Selling Steve McQueen – Pressbook for “Nevada Smith” (1966)

Truth never stopped producer Joe Levine. Not finding in the film the requisite image to encapsulate the struggle of Nevada Smith he just invented one. The iconic poster of Steve McQueen with rifle over his shoulders did not appear in the movie. Yes, in the early part of the picture Nevada Smith trekked through the wasteland. But that was minus any weapon, unless you count the broken pistol he had found under a wrecked wagon. Naturally enough, if he did have a rifle at that point, presumably Levine surmised, that’s exactly how he would have carried it.

Levine was an unusual character even by Hollywood standards. He was pretty much the first to invent the metaverse, the extended world within which a main character revolved, having sourced Nevada Smith from the Harold Robbins bestseller The Carpetbaggers which he had turned into a blockbusting film in 1964, and by dint of picking up the story of Nevada Smith at an earlier age than in the movie created a “prologue,” better known these days as a prequel or an origin story. Better still, it was two pictures for the price of one book.

Of course, it wasn’t Levine’s idea to make a prequel, or at least that’s how the publicists spun it. “It doesn’t happen very often,” begins the Pressbook, “but it happens, a character in a motion picture intrigues the fancy of fans to such an extent that they write the producer and beg more of him. Instead of wanting to know more about this fascinating character, the public wrote in asking how this intriguing character got that way.” 

Levine took quite a different approach to marketing a movie than other producers. He tended to concentrate on one central image, creating a single core advertisement rather than, as other studios did, churning out a host of different adverts to meet the various perceived needs of exhibitors. And he also liked to fix subsidiary characters in the audience’s mind by providing nuggets of information about their personalities in the poster.

Assuming McQueen was such a big star, exhibitors didn’t need any more juicy nuggets, so the first two editorial pages of the Pressbook concentrate on everything but McQueen. And given that the star’s production company, Solar, was involved in the making, it seems McQueen was exactly of the same opinion. The biggest plug went to Henry Hathaway (The Sons of Katie Elder, 1965), “one of Hollywood’s most celebrated directors,” credited with inventing the action picture three decades before with Lives of the Bengal Lancers. But “action was never permitted to get in the way of the story which, Hathaway always insisted, was of prime interest.”

Five-time Oscar nominee Arthur Kennedy, rather than the second-billed Oscar-winner Karl Malden, came next in the promotion stakes. Kennedy epitomized the importance of a stage training for actors, borne out by the fact that, except for McQueen, all the main players received their training in the theatre. Brian Keith, however, addressed the downside of being in a long-running play. “It means you’re tied down,” he complained, “nothing to do every afternoon, can’t go anywhere or do anything, you have to keep yourself fresh for the evening.”

The Pressbook was surprisingly short on the kind of journalistic snippets that an exhibitor might feed to a local newspaper. That Suzanne Pleshette had a pathological terror of snakes, that Pat Hingle had nearly died after falling down an elevator shaft, and that Hathaway had given Karl Malden his big break were the closest the Pressbook came to anything that might interest a newspaperman.

The iconic image of McQueen shouldering the rifle was mostly used on its own in teaser adverts. For the main advert, that was placed centrally above a montage of scenes from the picture and at the foot came the one-liners about the other characters. Tom Fitch (Karl Malden) was described as “he treated Nevada like a kid – then spent a lifetime regretting it” (not true as it happens). Jonas Cord (Brian Keith) – “he taught Nevada how to kill – then got out of the way.” Bowdre (Arthur Kennedy) – “the bravest man in the world with a gun – and a coward when he faces one” (not true either). Pilar (Suzanne Pleshette) – “she found Nevada in jail and he loved his way out.”

While the main advert, outside of the teasers, was the only advert, there were more taglines. And quite wordy at that. “Some call him savage – and some called him saint…some felt his hate – and one found his love…some had to run – and three had to die…and there never was another like Nevada Smith.” (Incidentally, he had two lovers, not one.) A second tagline ran: “From the California gold fields to the Louisiana bayous, he drank and killed and loved and never forgot, how to hate!”  There was a third, briefer, tagline – “Now a name…soon a legend” and that sometimes prefixed the other taglines.

In terms of tie-ins, there was little. Possibly The Carpetbaggers had already done the work for Levine. The novel had been the biggest-selling fiction since the turn of the decade, around six million copies printed, so it was the ultimate “pre-sell” with a movie tie-in edition, front and back covers bearing testament to Nevada Smith. Pocket Books was one of the biggest publishers in the country and there were over 20,000 outlets for paperbacks including book stores, drug stores, and newsstands. Window banners, rack cards, counter displays and dump displays meant pedestrians would be passing an artillery of promotion every day.

