witness” (1968) Movie Tie-In

As you will be aware I have been running a little series of how books were adapted into films and I thought it would be interesting to see what happened when the process was the other way round. I have in general about the lucrative business of novelisations of screenplays as movie tie-ins but never examined any single one in particular. But I came across this book in a secondhand bookshop on holiday and gave it a read.

British writer Jack Roffey had turned his play – a hit in London West End and Australia though less so on Broadway – into a screenplay and was inveigled into making a quick buck by churning out the movie tie-in book, published straight into paperback in Britain by Arrow. It turned out to be an interesting exercise because the play was no longer in circulation and the film failed to get a proper release so the book had to survive on its own without the help of movie publicity or posters outside the chain cinemas.

The book is about 60,000 words long while the play/screenplay probably comprised fewer than 5,000 words so that was a lot of padding-out to do, if that was all the author could manage. Interestingly, Roffey proved himself an adept novelist, taking the opportunity to both clarify the proceedings and mystify the reader even more, accentuating the ambiguities of the initial work. Where the movie glosses over main protagonist Simon Crawford’s (Ray Milland in the film) mental difficulties until brought into question during the court case itself, in the book Roffey lays the groundwork more straightforwardly, recounting the period spent in hospital and, more importantly, his rapid decline after returning to work so that by the time he is arrested his mental health is very poor.

Sheila Larkin’s (Sylvia Syms) unspoken feelings for her boss remain just that, but there is a physical closeness – she catches him when he collapses, briefly nursing him, and she is presented as a woman more aware of her own sexuality. And the door is opened later in the book for a relationship – “intimacy umbrellaed them in soft folds, inviting positive expression.” Equally, when given the opportunity to take on the case, her first reaction is fear: “She couldn’t possibly accept it…it would be a terrifying responsibility for a junior of her standing” and she expects the episode to end in abject humiliation until she catches sight of her boss and registers the fear in his eyes. Thus, Roffey is able to get inside all the major characters rather than have the camera – and the shortage of screen time – dictate the point of view. Other characters, some incidental, are also more fully drawn.

While the play’s dialogue would not have sufficed to carry a book of this length, Roffey has to add considerably to his original material, and in most cases extended conversations are made to count. Perhaps most interesting of all since he is in charge, Roffey can dispense with the need to constantly cut back to the accused during the trial to register his facial reactions and that allows the personality of Sheila Larkins to flower and take true centre stage rather than be constantly undercut by continually focusing on Crawford. Roffey was also an expert on court procedure and the opportunity to delve into that gives the book greater authority.

The book is certainly enjoyable and well-written with some sharply observed characterisations. “Mr Justice Gregory came in, diffidently at first, like a small boy at the edge of a pond, who wonders if the ice will hold.”  Simon Crawford is introduced in court in the opening page thus: “There was an affected boredom is the half closed grey eyes – a calculated indifference to the heat and the coming verdict.” While Sheila Larkins is the opposite – “properly wrung out.”

There’s style in the descriptions. “Gordon Mews is one of those peaceful backwaters that an earlier and more gracious London put aside for a rainy day, and promptly forgot about.” And the book moves along briskly, a crime thriller with the unlucky caught in a web that is closing in fast. Roffey is able to touch on more specifically Crawford’s disintegration and his shock at being tabbed a criminal. Like the film, it was more than passably entertaining.

Interview with Lindsay Anderson – Director of “This Sporting Life” (1963)

At the age of 19 while working on the “Glasgow University Magazine”  I managed to gain an audience with director Lindsay Anderson just after the release of “O Lucky Man!”in 1973. That was at the same time as I did an interview with Albert Finney (previously printed in the Blog). While Finney graciously agreed to a sit-down interview in a nearby café, Anderson was not quite so obliging and the interview was more of a guerrilla affair as I kept on ambushing him while he was working on a new play by David Storey at the Royal Court Theatre in London. To consider Anderson as a film director first and foremost that would be to ignore his exceptional work on the stage – at that time he had completed three full-length feature films compared to five times as many stage productions. This article was published in the October 1973 edition of “Glasgow University Magazine” and runs here in an edited version.

“AROUND LINDSAY ANDERSON: LIVE AT THE ROYAL COURT”

Lindsay Anderson, one of Britain’s foremost film directors, co-founder of the short-lived film magazine Sequence, pioneer of the “Free Cinema” movement, maker of Corn Flakes commercials, was back at work in the theatre – where for over a decade he has established a notable reputation – working on The Farm, the fifth David Storey play to be under his direction.

