There was a curious dichotomy at the heart of promotional efforts for this picture. On the one hand, theater managers were encouraged to make contact with those affected by divorce, on the other to make a great play of weddings and marriage.
So theater managers were told to contact groups such as Parents without Partners, Children of Divorce, Divorce Reform Groups, Alimony Payers and Family Counsellors. Divorce Parties and Divorce Breakfasts were suggested as other sources of publicity. Free screenings were aimed at couples who could prove they were divorced – presumably, that is, if they could still stand the sight of each other.
“Wedding rings can make a very positive contribution” to a promotional campaign was the other side of efforts to sell the movie. That meant possibly offering a wedding ring as a prize in a competition for divorced couples planning to re-marry…”re-marriage might take place at your theater…but it is not mandatory.” Free tickets could be given to jewelers to hand out to anyone buying an engagement or wedding ring. Another idea was a newspaper article on what divorced women did with their wedding rings after they had split from their partner.
Dick Van Dyke had been named “Screen Father of the Year” by the National Father’s Day committee and he had made a national tour in support of the picture meeting the media in New York, Chicago, Miami, Atlanta, New Orleans. Oklahoma City, Rochester, Washington, Syracuse, Boston and Philadelphia so journalists in those localities were already primed to support the efforts of cinemas. In Dallas, he was met by 1,000 people and later presented with a plaque from the Domestic Relations Court because “the ideals of the film serve as a deterrent to divorce.”
Unusually, the fashion boost this time focused on the male. Jason Robards had turned himself into a male model for Ratner California Clothes with advertisements appearing in Gentlemen’s Quarterly. Equally unusual was a suggestion to tie up with a local hypnotist – a scene in the picture involves Pat Collins’ nightclub act.
Van Johnson played a used car dealer in the film so they were also targeted for joint promotions or car parades. Bowling alleys, too, since that form of leisure activity featured in the film. On a more straightforward note Popular Library had produced a novelization and United Artists the original soundtrack album by Dave Grusin.
Mercenaries rampaging through strife-ridden Africa, chainsaw the weapon of choice, marketing to The Dirty Dozen crowd a formality, but how do you interest the rest of the paying public?
“Bright ideas to boost your box office” as computed by the MGM marketeers in the Pressbook fell into four categories: fashion, jungle, diamonds, and military. Oddly enough, the pick of the bunch was fashion. And not what the chic mercenary was wearing. Instead, the focus was on Yvette Mimieux who “took time off” filming to “model sensational creations by Dorothy McNab of Jamaica Fashions.” This picture is set in the Congo and Jamaica is about 3,000 miles away across an entire ocean so where did Jamaica come into it? Well, it was shot in Jamaica and that appeared excuse enough, and it was hoped that cinemas would link up with department stores showing the seven outfits modelled ranging from casual to elegant evening wear.
The jungle seemed a safer bet so managers were encouraged to kit out doormen and usherettes in jungle outfits while tropical plants and foliage and possibly tropical birds could turn the lobby into a jungle paradise. Local military Army reserve or National Guard units could be persuaded to lend military equipment to add to the display and, as a longer shot, recruitment agencies might choose to get involved. Since the main thrust of the picture involves diamonds the marketeers suggested linking up with large jewelry store chains to give away cheap industrial diamonds prior to launch or as a competition.
Since Toyota land cruisers play a significant part in the movie, MGM had set up a promotional tie-in with 1500 dealers coast to coast with the potential for one of the vehicles mounted on a ramp in front of the theater drawing attention both to the picture showing inside and the car itself. In addition, discounted tickets to members of four-wheel drive clubs might bring in customers. More standard material included an original soundtrack album and a paperback book.
Much of a Pressbook’s job was to provide snippets of information that could be fed to local journalists. Former boxer Rod Taylor did some of his own stunts, 6-foot 3-inch 240lb former gridiron star Jim Brown needed his own bed flown in to location, the temperature was so high the actual film had to be cooled down in giant vats of ice, and certain sequences used live bullets. The giant steam locomotive was a “55” built in 1902 and brought out of retirement.