Selling James Bond: Part Two – Pressbook for “Thunderball” (1965)

Wooing the audience was no longer required after Goldfinger (1964) had broken the box office bank. Thunderball, claimed producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, was “the hottest merchandise campaign you have ever handled” as the first four pages of the Pressbook went to show. No longer was there a retailer free-for-all with companies which had nothing to do with endorsements jumping on the Bondwagon.

The potential for promotional tie-in was so high that retailers and manufacturers were willing to spend a fortune to become involved and, in so doing, provide a massive spread of free advertising. Colgate had an entire line of toiletries for men including after shave, shaving lotion, deodorant, and talcum powder, each item branded with the 007 logo with Colgate investing in a massive advertising campaign aimed not just as men but the women who buy for men.

Shoe-wear manufacturer Endicott Johnson set up a nationwide contest through the Montgomery Ward chain of stores. Customers were invited to participate in a free sweepstake and store managers were encouraged to become active in promoting Thunderball at sales points throughout their shops.

Toy manufactuer A.C. Gilbert had devised a James Bond 007 Road Race which would be promoted in the biggest marketing campaign in Sears Roebuck history to 60 million homes. The catalog would feature a five-page spread. “Beatles fans will be reached through a TV buy that Sears has made advertising the Road Race on ABC-TV’s Beatles Cartoon Show.” Adlers Slacks was the exclusive licensee for James Bond 007 Boys Slacks – with two hidden pockets. Revere Knitting Mills was promoting four sweaters “as worn by James Bond.”

Other licensed products included The Official James Bond Secret Agent 007 Shooting Attache Case, Harry Diamond sports shorts with the Bond logo, Allison tee-shirts and sweat shorts, bubble gum and trading cards from the Philadelphia Chewing Gum Corp, and a walkie-talkie set from Gabriel. In addition, Weldon was selling “007 Pyjamas – Go to Bed Dressed to Kill,” Voit manufactured underwater equipment, Spatz advertised its trenchcoats in Playboy, Trimount clothing range included items for men and boys, and Milton Bradley had four board games and six jigsaw puzzles.

So for the first time in history, exhibitors had to do nothing to attract customers, no zany attention-grabbing gimmicks required, because the massive cross-promotional campaign devised by the producers ensured that potential moviegoers could hardly go anywhere without coming across something alerting customers to the movie.

All this was in addition to the normal standard promotional tools such as original soundtrack album and paperback movie tie-in. Tom Jones had released a single and six other artists had brought out instrumental singles and albums. Trade magazine Cash Box noted that the Bond name signified “something big in the worlds of film and music…many labels have themed LPs after the valuable James Bond Agent 007 image.” Signet had brought out the movie tie-in paperback with artwork on front and back covers.

The bulk of the Pressbook was taken up with advertising and information about the licensed products leaving just three pages for the editorial section. By now of course Sean Connery was a big box office star so he received considerable coverage, explaining that he had been chosen for Dr No as a result of a London newspaper poll. There was space too for the movie’s playgirls – former Miss France Claudine Auger, villainess Luciana Paluzzi best known to American audiences through the Five Fingers television series, Molly Peters and a return for Martine Beswick who had appeared in From Russia with Love.

Not surprisingly, the Aston Martin DB5, which had caused a sensation in Goldfinger, also returned. The customised version cost $45,000 (worth $400,000 today), compared to the usual price of $13,000, and came complete with twin Browning machine guns, tire slashers, revolving number plates, radar screen, ejector seat, and retractable bullet proof shields.

Selling the Obvious: Pressbook for “Kisses for My President” (1964)

Fred MacMurray doesn’t actually wear a woman’s hat in this picture, he just imagines himself wearing one. But that image was all it took for the marketeers to do it to death. Warner Brothers clearly believed the picture was going to be a winner and produced a whopping 32-page A3 Pressbook (double the normal size) in a bid to persuade exhibitors of its potential. That included a blockbusting two dozen adverts. Although in the 1960s as this series on Pressbooks has shown, movies were not sold just on the basis of one core image, but even so a limit was generally called when the number of options reached eight or nine.

On top of that, the Pressbook writers provided interesting copy for editors who might file a snipper or two around the movie’s launch. Arlene Dahl, for instance, contended that a large proportion of the most prominent women in history – Salome, Cleopatra, Elizabeth I – had, like her, red hair. Writing a syndicated beauty column, Dahl also offered advice on wearing perfume.