“When Lindsay Anderson comes to the Royal Court, it’s an event,” says his assistant Hugh Thomas, who had roles in If.. and O Lucky Man!. “He makes everyone work three times as hard. He’s an impossible perfectionist, but he’s very fair.”

Many times during the day you will hear Anderson asking the rehearsing staff: “Why can’t it be better?” and demanding of the photographer John Haines, who is taking the photographs for the official press release, if he is satisfied with the lighting. And if the photographs are okay, how okay is that? Anderson demands precision, concision, honesty, loyalty, total commitment. If you don’t possess these, then don’t go near him. Garrulousness is not tolerated; once a conversation has been milked of its essence, Anderson will cut it short, turning his attention to something else. That is not to say he is not capable of carrying on two or three conversations at once.

If you are clumsy or nervous, Anderson’s attitude will exacerbate your condition. Hugh Thomas is nervous: there is a little dance when they are talking a few feet away from each other – when Thomas speaks he moves quickly, a couple of steps forward; when he stops, he jumps back. There is not, however, any bowing. When he questions you there can be no dishonesty. He will shoot a question at you without warning, demanding an answer which will satisfy him. When Thomas told Anderson I had seen the actor’s performance in Diary of a Madman at the Close Theatre in Glasgow), the director asked if I like it. I said I thought it was good. What did that mean, Anderson demanded. Okay? No, I said, I enjoyed it. Good, was it? Quite good, yes.

Later he demanded to know of me who Rosa Luxemborg was (there is a reference to her in the Storey play). Can you say, yes, I know, and hope that you will not be pursued? Or do you say no, realising that he brooks no lie. And even though he is mildly contemptuous that as a student I am unaware of this personality, he is willing to explain to me her importance. (She was a socialist revolutionary and economist).

Anderson is a great general: he has lunch while working, refusing to let any minor details slip past him. If his army is not good, he will make it so. If it is good, he demands better. He chases after production staff to ensure all the cast get tea. The production is midway through its run so his work today is tightening up various aspects. The previous night had seen a couple of calamities. First was a delay in an actor changing costume. Anderson demanded to see the dresser but was informed that she was not present that afternoon because she was not paid to work until evening. Anderson berated the management. “If they wish to put on plays of the calibre with this cast, they have to pay for it. A change of costume is as important as anything else,” he said. At the previous night’s performance, the man whose task was to  raise the theatre curtain had fallen asleep at his post. Anderson told me that had the curtain not been raised in time he would have gone on stage and apologised to the audience.

“I’m very pernickety about detail on the stage. I think it draws the audience out to you.” A David Storey play usually requires a great deal of detail. For The Contractor (1969), Anderson painstakingly rehearsed his cast in the erection of a tent that was the basis of the action. Home (1970) was more austere, but a completeness, because the details had been filled in. The Changing Room (1971), set in the dressing room of a rugby league team, was a masterpiece of naturalism.

Born in Bangalore, India, 1923, son of a British officer, but three-quarters Scottish – to which he attributes his moral intransigence and refusal to compromise. In the magazine Sequence he lashed out at the British cinema and swore blind by John Ford (he would later write a book on the director). He won an Oscar for the documentary short Thursday’s Children. In 1956 he organised a season at the National Film Theatre (the precursor of the BFI) in London to show the work of new film makers, incurring a great deal of hostility in the process.

But initial acclaim came from the stage. His second production (the play) The Long and the Short and the Tall (by Willis Hall and Keith Waterhouse) at the Royal Court (in 1959) was a major success and he remained there for the next few years, directing plays like Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance (by John Arden, 1959) and an adaptation of Gogol’s Diary of a Madman (1963).

With the commercial success of Tony Richardson’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960), the commercial cinema was ready to accept his powerful film This Sporting Life (1963) from a screenplay by David Storey based on his own novel. Although the rugby background to the film was rough and hard, Anderson was up to it, producing a movie about the ambiguity of Frank Machin (superbly played by Richard Harris) who has a tortured impossible affair with his landlady – as bleak as the puritan frustrated north in which it is set.