And there was no shortage of usable quotes. “I don’t believe in love at first sight,” commented Mimieux; “I was warned off directing by some of the finest directors in the business,” said director Jack Cardiff.
Yesterday was the 55th anniversary of the launch of the European premiere of Doctor Zhivago (1965) in London and would you believe it the English weather came to the promotional aid of the David Lean epic with an unseasonal snow shower as fur-clad models took to the streets on a sleigh. As was common in the 1960s, there was no such thing as a global release date. The film had been launched in the U.S. in December 1965 but only a couple of countries since then, the main drawback being the lack of available prestigious cinemas for a big budget roadshow. The delay was also caused by hope of major success at the Oscars – given Lean’s two previous films had won Best Picture – held in March.
Doctor Zhivago launched at the 1,330-seat Empire, Leicester Square, in the heart of the capital’s West End in the presence of Princess Margaret and with the director and five stars in attendance. The first public demonstration of colour television in Europe was a feature of the launch, a large screen set up in the theater foyer to relay the arrival of royalty and celebrities to the audience already seated in the cinema.
MGM had pulled out all the publicity stops, the massive advertising campaign beginning on February 1, twelve weeks prior to the opening, with the switching-on of a 40ft by 20ft electric sign in Piccadilly Circus. That triggered an advertising campaign in the press about two weeks later announcing the premiere. That served only to stoke up interest, another two weeks elapsing before tickets went on sale. Advertisements ran virtually non-stop in national daily newspapers and London evening papers as well as entertainment and film magazines.
Roadshows benefitted from press advertising more than normal pictures. The bulk of the adverts for Doctor Zhivago carried a booking form so money started rolling in to the cinema long before the first screening. Selling tickets in this way was also a bulwark against sudden changes in weather – torrential rain or glorious sunshine as equally likely to deter moviegoers – whereas if you had already booked your ticket well in advance it did not matter whether you turned up or not, and most people would attend even in sweltering heat rather than forego their ticket.
MGM also undertook the biggest advertising campaign in its history in Britain. Unlike today, when there is one universal advertisement, in those days a film might have half a dozen different pieces of artwork. Doctor Zhivago boasted fifteen. Four weeks ahead of the opening 8,000 double-crown posters were plastered over the city. One-third of the entire London bus fleet carrying such artwork, while 50 Underground stations had 48-sheets (three times the size of the normal posters) on train platforms. In addition, closer to the launch, double quads were posted in a thousand locations. A special mobile box office toured the city advertising the film and selling tickets.
A special “Background to Doctor Zhivago Exhibition” was set up in the Garringes department store opposite Victoria Station, one of the capital’s biggest travel hubs, by the Historical Research Unit and including many costumes from the production. Tie-ins were far more numerous than for the New York launch. Mansfield Fashion launched a range of popular-priced clothing based on the film promoted by a sleigh-ride through London with a bevy of models against the unexpected background of snow on April 14. A more upmarket manufacturer Sidney Massin was promoting a more expensive fur coat.
Among the other fashion tie-ins were: a white coat of Kalgan lamb with a Mongolian lamb collar from Swears and Wells, long black wool coat with white fox fur hood and collar from Femina Furs, fur hats for men and women from Edmund Mann, evening dresses from Berkertex and fur-lined fabrics from Clarewood Fashions. Hardy Amies designed male fur coats for Hepworths department stores and range of gloves for either sex for Dent Allcroft. Worldwide the Zhivago look had been reflected in collections designed by St Laurent, Dior, Cardin, Chanel and Rabanne.
Outside of fashion, there was a tie-up with Cossack Vodka. There was also a Cossack hair cream while Waddingtons produced a jigsaw puzzle. As well as hardback and paperback editions of the famous Boris Pasternak novel, there was also a hardback of the Robert Bolt Oscar-winning screenplay. The music also provided promotional crossover, the theme tune and original soundtrack already big hits. BBC2 aired a documentary on the filming of the movie and the stars and director appeared on numerous television and radio talk shows.