Eli Wallach put forward a convincing argument for remaining a supporting actor. “Get your name above the title,” he opined, “and if you make a hit you have to play the same thing over and over – the actor gets sick of the monotony and sooner or later so does the public.” Polly Bergen, who based her screen wardrobe on Jackie Kennedy, argued that ordinary women were well turned out in America whereas abroad that was the preserve of the wealthy. Starting out in Wisconsin Fred MacMurray scraped paint off cars for $20 a week.

To get exhibitors in the mood to sell a political comedy, the Pressbook offered eight “punchy and funny” spoof campaign posters, suggesting they be positioned in door panels or along one wall in a straight line and on a voting booth in the lobby. Expanding on the concept in their local area, exhibitors were encourage to recruit an important woman “holding some office” who could be corralled into acting as a “president” embarking on an imitation tour backed up by supporters carrying placards.

Silent screen star Carmel Myers, who manufactured a fragrance line for men, was enrolled by Warner Brothers for a nationwide tour in part talking about the subject that is key to the movie’s subplot – “can a beautiful and glamorous woman be a successful business executive?” A high-flying vamp of the silent era, Myers starred in Ben-Hur: A  Tale of the Christ (1925) and later had her own short-lived television series before entering the beauty business.

Except twice, each of the other myriad adverts stuck with a photo of MacMurray wearing a hat. The taglines, running on the theme of what happened to the female President’s male consort, varied only slightly. “When a woman becomes President, what happens when her poor husband becomes First Lady?” / “President arrives in New York today, leaves First Lady home with knitting”/ “Women rise, men revolt, everybody cheer”

Inevitably, advertising focused on politics. “Republicans and Democrats agree this is the funniest picture you’ll ever see” / “First male First Lady takes Washington by storm” / “Is America prepared for the first woman president and her First Lady?

Some taglines took a different approach. “This year a woman will be elected President of U.S….and a man will be elected to the Comedy Hall of Fame” /”Vote the sdtraight ticket (the movie ticket, we mean” / “When you cast your next vote for President, be sure to do it at (this) theatre” / My father is the hostess with the moistest.” 

Selling James Bond – Pressbook for “From Russia with Love” (1963)

United Artists had two concepts in mind when it came to marketing the second in the James Bond series From Russia with Love (1963). The first, and quite audacious notion, was to tell anyone who hadn’t seen Dr No (1962) much they had missed. Producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman reckoned 69 million moviegoers across the world had seen Dr No, but America only accounted for a small fraction of that total. So their mission was to ensure that American audiences did not miss out again on the “throbbing world of hot-blooded excitement.”

To target that marketplace, the adverts were more like a relaunch, not a sequel, and the taglines began with “Meet James Bond, Secret Agent 007.” And then, “For those unlucky few who missed Dr No…You are unprepared for the sophisticated mayhem and polished lovemaking. The James Bond bug has not bitten you. But take heart! There is still time to jump on the Bond bandwagon with the second James Bond adventure From Russia with Love. See it and we guarantee – you will be hooked for good.” The final exhortation: “Don’t you think it’s time you met secret agent 007?”

But of course James Bond already had some kind of fan club in the States. “James Bond Is Back!” screamed the alternative advertisements. For both, however, the emphasis was on the new. “His incredible new women! His new incredible enemies! His new incredible adventures!”

“Target: the unkillable James Bond 007. Blast him! Seduce him! Bomb him! Strangle him!” The tone of the adverts suggested something entirely new. While heroes in thrillers could expect to face danger at every turn, and while a romance might sweeten the pot, there would not be a selection of alluring scantily-attired women. “For those who saw Dr No, consider yourself fortunate. Now you are prepared for the further fantastic adventures of that master of intrigue and women, secret agent 007 James Bond, join him in his new thriller From Russia with Love.

To whet the appetite of local newspapermen there was a host of snippets. Oxford University had organized an 007 Society whose members included three lords and the heir to one of the the country’s largest department stores. While James Bond never uses a Windsor knot in his ties, Sean Connery does. Ian Fleming’s Bond novels had sold 30 million copies including six million of From Russia with Love. Four Istanbul mosques featured in the new film as well as an underground cistern a millennium old.

Door posters five feet high.

Beauty queens were always a good bet for coverage – Miss Universe runner-up Daniela Bianchi  won the role of James Bond’s girlfriend after a screen test and former Miss Israel Aliza Gur and former Miss Jamaica Martine Beswick played the fighting gypsy girls. Lotte Lenya was married to Kurt Weill who, with Berthold Brecht, wrote The Threepenny Opera. Sean Connery was fitted out by his own Savile Row tailor Anthony Sinclair and during filming got through ten customized shirts, eight suits, two top coats and a dress suit.