Anderson continued working in the theatre, in television commercials, venturing into cinema only when he found it possible to do so without losing artistic freedom. He emerged with two short films, The White Bus, from a Shelagh Delaney screenplay, and The Singing Lesson, made in Poland, by which period he was already work of the script of If… with David Sherwin. He was originally attracted to the script’s original title The Crusaders with its overtones of “idealism, struggle and the world well lost.” He also had the guiding lights of John Ford, Jean Vigo and Bertolt Brecht. “When I worked on the original script with David Sherwin,” he said, “we divided it into chapters. I think we felt from the beginning that If… would be an epic film in the Brechtian sense of the word.”

The basic tensions between hierarchy and anarchy, independence and tradition, liberty and law were highlighted in that semi-autobiographical account of a public school and the three rebels, old-fashioned heroes without being aware of it – who spout “we must be free or die” – who arrive at their own beliefs and stand up for them against the world, if necessary. There are symbolic instances of love and war before the final action set against the ritual of the (school’s annual) Crusaders Day. Mick (played by Malcolm MacDowell) and friends are fighting with their backs against the wall when the Establishment counter-attacks. It is one of the most liberating sequences ever shot, this defeat.

The decision to shoot some of the sequences in monochrome was partly a financial one since the director of photography Miroslav Ondriceck felt he could not guarantee on his lighting budget to produce an overall colour scheme. Anderson incorporated this into the artistic structure of the film, creating the necessary atmosphere of poetic licence while preserving a classic shooting style. Anderson believes it is his job to create the film, his prerogative as an artist. He refuses to go along with modern ideas that the audience creates a film for itself. What interests him most are the qualities of rhythm, balance and composition with a simple technique.

With a Cannes Grand prix for If… Anderson returned to the theatre of David Storey. “We have a very easy relationship and a very good one. I don’t work with him on the writing of his plays and we make very few changes. The first of his plays I did (In Celebration, 1969) was cut a great deal and Home was cut in rehearsal. But David knew that was necessary and we did it with the actors. On a production like The Farm, he comes to the rehearsals and attends the auditions and he enjoys that and if I ever need to refer to him I do. Sometimes he has suggestions to make which are very good and actually he can cut corners for us, certain things he understands better and can explain to us more quickly. There are other things he doesn’t particularly understand because he writes intuitively, too, and we just have to work them out.”

In Celebration and The Farm are plays about families and very obviously about Storey’s own family. Anderson commented: “I remember when we were doing In Celebration it was most painful. On the evening when his parents came to see it David was very worried. I went to Constance Chapman who was playing the mother sand said ‘play her nice.’ How much is from real life I wouldn’t like to guess. Jesus Iscariot, the first novel by his brother (Anthony Storey, also a rugby player), is a cruder form of In Celebration with the child that died at birth etc.”

After lunch the cast comes in to be given notes on the previous evening’s performance. Anderson is very thorough. He told me: “It’s very difficult to tell people they’re good. It’s a director’s failing.” A couple of minutes later, he added, “I think the beginning of Act Three was very good – there you are.” As the actors go away to get changed, Anderson does comment on Bernard Lee who plays the working-class father. “I think he’s brilliant. Bill Owen (who played a similar role in The Contractor and In Celebration) wasn’t convincing enough. It’s hard to cast this (kind of) part because all the elderly actors in England come from a different class, a pre-war class when the working-class weren’t actors. Larry (Olivier) can put on accents but it’s all acting. But John (Gielgud) is very human, very warm. When he comes on he is the character; when he cries in Home it is John crying.”

He is not too pleased with the treatment meted out by Warner Brothers to O Lucky Man! and there is a sense he is reining himself in. “Since I signed a contract to make a film that was two hours and seven minutes long and delivered one that was three hours long I wasn’t in a very good position. It wasn’t my picture. It belonged to Warner Brothers.” Perhaps he is being a bit unfair. He had a budget of $1.5 million for O Lucky Man! as opposed to the £250,000 from Paramount for If…which arrived 56 hours before shooting was about to begin after Columbia suddenly withdrew their support. Perhaps he had a better time than he supposes.

Like the black leather jacket he has been wearing since If… Anderson works with people he can rely on, with whom he has worked before. Malcolm MacDowell who played Mick in If… plays Mick again in O Lucky Man! this time as a naïve coffee-salesman who strikes it lucky in several veins and each time a prospect collapses shifts to new ground, ending up with a smile that is an acceptance of reality but not necessarily compromise. The faces Mick meets are the same actors playing multiple roles, actors Anderson has used before – Ralph Richardson from Home, Arthur Lowe from If… and This Sporting Life, Rachel Roberts from the latter film. Cinematographer Miroslav Ondricek from The White Bus and If… is also on board.