BBC News, Pathe newsreel cameras and CBS America all covered the premiere. Stars in attendance were Geraldine Chaplin, Julie Christie, Siobhan McKenna, Ralph Richardson and Rita Tushingham as well as Lean, Bolt and producer Carlo Ponti.
Although the movie failed to win any of the main Oscars, it still took home six: screenplay (Robert Bolt), color cinematography (Freddie Young), color art direction (John Box, Terence Marsh and Dario Simoni), set decoration (also Box, Marsh and Simoni), color costume design (Phyllis Dalton) and music score (Maurice Jarre). MGM promoted these accomplishments in its advertising and revamped its pressbook. And the studio was also able to take advantage of the fact that Julie Christie had been named Best Actress at that year’s Oscars for Darling (1965). Noted the new-look Pressbook: “probably no other motion picture actress has achieved the meteoric success and worldwide fame accorded Julie Christie.”
The Pressbook mainlined on awards of one kind or another. As well as Oscars, the Russian epic had picked up five Golden Globes included Best Dramatic Picture, Best Director and Best Dramatic Actor (Omar Sharif). It was named best film by the New York Daily News and was named one of the year’s top ten by the National Board of Review, and received awards from magazines as diverse as Seventeen, Parents and Scholastic.
Also contained in the Pressbook were snippets that might appeal to local journalists such as: six tons of nails were used in constructing the ten-acre set, Phyllis Dalton created 5,000 costumes and John Box 117 settings, rats in one scene were tested for infections, rumors of Omar Sharif shaving off his normal curly hair were false, movie livestock was donated to a local church at the end of filming.
As ever, exhibitors were bombarded with promotional ideas by MGM publicists via the Pressbook. One idea was to ask female members of the audience whether they preferred Omar Sharif clean shaven or with a moustache with the intention of interesting the local women’s editor in the results of the informal survey. Cinema owners were encouraged to send bottles of vodka to entertainment editors with a message in Russian. Empty shop windows were often available “for the asking” from rental specialists and could be used for advertising. Since Zhivago has a son in the film, one aspect encouraged was a “father and son” competition and of course it was a no-brainer to dress doormen and ushers as Cossacks.
MGM had also made special efforts to promote the movie to younger audiences and combined that with marketing the music. More than million copies of the soundtrack album had been sold and “Somewhere My Love,” a single by Teddy Randazzo incorporating lyrics to “Lara’s Theme,” had also caught fire. The combination of records and sheet music plus general publicity material could encourage record store window displays.
One of the taglines I most remember is “one man…two women…and a nation ablaze.” But it was certainly not one of the initial official taglines when the movie was originally launched. Many of the British posters had no tagline at all beyond perhaps “the entertainment event of the year.” The post-Oscar Pressbook went with either “A love caught in the fire of revolution…Turbulent were the times and fiery was the love story of Zhivago, his wife…and the passionate, tender Lara” or “The story of Zhivago – a man torn between his love for his wife and the passionate and tender Lara…told against the flaming background of revolution.”
SOURCES: Supplement to Kine Weekly, May 5, 1966; MGM Pressbook.
You’ve got a new Paul Newman picture to sell to the exhibitors responsible for booking the picture into theaters – or not. So, do you mention the fact that he has been nominated for the Best Actor Oscar three times in the last five years? Nope, that gets discounted because that was serious Paul Newman, heavy dramas, weighty themes. This is new-look Newman – a thriller in the vein of North by Northwest. The movie is set against the background of the Nobel Prize, the most important award scheme in the world, so surely promotion could focus on that. Well, no, actually that’s kind of weighty as well.
Nope, your best bet, according to the marketing team putting together the Pressbook (Exhibitor’s Campaign Manual) for The Prize is – wait for it – nudity and food. The first promotional page of the manual hits you with a couple of great ideas based on the fact that in the movie Paul Newman ends up in a nudist colony with only a towel to protect his dignity. “Announce that the first fifty women at your theater opening day will receive a costume just like the one worn by Paul Newman in the film” – in other words a towel. And if that doesn’t work “install a peek-a-boo box in which theater patrons can see the famous nude scene.” After all, continues the manual in confident tone, you are sitting on “the controversy of the century.”