Highly sought-after these days in the memorabilia market are the door panels – measuring 20 inches x 60 inches – which exhibitors would stick to lobby doors but which could also be utilized as displays in stores. Signet brought out a movie tie-in paperback which came with its own promotional material. As there were already other books in the series, booksellers would be inclined to set up a Bond display. As well as the John Barry original soundtrack album, other artists recording material from the film included Matt Monro, Jackie Gleason, Kenny Ball, Al Caiola and Si Zetner, all creating promotional tools.

“Bondmanship” was the overall name given to lifestyle items worn by Bond or which he might wear so tie-ups with fashion stores and retailers were encouraged “no direct endorsement is necessary.” So, for example, restaurants were encouraged to offer “ a menu good enough for James Bond.” It didn’t matter that Bond did not wear a manufacturer’s shoes, ties or suits in the film, just that he might wear them if they were of sufficient quality.

The marketeers came up with a simple stunt: send a set of keys to a newspaper, turn up the next day with a dispatch box handcuffed to your wrist, open it and find inside various promotional items. Or the keys don’t open the case and you need to send for a locksmith. Either way it was important to have a photographer to hand.

Selling The Rat Pack: Pressbook for “Robin and the 7 Hoods” (1965)

Warner Brothers pushed the boat out for Robin and the 7 Hoods with this lavish Pressbook. Apart from roadshows, most pressbooks of the era were around 16-pages A3. But this stretched to 28 pages with a tremendous range of advertisements, taglines and tie-ups plus, easier to accommodate from the exhibitor’s perspective, a healthy number of relatively straightforward marketing suggestions. On top of that, always a great incentive for cinema managers to rack their brains for good promotional ideas, the studio was offering seven cash prizes worth a total of $1,500 – about $14,000 today – for the best individual campaigns as well as a “special bonus prize” of the golf clubs used by Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Bing Crosby for the most original stunt.

With Pressbooks popping through a cinema manager’s door at the rate of one or two or three a week – dependent on how often a picture house changed its program – this one would certainly have made an impact, not so much from its size, but its commitment to the exhibitor. Most Pressbooks began either with information on the stars and the filming or with the advertisements and there was a sense of exhibitors being called upon to fit in with a pre-conceived campaign. Warner Brothers was not the first studio to go down the prize-giving route as a means of attracting attention, but in making the competition the first item on the promotional agenda – two of the first four pages were devoted to it – it certainly ensured it was high priority.

Following the competition came four pages of suggestions for gimmicks, stunts and tie-ins. WB had already tied-up with the The Antique Automobile Club of America and its members were being encouraged to lend out their vehicles to any movie theater planning a stunt. Exhibitors were told that car owners were “pleased to show them off.” There were over 100 chapters/branches of the Club so no shortage of eager participants. A parade of old-time cars in the town or a rally outside the cinema or even a race was guaranteed to attract publicity.

The Roaring 20s was another concept easily adopted – flapper fashions, the Charleston being performed outside the theatre or a dance competition, or girls dressed up in the outfits of the day strolling around town “carrying phonographs and camp stools; at busy intersections they can sit down and play one of the Robin tunes.”  Reward posters could be put up for famous gangsters of the speakeasy period, with photographs of the film’s characters included. A jazz parade was another possibility complete with straw hats and blazers. Setting up a gambling den was another suggestion using “actual gambling equipment captured by the police.”

And all this was before exhibitors could let fly with ideas based on the archery motif since “the words Robin Hood and archery and practically interchangeable.” Archery contests could be staged in a sports store, park, shopping mall or in front of the cinema. Robin Hood hats made of simulated felt with a feather sticking out – or bullet-riddled – were available at a low cost and ideal for giving away to children and to be worn by ushers and other staff as well as employees in other organisations participating in any promotion. Or just handed out to a local restaurant.

On top of that, since this Rat Pack picture was actually a denoted musical in which all the principals sang, there was the best tie-in of all – an original soundtrack album, an easy marketing tool for record shops. WB had also arranged for a book tie-in with Pocket Books, novelization written by Jack Pearl and stocked in 120,000 outlets.  The record, promised WB, would be “on every radio station night and day.” Even though Sinatra was no longer a top recording artist – “My Kind of Town” did not break the Cashbox Top 100 singles chart – his voice and that of his co-stars were exactly the kind of easy listening that appeared to radio addicts fed up with the British Beatle invasion.