Much of what Anderson brings to bear in constructing a film bears comparison to his stage work and vice-versa. “When I read a play for the first time, I don’t spend an awful lot of time analysing it. I just read it and receive an impression. I usually choose things instinctively anyway. Naturally, if a play is good it’s worth experiencing a number of times but certainly I hope that anyone coming to see a production for the first time is going to have a clear and full understanding of the play than just by reading it or certainly than I did when I read it for the first time. The process of putting a play on the stage is the process of understanding and interpreting it. That is very different from experience of actually sitting and seeing a play directed and performed in front of you.”

The brusque, short, thick-set man whose teeth you never see is still on the ball as the afternoon draws to a close and, eclectic to the last, starts whistling the theme tune of John Ford’s 1944 war picture They were Expendable.

Bestseller Hollywood, Part Three – Novelizations

Novelizations were the hidden secret of 1960s Hollywood. While the decade is better known for widescreen 70mm roadshows, James Bond and the spy deluge, the musical and western revival and the start of the American New Wave, the novelization revolutionized the way films were marketed. By the end of the decade virtually every film released was accompanied by a book tie-in, either a bestseller sold to Hollywood, or a film script turned into a paperback / soft cover book.

At the start of this boom, around 1960, studios virtually gave away screenplays to publishers and allowed them to turn them into novels in return for the marketing angle they could provide.  “Producers looked at tie-in books primarily as an exploitation aid not a source of income,” explained Patricia Johnson of paperback specialist Gold Medal Books in 1962. “Motion picture companies with no  more – and often much less – than a rough script are being besieged by droves of publishers vying for the right to novelize original scenarios.”

The novelizations were usually short – about 60,000 words – and therefore attractively priced for the reading public but they could sell as many as half a million copies. But except in particular circumstances, studios allowed the rights to go to publishers for minute amounts of money. And for one simple reason – marketing. Half a century before social media, there was little advance promotion of movies. The week they were about to be released would see a flurry of advertising, but in general little promotion before that. Even journalists who had attended the press junkets I mentioned in a previous Blog would concentrate their articles into the week of release.

“What a publisher does for a film concern,” said Johnson, “is it creates a nationwide market, a popular anticipation of a film before it would ordinarily be more than a vague glimmer in the public consciousness.” The 125,000 outlets for books included not just bookstores but locations that targeted passing trade with extensive foot traffic. Newsstands in the street, hotel lobbies, railroad stations, department stores, airports and drugstores all boasted racks of paperback books with glossy covers, informing potential moviegoers of forthcoming films. Studios wanted to take advantage of the promotional device that bestsellers turned into movies could generate. For studios they represented an early marketing tool. Incorporating the movie advert or photos of the stars raised awareness of a forthcoming picture long before the first advert had appeared in a newspaper or billboard.

Robert Bloch cashed in on his “Psycho” fame to turn his original screenplay for The Couch into a novel.

One of the earliest novelizations was for Rat Pack heist picture Ocean’s 11 (1960) – pictured at the top of this page – and it showed the format to which publishers readily adhered. As you might expect, the cover featured a still from the movie incorporating the main stars, but there was also, by dictat of the Writers Guild of America (the screenwriters union), mention of the original scriptwriters in the same size of typeface as the authors who had carried out the novelisation.

Very rarely did the original screenwriter undertake this task. For a start, most considered it beneath their dignity. But, secondly, they got paid anyway. The screenwriter automatically received one-third of the fee a publisher paid the studio and the same share of royalties. By the mid-1960s the WGA was negotiating for a set fee of $6,000 (about $50,000 equivalent now) so a nice amount for no work but less appetising for a full-time screenwriter to do the whole job.

Bellah’s novel “The Valiant Virginian” was the inspiration for the TV series “The Virginian.”

But there were exceptions. Robert Bloch decided to turn his original screenplay The Couch (1961) into a novel. But then he had the experience of Psycho (1960) behind him. Prior to the 1960 Hitchcock film, his novel had only sold only 4,000 copies in hardback. The success of the film shifted 500,000 copies in paperback. Bloch must have reckoned his name emblazoned on the cover – and gaining sole credit, fee and royalties – would be more financially beneficial. Western author James Warner Bellah undertook the novelizations of his screenplays for Sergeant Rutledge (1960), A Thunder of Drums (1961) and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962).