Next big idea – “pre-sell The Prize with gourmet foods from Sweden.” Apparently, a heavy focus on food promotion had worked wonders for previous MGM pictures The VIPs (1963) and The Wheeler Dealers (1963) and neither of these pictures could call upon the actual menu served at the actual Nobel Banquet for 800 people at the Stockholm City Hall. The Pressbook gives menu ideas for exhibitors to pass on to local newspapers including such delicacies as “Supreme de Poulet Farci a la Royal” which is basically chicken stuffed with goose liver, cognac and madeira. Alternatively, housewives could be tempted into making “Charlotte a la Royal” which consists of pineapple sorbet, curacao parfait, almond pastries filled with Grand Marnier, almond meringue and candied grapes.
Luckily, there were more mundane marketing ideas more likely to appeal to the theater manager who believed the name of Paul Newman should be all he or she needed to sell the picture. MGM had cut a single of Jerry Goldsmith’s theme for the picture – four singles actually by four different artists – and that was guaranteed airplay in over 500 radio stations, the tune was also included in a composite album of movie themes.
It was only the last two pages of the 16-page glossy A3 Pressbook that carried any information on the film itself and the stars. German Elke Sommer making her Hollywood debut was given as big a push as Newman himself. She had taken the alternative route into acting of winning a dancing contest (according to MGM’s press office – a beauty contest according to Imdb) that led to a small part in an Italian picture.
The pressbook erroneously stated her second picture was directed by Vittorio De Sica, whereas he was merely the star and Sommer merely a supporting actress. By the time she came to make The Prize, she was a veteran with 25 pictures in the can. Sommer’s wardrobe as worn in the picture might also generate tie-ups with sweater shops, beauty salons and lingerie retailers. An idea for a lobby stunt was to stick an enlarged photo of Sommer on the wall and give a prize for the best sketch by a local artist.
Needless to say, neither director Mark Robson nor screenwriter Ernest Lehman merited a mention in the Pressbook.
Employing the marketing tools provided by the Pressbook were the main methods a cinema had of selling a movie to the public. In the case of The Magnificent Seven, the Pressbook comprised twelve A3 pages. As well as a range of advertisements, this contained plot summary, press releases, lobby cards, stills and material that could be marketed to television (a one-minute highlights spot and two 20-second ads) and radio (a double-sided record including jingle and interviews with Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen).
While the posters on display outside a theater would be in color, those for use as advertisements in a local newspaper would be in black-and-white. Different typefaces and letter shading were used to ensure advertisements were as arresting when seen in black-and-white as well as color. Unlike today when one image and tagline is used to sell a movie, in the 1960s a studio would produce several different posters/advertisements with a variety of taglines.
This Pressbook came with a bundle of promotional ideas, many revolving around the film’s titular number. Cinema owners were encouraged to develop tie-ups with local retailers that might include the gimmick of a seven-day, seven-hour or seven-cent sale or one that ran from 7am to 7pm. Or in conjunction with the local law enforcement agency, come up with “The Magnificent Seven rules for Safety” or, with travel agencies, a “Magnificent Seven-day Holiday,” Mexico the obvious location. Radio station disc jockeys might come up with the seven best tunes and play the rousing Elmer Bernstein theme music. Stores were encouraged to put up displays of the record sleeves. There was even potential for a fashion link with department stores after adverts had appeared in Esquire and Gentleman’s Quarterly of Eli Wallach modeling menswear.
Publicists did not let the facts get in the way of a good story. Horst Buchholz apparently spoke seven languages. According to the Pressbook it was John Sturges who taught the actors how to draw. The Pressbook also gave the misleading impression that it was Brynner who was in love with the female lead Rosenda Monteros. Another article commented on the difficulties Brynner had on rolling a cigarette one-handed – even though he smoked cigars throughout.