The advertising campaign was fairly straightforward consisting of as many of the stars as could be crammed onto a poster – usually the main four plus either Barbara Rush or Peter Falk, occasionally all six. The tagline went hip: “Like we’ve taken the Robin Hood legend and changed the bows and arrows to machine guns…! Like with songs yet!…Like Wild.” The last word might be changed to “Wow.”  An alternate tagline along similar lines went: “In Merrie Olde Chicago, in the days when King Al ruled the land…” And “Gather round all ye swingers and hear this…we’re doing the Robin Hood legend in Chicago’s wildest era…with songs yet!” A final version ran: “Warner Bros right merrily presents the wild idea of doing the Robin Hood legend in Chicago’s wildest era.”

With the box office and recording firepower of Sinatra, Martin, Davis and Crosby and the range of promotional ideas, there was little need to jazz up the Pressbook with journalistic nuggets, but WB did not stint on this count. The appearance of Edward G. Robinson in the genre and studio where he made his name three decades before in the like of Little Caesar was too good an opportunity to miss – more so when the wardrobe department discovered his suit size had not changed. Other cinematic stalwarts from the early gangster picture days included Allen Jenkins and Jack La Rue, now a restaurant owner and making his first WB movie in 23 years.

Elegance was a keynote for Barbara rush’s femme fatale. Designer Don Feld created a range of dinner gowns, coats and negligees which served almost as a disguise for the hard-as-nails operator. Commented Rush, “I am as tough as daddy and just as blood-thirsty. But I play it sweet throughout and never become hard or evil. The role has more substance when you realize this sweet girl has the ruthlessness of a cobra.” Pool hustler Harold ‘Red’ Baker was hired to teach Dean Martin how to perform like a champion player and also set up the shots for the game between Sinatra and Martin. Baker. But the editorial section ran for only two pages, which was a mighty small proportion of the overall Pressbook.

Selling the Exotic – Pressbook for “24 Hours to Kill” (1965)

No matter how small a picture, its budget had to stretch to a Pressbook. Even if the movie would end up on the bottom half of a double bill or a drive-in programmer and did not have much to shout about, it still needed a Pressbook. Low-budget films meant low-budget advertising campaigns unless your name was Joe Levine who often spent far more promoting films than he did making them.

The Pressbook was essential because it was the source of the movie’s adverts that could appear in a newspaper – these came in a variety of sizes so an  exhibitor could remove the one most relevant and take it down to their local newspaper to make up the display advertisement. In the pre-digital era, it was a crude as that, adverts were effectively cut and pasted.

While some Pressbooks could run to 16, 20 or 24 A3 pages in full color, the most basic requirement would be four pages, enough to show the ads and get the basic message across. This was of the basic variety. In this case, ads took up the first two-and-a-half pages, leaving a half-page to list the credits and explain the plot. The final page contained information about the stars..  

Perhaps as revenge for producer Harry Alan Towers not coughing up enough money for a decent Pressbook, his name was left off it. Instead, filing his slot was Oliver A. Unger, more famous as a pioneer of syndicated television, importer of foreign films and producer of The Pawnbroker (1964). In reality, he was an executive producer, in those days that function being fulfilled by someone who either invested in the picture upfront or once filming was complete bought territorial rights.

Artwork was minimal, one main advertisement, one alternative. But more or less the same taglines appear in both. Hoping to hook in the audiences was the notion of “perfumed harem…in mysterious Beirut…where every hour can be your wildest.. and your last.”

Usually films like these boasting a flotilla of European beauties devoted some space to explaining their origins and puffing up their potential. Not so here. Space is just too tight. The only actors covered are Lex Barker, Mickey Rooney and Walter Szelak. Strangely, no mention is made of Barker’s socko career as a German western hero – the notion that Europeans could make westerns remained absurd at this point (A Fistful of Dollars would take three years following completion to reach U.S. screens).

According to the Pressbook, Barker more or less jumped straight from Tarzan to this kind of thriller. Though he had been out of the loin-cloth for more than a decade (Tarzan and the She-Devil, 1953, his final appearance), the 40 pictures he had made since then (including La Dolce Vita, 1960) did not merit a sentence. The Pressbook did carry a quotable quote from Barker explaining his reasons for quitting jungle life: “It made me feel like a male Bardot because I was always parading around almost nude.” This was the type of quote that only made sense until you realised that Bardot did not become a star till three years after he quit playing Tarzan. Still, who was going to argue?

A strict regimen of physical exercise allowed him to keep in the shape necessary for the film which required him to “run for his life, rescue a pretty hostess from kidnap by helicopter and fight off thug after thug.” 