But neither would have been as assiduously wooed by publishers as the team of Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick who were jointly credited for the novelization of 2001: A Space Odyssey.  An extremely unusual aspect of this deal was that the novelization appeared first as a hardback. Although based on a Clarke short story, and despite the fact that Clarke was considered one of the greatest names in science fiction, on the writing side movie and book were promoted as joint efforts. Delacorte-Dell forked out a $150,000 advance for the hardback with a 15% royalty rate. Clarke/Kubrick refused to allow the hardback publisher a share of the paperback spoils for which they negotiated a 12-15% royalty, way above the norm.

Note how many credits for the original musical were carried on the cover.

Occasionally the novelization would be undertaken by an author famous in their own right, such as when another sci fi giant Isaac Asimov took on the task of writing the book based on the script of Fantastic Voyage (1966). Famed western writer Louis L’Amour was handed the novelization of James Webb’s script for How the West Was Won (1963). Irving Shulman was a well-known novelist when called upon to turn West Side Story (1961) and The Notorious Landlady (1962) into novels. Screenwriter Adela Rogers St John (The Girl Who Had Everything, 1953) novelized King of Kings (1961). Sci fi writer Robert W. Krepps churned out novelizations for historical epics El Cid (1961) and Taras Bulba (1963), comedy Boys Night Out (1962) and westerns Stagecoach (1966) and Hour of the Gun (1967). Crime writer Jim Thompson novelized James Lee Barrett’s script of western The Undefeated (1969).

Some who took the novelization coin later made their name as bestselling authors in the own right. Marvin H. Albert – later known for the “Tony Rome” private eye novels that were filmed starring Frank Sinatra – was a relatively unknown journeyman writer when he became the go-to author for comedy novelizations, lending his name to the books of Come September (1961), Lover Come Back (1962), Move Over Darling (1963), The Pink Panther (1963), The Great Race (1965) and Strange Bedfellows (1965). Similarly, David Westheimer, a year before he published the bestselling Von Ryan’s Express, knocked out the book of Days of Wine and Roses (1962) from the J P Miller screenplay.

But mostly the novelizations were produced by journeymen such as Richard Wormer (Operation Crossbow, 1965), Alan Caillou (Khartoum, 1966), Ed Friend (Alvarez Kelly, 1966), John Burke (Privilege, 1967), Richard Meade (Rough Night in Jericho, 1967), Ray Gaulden (Five Card Stud, 1967), Jackson Donahue (Divorce American Style, 1967), Michael Avallone (Krakatoa-East of Java, 1968) and Joseph Landon (Stagecoach, 1966).

Publishers were not above picking over the spoils of decades-old scripts. Borden Deal was hired to novelize an un-made 1933 script written by Theodore Dreiser, author of An American Tragedy; Johnny Belinda (1948) was novelized in 1961. There were other departures. When writer-director S.Lee Pogostin received a $10,000 advance to novelize his own Hard Contract (1969) the book that appeared comprised the original script with stage directions and filmic addenda, in part due to the success of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance (1969) which was published as a screenplay rather than being novelized.

No genre was safe. Even musicals were plundered for their appeal to the book-reading public or for moviegoers wanting another way of reliving the film they had seen or getting a flavor of a picture they might consider seeing. As well as West Side Story and The Music Man (1962), there were novelizations of My Fair Lady (1964), Funny Girl (1968) and Paint Your Wagon (1969), an unexpected bestseller thanks to Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin on the cover.

It wasn’t all plain sailing. Hollywood was notoriously lax when it came to release dates, the opposite of the publishing industry for whom such dates were sacrosanct. So a publisher could have put a great deal into organizing the delivery of hundreds of thousands of copies of a novelized title into over a hundred thousand outlets only for the book to molder away on the shelves waiting for a movie which arrived months late – or never at all. Or the movie might undergo a last-minute title change leaving publishers trying to flog a picture nobody had heard of.