The main tagline was: “They were seven…and they fought like seven hundred.” And there were endless variations of this. Sometimes “they fought like seven hundred” was sufficient. Other times this idea was expanded: “seven notches above the ordinary,” and “the matchless seven.” On occasion, there was tagline that summed up the entire picture: “the renegades among them came for gold…the firebrands came just to taste the excitement…and all seven came to wipe away the past.” In this same advert, each of the gunfighters was defined – Brynner “the leader,” McQueen “the deadly one,” Buchholz “the young one,” Bronson “the strong one,” Vaughn “the vengeful one,” Dexter, “the greedy one,” and Coburn “the rugged one.”
Some exhibitors came up with their own taglines and cut-and-paste images to create their own adverts. In San Bernardino audiences were wooed by “Savage hordes of kill-crazed bandits (hungry for women, gold and blood lust) against the flaming guns of the Seven.” Elsewhere, moviegoers were expected to respond to “a message picture handsomely mounted.” Among the self-made posters was one with women in a provocative pose, something that did not occur in the picture.
Oscar-winning film producers like Sam Spiegel – The African Queen (1951), On the Waterfront (1954), Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Suddenly Last Summer (1959) and Lawrence of Arabia (1962) – tended to abhor gimmicky promotions and depended on more classic marketing strategies to sell their pictures.
in this case, Spiegel relied on a 16-page A3 Pressbook (plus a slightly smaller four-page supplement) which in the main concentrated on a series of advertisements. Having said that, it was quite clear that Speigel considred his own name one of the movie’s biggest selling tools since his accomplishments were splashed over many ads and he took second billing to Marlon Brando. His name was above the title whereas that of director Arthur Penn was in a typeface smaller than all the leading players. Of the 20 pages available for original pressbook and supplement, a total of 14 were given over to the advertisements.
However, efforts were made to secure promotional partners. Harper’s Bazaar blocked out an eight-page section of its January 1966 issue for a fashion merchandising spread involving four top manufacturers – Ben Zuckerman, Originals, Larry Aldrich and Patullo-Jo Copeland – and 20 major retailers including Joseph Magnin in Los Angeles, De Pinna in New York and Couture Ltd in Chicago. New York exhibitors also benefited from marketing tie-ins from Horn & Hadart Co in its 88 restaurants and and Kinney System Inc. in 96 parking lots.
There was a big push in radio stations and record stores for the soundtrack by John Barry and in bookstores for the novel by Horton Foote published by New England Library with photos from the film on front and back covers. The closest Spiegel came to a gimmick was a tie-in with Barb-Q-Matic which sponsored barbecues for press previews and special screenings. The company had 1,500 distributors lined up to provide the necessary equipment and food.
Otherwise, the producer expected the movie’s various talking points to provide fuel for media discussion. The way in which a community deteriorates “from a group of average people into a mob of hatefilled manhunters” would be ideal fodder for newspaper columnists, radio discussion and screenings for law enforcement agencies.
Among the attempts to provide filler material for newspapers was the notion that those involved were global citizens – Brando flying in from Tahiti, Spiegel and Jane Fonda from France, James Fox from London, while screenwriter Llllian Hellman was living at the time in Mexico. This was also the first pairing of Brando with his sister Jocelyn and a return to the screen for 1930s star Miriam Hopkins.
A measure of the film’s scope was that it required five sound stages at Columbia studios in Hollywood. In order to achieve authenticity art director Richard Day traveled 3,000 miles to photograph southwestern towns, rice fields, junkyards and sugar mills. There was an unusually high proportion of night shooting – 50 days in total – and 500 extras were on call for some critical scenes.
Interestingly, there was no great promotional push for Robert Redford. Brando, Fonda, Janice Rule and Hellman were the first stars mentioned in the first page of the editorial section of Pressbook, followed on the next page by Angie Dickinson, E.G. Marshall and Miriam Hopkins. Redford did not appear until the final editorial page, allocated space along with Katharine Walsh and Diana Hyland.