Mickey Rooney gets a better write-up, especially for making the rare jump from successful child star to accepted by audiences for his adult roles. Though the writer of the Pressbook never appeared to actually go the movies. Spot the mistake in this sentence: “Last seen in runaway box office hit It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, World Rooney now appears for producer Oliver A. Under in a drama equally as challenging.” That the first film was actually a comedy and not a drama never seemed to sink in.

The usual promotional material – suggestions for marketing, maybe a record of the soundtrack available, perhaps a theme song to target radio stations, various stunts – was non-existent even though the movie leant itself to a tie-in with an airline or a travel company especially as the National Lebanese Tourist Council had gone out of its way to accommodate the production.

Selling Oscar Winners – Pressbook for “The Slender Thread” (1965)

Just how do you sell a movie about a suicide to an audience for whom such a subject is still taboo? The answer is – you don’t. Instead, you fall back on your stars – and the fact that they are both Oscar winners.

We are pretty used these days to advertising campaigns, especially trailers, focusing on Academy Award recognition – The House of Gucci (2021), for example, boasting umpteen winners and nominees – but it was far rarer in the 1960s when exhibitors expected Pressbooks to provide them with sufficient marketing information to lure in the customers. Oscar success might have been mentioned in passing, forming part of a participant’s biography, but it would not be the entire focal point of the campaign.

The 16-page A3 Pressbook for The Slender Thread does nothing but. There was, of course, a link between the two stars in that Anne Bancroft recipient of the Best Actress Oscar for The Miracle Worker in 1962 had the following year presented Sidney Poitier with his Best Actor gong for Lilies of the Field (1963).

“Two Academy Award winners giving the performances of their lives” is pretty much as far as the tagline writers went in providing exhibitors with something to sell. The subsidiary tagline “when a woman’s emotions sway on a slender thread expect anything” offer little in the way of explaining the film’s content. An image of a phone plays a prominent role in artwork but again without clarifying its purpose. In much smaller writing, at the end of another reference to the Oscars, is the mention of “a motion picture rarely, if ever, surpassed in suspense” but again minus clarification.

You might actually come away with the notion that the drama takes place on the high seas since a ship features in the advertising.

The only other assistance given exhibitors came in the form of reviews which make more mention of suspense. Cue magazine termed it “gripping, bristling tension and suspense all the way.” Kate Cameron in the Daily News concurred – “a high tension suspense film” as did Alton Cook of the World Telegram (“Tantalizing Tension! Nerve-Wracking Suspense!). Nobody mentioned what caused the tension and suspense.

The best bet for tie-ins came from record stores since record label Mercury has organised a “giant merchandising campaign” promoting the Quincy Jones soundtrack. The studio took the chance that exhibitors might take it into their own hands to organise some tie-ups with beauty salons, telephone companies and discotheques since these make an appearance in the picture.     

Quite how 16 pages of the same repeated artwork was meant to inspire exhibitors into, first all, booking the picture, and then, consequently, selling it to moviegoers is never explained.

Year-End Round-Up Part Two: “Other Stuff” Top 20

Regular readers will know that this blog occasionally turns its attention to what comes under the generic title of “Other Stuff.” In the main and still covering movies I’ve reviewed this comprises behind the scenes looks at movies, examines pressbooks or marketing materials and analyses how books were shaped into films. I also focus from time to time on important issues that shaped Hollywood in the 1960s and write book reviews.