SOURCES: “3-Yr Advance Campaign for King of Kings,” Hollywood Reporter, July 5,1961, p2; “Book Notes,” Hollywood Reporter, October 27, 1961, p9; “Book Notes,” Hollywood Reporter, December 5, 1961, p11; Patricia Johnson, “Ego, Yes, Indecision Often, But Love That Hollywood,” Variety, January 10, 1962, p42; “How the West Was Won with L’Amour,” Hollywood Reporter, January 26, 1962, p10; “Book Notes,” Hollywood Reporter, December 5, 1961, p11 “Book Notes,” Hollywood Reporter, January 17, 1962, p7; ; “Willson Novelizing Script,” Hollywood Reporter, February 5, 1962, p3; “Book Notes,” Hollywood Reporter, April 3, 1962, p8; “Book Notes,” Hollywood Reporter, August 15, 1962, p7; “Roger Lewis, Phil Langner and Corp Ready Garrick Production Slate,” Variety, November 13, 1963, p19; “Crossbow Books Tie In with Picture Release,” Box Office, May 31, 1965, pA2; “Stagecoach Screenplay To Become Paperback,” Box Office, March 14, 1966, pA1; “Signet Print Paperback of Cinerama Khartoum,” Box Office, June 13, 1966, pA1; “Divorce American Style Film and Book Tie-Up,” Box Office, June 20, 1966, p12; “Inside Stuff – Pictures,” Variety, August 10, 1966, p24; “Anti-Brush-Off of Writers,” Variety, November 16, 1966, p11; “Gold Medal Books to Print Alvarez Kelly Paperback,” Box Office, September 12, 1966, pA1; “Four Paperbacks Are Set On New Universal Films,” Box Office, September 19, 1967, pA2; “Sci Fi Award Goes To 20th-Fox for Voyage,” Box Office, September 26, 1966, pSW2; “Paint Your Wagon Set for Novelization,” Box Office, October 6, 1969, pA2; “The Undefeated Is Now Available in Paperback,” Box Office, November 3, 1969, pA2; “Inside Stuff – Pictures,” Variety, January 1, 1969, p23; “Advertisement, Krakatoa East of Java,” Box Office, November 17, 1969, p13-18; “Wagon Tie-In into Second Printing,” Box Office, December 1, 1969, pA2; “Marooned Printed in Paperback,” Box Office, December 15, 1969, pA1.

What Raquel Welch Wore in “A House Is Not A Home” (1964)

A few years before Raquel Welch became the poster girl for bikinis, she could not have been in better hands, costume-wise, for her movie debut in this picture. Costumier extraordinaire and multiple Oscar-winner Edith Head, was in chare of the outfits, in particular the lingerie, which, given the subject matter, was often all that was required.

Here, Head was recycling famous movie costumes of old. Whether Ms. Welch’s figure was perhaps too bountiful for the kind of outfits worn by stars in the 1920s and 1930s where bosom size was less of a priority is unknown. You can probably spot her second from the right in the photo above.

The movie paraded famous fashions of the period in more ways than one. Head’s idea was to have the girls sporting lingerie that had been seen in movies from the 1920s to the 1950s when worn by famous female stars. Whether the clothes were the actual pieces worn in previous films, and adjusted to suit, or the designs were based on the previous movies is unclear. An article in Variety asserted that Head had not actually designed costumes for the film but that the producer had simply raided the Paramount costume department, where Head had worked since 1924, for outfits she had designed.

The “nightgown museum” was drawn from films made between 1925 and 1953. The earliest nightgown, worn by Gloria Swanson in The Duchess and the Waiter (1925), was assigned to Gigi Galligan. Meri Wells worn an item previously made famous by Clara Bow in It (1927), Leona Gage used a number from famed clothes-horse Kay Francis in Behind the Make Up (1930), Amede Charbot was adorned with the eye-popping flimsy piece that Carole Lombard paraded in Bolero (1933). Patricia Thomas was given Nancy Carroll’s trousseau from Abie’s Irish Rose (1928) and Lisa Seagram was the second wearer of Grace Kelly’s powder blue chiffon in To Catch a Thief (1955).

However, there were more costumes worn than merely those which had acquired a classic status, all the male outfits for a start plus clothes reflecting the period worn by Shelley Winters and the other stars so it is likely that Head adapted her own previous outfits and augmented those with new costumes for the other players. Head had, of course, been working for Paramount during the 1920s and 1930s so she had firsthand experience of the types of clothes that would be worn.

Edith Head won eight Oscars from a total of 35 nominations. She won each year in 1950, 1951 (twice), 1952, 1954 and 1955 and again in 1961 and 1978 (for The Sting). Even where a film was not a commercial or critical success, there was every chance Edith Head would snag a nomination. Such was the case during the 1960s, up to A House Is Not A Home. In that half-decade she was nominated eleven times. In those days designers were nominated in two categories, films made in color and those made in black-and-white, thus accounting for the double award in 1951.