There were ten separate adverts, some of which were altered in minor ways to create another half-dozen. One of the unusual aspects of the advertising was the thematic design of the title and the image of a running man. The main advert had Brando center stage in casual mode smoking a cigarette surrounded by a montage of characters and incidents with the tagline “The Chase Is On” and a list of the producer’s credits. The second advert was identical except for an extra tagline – “He was the right man in the right place…the day everything went wrong.” A third ad used the running man theme around Brando and split the montage which now showed some characters in different ways with a new tagline “A breathless explosive story of today” plus the Spiegel credits.
The fourth ad also split the montage but this time Brando was more aligned with the characters on one side and the Spiegel credit reduced to “the man who has brought the screen its most exciting productions.” The running man logo took pride of place on advert number six with six main characters featured at the edges each with a quote – e.g. Fonda: “I never asked for anything because I knew I wouldn’t get it.” A seventh advert used a montage in criss-cross fashion. Violence and sex were the keys to the eighth advert while the ninth featured “the women”, “the men” and “the excitement” of The Chase. The final ad was more suggestive, just the thematic typeface, the logo of the running man and the names of star and producer.
Sometimes the obvious ideas are the best. A main plank of the marketing for Edward Dmytryk’s Civil War western Alvarez Kelly was via the name of the tital character. The 12-page (plus two-page fold-out) A3 Pressbook – the exhibitors’ main marketing tool – urged theater cinema owners to give discounts to anyone called Kelly. Better still, get them to attend the show en masse. Another plum would be getting hold of the ancestor of anyone called Kelly (hardly a long shot) who fought in the Civil War and putting them on local radio or television, especially if they had uniforms or weapons dating back to the conflict.
Although set in Virginia, the movie was shot in Louisiana, a fact that the Louisiana Tourist Commission was taken full advantage of, with a massive marketing splurge. The world premiere was held in Baton Rouge and over 30,000 posters were distributed nationwide through a tie-up with the Humble-Esso service stations. Stars and crew were put up in Baton Rouge which meant an 80/120-mile round trip to the main locations. That meant a 5.30am start and a six-day week. Filming was interrupted by a hurricane and an invasion by swarms of yellow-jacketed wasps. A 209-foot bridge was built across the Amite River in order to be blown up during the action finale. The locations were so remote the nearest telephone was 18 miles away. Details of such inconveniences were channeled as a matter of course to exhibitors in the hope that they would be picked by local newspapers looking for a story about how un-pampered movie stars were.
Fashion had always been a strong movie marketing tool and here exhibitors were urged to contact local museums for Civil War costumes and to work with local department stores to create window displays featuring Southern belles.
Given that cows were central to the movie, another element of the campaign focused on meat with tie-ins with the Louisiana Cattlemen’s Association and the Hasty-Bake barbecue range. Slightly more offbeat was an idea to contact quartermasters working in the current U.S. Army to give their views on the problems of feeding the troops. And, of course, there was ample opportunity for a horseman dressed in either a Union or Confederate uniform to lead a cow or small herd through a town in order to promote the picture.
There was a paperback tie-up with Gold Medal books, a novelization of the screenplay, complete with photos and credits. Window and shelf displays in bookshops offered free promotion. The educational angle could also be exploited since schools were always interested in historical pictures and this was based on a true episode in the Civil War.
The Columbia advertising department prepared a number of different posters in a variety of shapes and sizes (exhibitors would cut out the one they considered most relevant and take it down to their local newspaper which would use it to devise the ad). Sometimes the two protagonists – William Holden and Richard Widmark – were positioned at opposite ends of the adsheets, other times they were placed centrally above or within a montage of scenes and characters.
There were four taglines. One of the chief taglines focused on the title character – “the man and story that spell gallantry from A-Z” – which somewhat misled the public about Kelly’s true nature, but then, of course, you could hardly straight-out tell the audience that screen idol William Holden was a shady character. The other main tagline outlined the story in more realistic terms – “Renegade adventurer and reckless colonel…a war made them allies…a woman made them enemies…a battle made them legend!.” The two subsidiary taglines ran: “A herd of cattle against a herd of canon…the battle-adventure that carved a legend around one man’s name” and “Carving a legend in greatness from the Blue Ridge to the Rio Grande.” As was usual in these adverts, a couple of taglines could be merged in the same ad.