  1. Behind the ScenesThe Guns of Navarone (1961). The ultimate template for the men-on-a-mission war picture with an all-star cast and enough jeopardy to qualify for a movie of its own.
  2. Book ReviewThe Gladiators vs Spartacus Vol 1. Stupendous research by Henry MacAdam and Duncan Cooper explains how close Yul Brynner’s version of the Spartacus legend came to beating the Kirk Douglas movie into production.  
  3. Behind the ScenesThe Satan Bug (1965). The problems facing director John Sturges in adapting the Alistair MacLean pandemic classic for the big screen.
  4. Box Office Poison – 1960s Style. Actors and actresses who had been big box office draws at the start of the decade were floundering by its end. This examines which stars while pulling down big salaries were not pulling their weight.
  5. Behind the ScenesThe Girl on a Motorcycle (1968). Cult classic starring Marianne Faithful and Alain Delon had a rocky road to release, especially in the U.S. where the censor was not happy.
  6. The Bond They Couldn’t SellDr No (1962). Despite the movie’s later success and the colossal global box office of the series, American cinema owners were very reluctant to spend money renting what was perceived as just another British film.
  7. When Alistair MacLean Quit: Part One. Rankled by his treatment by his publishers, the bestselling author gave up his bestselling career. And not once, but twice (see When Alistair Quit: Part Two).
  8. Book ReviewDreams of Flight: The Great Escape (1963) in American Film and Culture. Dana Polan’s definitive book on the making of the POW classic starring Steve McQueen.
  9. Behind the ScenesGenghis Khan (1965). A venture into epic European filmmaking with an all-star cast led by Omar Sharif.
  10. Bronson Unwanted. By the end of the 1970s Charles Bronson was one of the biggest stars in the world, but at the end of the 1960s, although highly appreciated in France, his movies could not get a box office break elsewhere.
  11. PressbookDark of the Sun (1968). How MGM sold the action picture starring Rod Taylor and Jim Brown. Fashion anyone?
  12. Selling Doctor Zhivago (1965). MGM’s efforts to create huge audience awareness of the David Lean epic prior to its British launch.
  13. Behind the ScenesThe Night They Raided Minskys / The Night They Invented Striptease (1968). The convoluted background to the attempts by neophyte director William Friedkin to make a movie celebrating America’s vaudeville past.
  14. Advance Buzz. How Hollywood began to take on board the need for publicity long before the opening of a picture.
  15. Behind the ScenesTopaz (1969). Detailing the problems facing Alfred Hitchcock in turning the Leon Uris bestseller into an espionage classic featuring a non-star cast.
  16. Book ReviewThe Gladiators vs Spartacus Vol 2.  Abraham Polonsky’s longlost screenplay about Spartacus is brought to light.
  17. The Miracle of Mirisch. The Mirisch Bros were the top independent producers in the 1960s – the first of the mini-majors – and while releasing classics like The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape were also responsible for a pile of turkeys.
  18. Book into FilmDr No (1962). How the filmmakers adapted the Ian Fleming original to create the James Bond template.
  19. Behind the ScenesCast a Giant Shadow (1965). Producer Melville Shavelson wrote a book about his experiences and this and other material relating the arduous task of bringing the Kirk Douglas-starrer to the screen are related here.
  20. Book into FilmA Cold Wind in August (1961). The novel was a lot sexier than the film, since publishing did not face the same restrictions as Hollywood, and this examines how far the movie went to retain the spirit of the book.

Selling Sharif – The Pressbook for “Mayerling” (1969)

MGM didn’t know how to sell this. So they came up with three different campaigns. The first was the classical illustration of stars Omar Sharif and Catherine Deneuve about to kiss. This image was used for the film’s launch in the U.K. and at the Radio City Music Hall in New York. The artwork could be augmented if need be by various scenes from the film. You would categorize this as the straightforward romantic sell. Sharif after all was the most famous romantic idol of the decade following the monumental success of Doctor Zhivago (1965).

But this was the more liberalized 1969 rather the restrained mid-decade so MGM offered exhibitors the opportunity to promote the picture as a more salacious number, not overdone sexually since that would defeat the purpose of achieving a rating designed to attract the widest possible adult audience, but nonetheless touching on enough of the risqué to satisfy modern cinemagoing taste.

Of the two alternatives, one was considerably more spicy than the other. Using the tagline “No one woman could satisfy him…until he fell in love” this presented Sharif as wanton playboy, wine glass in hand, cavorting with cleavage-ridden woman.  The other approach, though technically more reserved, was as provocative since it highlighted Deneuve’s role as a high-class sex worker in Belle de Jour (1967), the sensational arthouse breakout. The connection would not be lost on the more sophisticated members of the audience.

Nor did the Pressbook avoid the more intimate elements of the drama and in fact the biggest article in the promotional material concerned the “emotional incest” between Sharif as the Crown Prince and his mother played by Ava Gardner – “the abnormally close relationship between the two was noted again and again in records of the era” – and in their first scene together “looked like lovers to the silver screen born.”

Historical films lent themselves to the kind of detail that journalists loved and the Pressbook for a movie set in a magnificent Vienna at the end of the nineteenth century capitalized on this.  As you might expect, waltzes played a key role in the social life of high society. The Pressbook introduced newspaper editors to the concept of “left-waltzing,” a particularly energetic form of the dance performed on state occasions. This waltz had a “strict etiquette” in that it is “forbidden to reverse no matter how dizzy one gets,” explained director Terence Young. Auditioning for extras to participate was made simpler by eliminating anyone who collided with another dancer.