She won for Bob Hope-Lucille Ball comedy The Facts of Life (1960) and was nominated for John Ford western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962). In the same year as A House Is Not A Home, she was also nominated for the star-studded What A Way To Go! and the previous year three of her films were up for Oscar honors – A New Kind of Love starring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, Wives and Lovers with Janet Leigh and Natalie Wood-Steve McQueen drama Love with the Proper Stranger.  

SOURCES: Pressbook for A House Is Not A Home, p3; “Shelley Winters on Polly Adler: Bad & Ends Sad,” Variety, April 8, 1964, p5.

Bestseller Hollywood, Part Two – Movie Tie Ins

The movie tie-in was such an obvious synergy you had to wonder why it was not employed in more significant fashion prior to the 1960s. The reason was that movie-making and publishing were generally viewed as completely separate entities, only crossing over when books were sold to Hollywood. And up to the mid-1950s, Hollywood had a ton of other, better, more effective marketing tools at its behest. It was reckoned that by 1955 the industry was taking advantage of promotional plugs worth about $350 million a year (equivalent to $3.5 billion today).

In 1948, for example, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House had amassed an estimated $5 million merchandising pot (worth around $56 million today), so much so the booklet listing all the participants ran to a massive 72-pages. Anything that could be sold on the back of a picture – furnishing, clothes, vehicles – provided a mountain of free advertising by the simple device of enrolling manufacturers, suppliers and retailers in a marketing campaign. But by 1960, as television advertising more straightforwardly pitched such goods towards the general public, that well of merchandising dried up.

Film publicists casting about for new exploitation outlets latched onto paperbacks. At the start of the decade, the paperback industry was booming, shifting over 280 million copies a year. Dell, in particular, had come to realise the “remarkable sales impact of books which have tie-ins with a motion picture” and noted that “in most instances (paperback) book sales prior to the picture will be equaled following the release of the picture.” Publishing executive William C. Engel, pointing to the movie tie-in for Psycho, reprinted three times in two months, reckoned that a “big spectacular picture will stimulate sales of a paperback.” At that time Bantam was equally buoyant, with 32 books in the tie-in business on the basis that films increased sales by 50 per cent.

Many moviegoers will fondly remember the 1960s as the glory days of the movie tie in. Sometimes the first time a film fan would get a glimpse of a movie’s advertising campaign was when they picked up the book tie-in. In those days hardcover books were often very plain, little on offer but title and author. But paperback specialists like Dell, Avon, Pocket Books, New American Library, Bantam, Fawcett and Ballantine in the U.S. and Pan, Fontana and New English Library in Britain seemed to revel in glorious colorful titles and were positioned to take advantage of movie advertising campaigns.

While waiting to make the movie, Columbia kept the novel in the bestseller lists by pumping funding into an advertising campaign for the book.

Some studios like Columbia had begun to spend money promoting the books it had bought in order to keep the titles in the bestseller lists until it was time for the movie to appear – a technique later adopted by Paramount to turn Love Story (1970) into a bestseller in the first place.

At the start of the decade, virtually every Twentieth Century Fox release was linked with a paperback. United Artists, in 1961, could count on paperbacks to support ten of its releases – Judgement at Nuremberg, The Young Doctors, Paris Blues, Sergeants 3, Something Wild, Birdman of Alcatraz, The Miracle Worker, The Happy Thieves, What a Wonderful Life and Jessica.

It was an odd relationship in many respects. Studios paid publishers for the rights to film their novels then when the properties they had purchased were turned into films they then helped publishers achieve a bigger bounty, assisting them sell more books by furnishing movie artwork and stills for the covers. Yet there was benefit. Every copy printed was one more piece of advertising for the film, often in places where a studio would not normally advertise and serving as advance buzz.

It soon became apparent that publishers could target potential moviegoers in ways that were too difficult or too expensive for studios. Publishing designers did not need to employ their skills to come up with original covers, they simply took the movie advertising artwork and stills for front and back cover. Occasionally, they would run a photo spread inside. They might even run movie credits alongside the title page. If the sight of a movie advert on the cover of a paperback encouraged the public to consider going to the movie, then the reverse was equally true, movie advertising resulted in increased book sales. Studios used a diverse range of paperback publishers, going where they were likely to get the best promotional deal.

By the mid-1960s every studio was knee-deep in movie tie-ins.

In 1965 Dell had 47 titles sold to studios either for imminent or future production. The Collector, Genghis Khan and Lord Jim were slated for Columbia, there was Harlow for Embassy and The Sound of  Music (based on the Von Trapp Family book) for Twentieth Century Fox. How to Murder Your Wife and The Knack were being filmed by United Artists, The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders by Paramount, Assault on a Queen and The Bride Wore Black set for Seven Arts, and The Cincinnati Kid and The Loved One lined up for MGM.

That same year MGM promoted ten movie tie-ins. Operation Crossbow, The Yellow Rolls Royce, The Sandpiper, She, Joy in the Morning, Once a Thief, Lady L and Doctor Zhivago were placed with publishers other than Dell who handled, as noted above, The Loved One and The Cincinnati Kid. In 1966 Paramount had nine deals with different paperback houses to promote Is Paris Burning?, Oh, Dad, Poor Dad, Seconds, Hurry Sundown, Funeral in Berlin, The Swinger, Alfie, El Dorado and Warning Shot. Disney, which had long been the master of merchandising, contracted with Scholastic Publishing to target schools and libraries.

Studios occasionally ran their own bookstore promotions. This one, in 1968, simply announced that Universal had acquired “Airport,” “Topaz”, “Red Sky at Morning” – all later filmed – and “Vanished” which was not. Most interesting of all, these books were hardcover not paperback,
so this fell very much into the long-range marketing department.

By the end of the decade publishers were desperate to jump on the movie tie-in bandwagon. In 1968 Twentieth Century Fox had pacts with a dozen different publishers covering 19 pictures including Bandolero!, Star!, The Devil’s Bride, Planet of the Apes, The Boston Strangler and The Sweet Ride.  Dr Dolittle came out in 26 different editions through various publishers. The following year MGM pitched in with a half a dozen movie tie-ins including The Appointment and Goodbye, Mr. Chips, already having taken advantage of readership interest in Alistair Maclean hits Where Eagles Dare and Ice Station Zebra, the reissued Gone with the Wind and Ben-Hur, and The Shoes of the Fisherman and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

In 1969, the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO) tied in with National Library Week. Under the cross-promotional tagline “Read These Important Books – See These Important Films,” libraries across the country promoted a variety of current pictures sourced from novels including True Grit, Belle de Jour,  Goodbye, Columbus, John and Mary and Topaz. In return NATO distributed posters advertising the library involvement via 5,000 theaters.

The same year Bantam Books ran a trailer in 100 cinemas for its own “film festival tie-in” of eight books – Goodbye, Mr. Chips, John and Mary, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, Hail, Hero!, Marooned, Topaz, A Dream of Kings and Women in Love.

Although it is often considered that the movie tie-in business began in the 1970s when books spawned mega-hits like Love Story, The Godfather and Jaws, these pictures were in reality only benefitting from the heavy lifting put in during the previous decade.

SOURCES: “Paperback-Film Tandems Zowie,” Variety, February 3, 1960, p5; “Columbia’s Book Bally Budget,” Variety, September 21, 1960, p24; William C. Engel, “Big Stake in Publishing’s 280,000,000 Annual Sale,” Variety, January 4, 1961, p25; “To Issue Paperback Books on 10 United Artists Films,” Box Office, August 28, 1961, p9; “Big Hike in Film Tie-Ins Noted by Bantam Books,” Box Office, November 27, 1961, pA3; “Commercial Tie-Ups Back After Slump,” Variety, December 27, 1961, p7;  “Dell Paperback Tie-Ins,” Variety, January 13, 1965, p22; “Ten Books in Paperback Promote MGM Releases,” Box Office, May 31, 1965, pE-4; “Paperback Books Arranged for 9 Paramount Films,” Box Office, August 15, 1966, pE5; “Scholastic To Publish Disney Properties,” Box Office, May 2, 1966, pA1;  “12 Publishers Print Books on 20th-Fox Productions,” Box Office, February 26, 1968, pA1; “Paperback Book Tie-Ups for 12 MGM Pictures,” Box Office, March 31, 1969, pA1; “Tenth Year for Tie-Up with Library Week,” Box Office, May 5, 1969, p6; “Bantam Books Plans Film Fest Tie-In,” Box Office, November 10, 1969, p10.

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