The Pressbook, unusually, also casts light on directorial technique, again in reference to a waltz. This is the one where Omar Sharif scandalizes the court by opening a ball by dancing with his mistress Catherine Deneuve. Young wanted to create the effect of the whirling couple revolving into a world of their own.  To achieve this the stars had to “dance in a perfect circle, keeping a constant distance in the center of the ballroom floor from director of photography Henri Akedan and his revolving camera.”

Initially, Young resorted to “two elaborate and – as it proved – punishing devices since the dance had to be done over and over.” The first saw camera and stars balanced at opposite ends of a rotating “see-saw.” But this moved so fast Sharif lost his balance and Deneuve suffered from dizziness. Next, they were connected by a lasso but this metal contraption struck them so often in the hips it was abandoned. Finally, they reverted to the simplest of solutions, working round a circle chalked on the floor. 

To ensure authenticity, Young was able to film at the Hapsburg Palace, the Karlschirche and the Schonbrunn Palace. However, such was the urge to preserve these antiquities, the stars were not permitted to sit on any of the chairs or even get anywhere close to them, so it was standing room only for days at a time. However, the Vienna Opera House of 1888 was reconstructed on Parisian sound stages.

The marketers were able to take advantage of the current fashion for the vintage look as pioneered by the likes of The Beatles. Under the heading “Groovy Gear,” the promotional gurus encouraged exhibitors to target the university crowd and metropolitan areas with a preponderance of young people who would appreciate the “freaky clothes” and “up-town hippy clothing” like the military garb, long topcoats, high boots and fur hats worn in the film. Even so, the Pressbook originators were remarkably unimaginative when it came to dreaming up stunts and promotional gimmicks. Their best suggestions were a Catherine Deneuve look-alike contest and a competition to list all Omar Sharif’s roles. Rather more ambitious was the idea of inviting high school pupils to write an essay on aspects of the period.

Selling Crime – “King of the Roaring 20s” (1961)

Gambling dominates the 12-page A3-sized Pressbook with the legend of the sinister yet charming Arnold taking pride of place in the editorial section rather than, as would be usual, the actors. So we are given the inside story of the famous betting coup with Sidereal at a New York race track, but fleshing out the man shown on screen, exhibitors also learned that Rothstein was known as the “banker of the underworld,” how he won $600,000 in a poker game and a masterpiece painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds.

Not touched upon in the picture, but included here, was that he owned an art gallery, chartered ocean liners to transport liquor from Europe, ran protection rackets in the garment industry, and was instrumental in creating what became known as “The Syndicate.” In short, the Pressbook set out to built Rothstein up as even more fabulous figure than shown in the film.

As with Jessica, and as pointed out in my report on that Pressbook, the producers took the unusual step of sticking with the one dominant image in the poster of David Janssen (as Rothstein) leaning over a poker table with fistfuls of cash in his hand and Dianne Foster (Rothstein’s wife) at his back– although it’s possible in this instance the single-image approach was to reduce costs since this was in fact a glorified B-picture. The rest of the poster is an amalgamation of various scenes – racehorses, showgirls, people dancing the Charleston, a drive-by shooting. In the absence of one big star billed above the title, a total of 10 actors have their names below or their faces running down the side, almost giving the impression that it is an all-star ensemble picture.

After paying his dues in television with four years as Richard Diamond, Detective (1957-1960), David Janssen was a relative newcomer to a leading role although his performance in a second-billed role in war film Hell to Eternity (1960) had caused him to be touted as the new Clark Gable / Cary Grant. He was lucky that he had already been signed up for King of the Roaring 20s for his next picture after Here to Eternity was critical stinker and box office bomb Dondi (1961).

Other journalistic nuggets included that an Arab sheik once offered 100 camels for British star Diana Dors, Mickey Shaughnessey revealed as a Golden Gloves boxer, Dianne Foster previously taught modelling, and Keenan Wynn had a plate in his jaw. David Janssen’s sister Teri made her debut and their mother Berniece was an extra while Timmy Rooney, son of Mickey, was drafted in to play Johnny Burke as a youngster.

Not surprisingly several promotional ideas aimed at exhibitors revolved around gambling. One suggestion was to place a gambling wheel in the lobby with anyone landing on the numbers 7 or 11 winning a pair of guest tickets. Exhibitors were urged to get in touch with the local vice squad to see if they would donate confiscated gambling equipment for lobby display. Giving away cards that provided information on betting odds was another notion.

To get audiences into the mood of the era, cinema managers could run Charleston contests or a tie-in with a fashion store marketing clothes from the period or attire models as “flappers” to parade around town, especially in an open-top car from the era. More straightforward was a new movie tie-in paperback edition of The Big Bankroll, the book that inspired the picture, published by Cardinal.

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