A review of Alvarez Kelly (1966) is published in tandem with this article.
After the monumental success of Hercules, exhibitor-turned-distributor Joseph E. Levine pretty much thought he could sell pictures to theater owners on the basis of his name alone. Which explains the absence of any mention of star Steve Reeves (of Herculesfame, ironically enough) from the first seven pages of the Pressbook for Thief of Baghdad (1961).
The Pressbook itself was guaranteed to garner attention from its unusual shape and size. Most Pressbooks are standard A4 – roughly 8 inches wide and 12 inches high – but this easily exceeded the norm. The front page was 22 inches wide by 17 inches with a flap that extended the height to 29 inches. Turn the next page and it became bigger again – 33 inches wide by 22 inches high – and remained that size for another ten pages.
What the first seven pages sold was the Levine name and how he was going to promote the picture to moviegoers. He promised national television and radio advertising saturation. In addition, he supplied free of charge two trailers for television and four for radio which theater owners could use for supplementary local use.
Twenty thousand toy stores were lined up to sell merchandising – “an elaborate array of novelty items, hobby kits, puzzles and games.” Window displays were a key tool in marketing films to local moviegoers.
In addition, Dell had published two tie-ins – a full-color comic book for children and a novelization paperback for adults. In those days books such as these were sold on news stands and revolving racks in drug stores and five-and-dime outlets as well as bookshops. For only $25 (including delivery cost) movie theaters could buy a “double-flasher” eight-foot-high standee to promote the movie in advance.
Unusually, at a time when movies came with up to seven or eight different taglines intended to appeal to different types of audiences (the exhibitor would know which one held the most appeal), Thief of Baghdad limited itself to only four. The main tagline was: “The fantastic deeds…the incredible daring of the thief who defied an empire.”
There were two main alternatives: either “Opening wide a new world of screen wonders” or “the amazing becomes the incredible the fantastic becomes the real.” All three taglines were quantified with the addition of a number of “screen thrills” such as flying horses, faceless fighters, man-devouring trees, a one-faced army, the giant killer of the sea and a “harem of mystery.” Finally, there was the option of “he was a score of lovers…a hundred fighters…a thousand thieves…a man in a million.”
Costuming ushers in “typical Baghdad wear” and calling upon local muscle men to don similar garb was suggested as another marketing ploy.
Otherwise – which seemed the least of Levine’s concerns – there was actually quite a lot to write home about. It was filmed in Tunisia in the Mosque of the Barber – featuring 600 columns transported from Carthage – and the Mosque of the Sabre in the oasis city of Kairwan. The filmmakers had to devise their own ancient marketplaces since the ones in existence were too modernized. Local extras were used to add further authenticity. An ancient reservoir dating back to 700AD was drained and transformed into a prison.
The special effects by Thomas Howard included a winged horse and a forest of man-eating trees. To create the effect of a brigade of horsemen all in the image of the titular thief, Edwards achieved the illusion by having the men wear masks of Reeves’ face.
Italian female lead Georgia Moll made her Hollywood debut in The Quiet American (1958) while model Edy Vessel, who refused to give out her vital statistics for publicity purposes, was cast as a seductive temptress.
Reeves, famed for sticking to a particular diet, brought with him 24 jars of honey and 40 pounds of nuts and made yoghurt from camel’s milk.
This was the sixth version of the film, the first starring Douglas Fairbanks in 1924 followed sixteen years later by the British-made Alexander Korda iteration. Further versions from a variety of sources appeared in 1949, 1952 and 1960.
Studios did not always trust movie theater managers to glance at the Pressbooks posted out to them, one of the initial functions of such marketing manuals being to tempt said managers into booking the film in the first place. So studios occasionally chose a more direct route of getting in a manager’s face and would lump the whole Pressbook into an American trade magazine. Sword of Sherwood Forest took this route.
The film was a very speedy attempt by British studio Hammer to cash in on the popularity of The Adventures of Robin Hood television series, especially by hiring its star Richard Greene. It was a bit of an uphill struggle, movie swashbucklers long out of fashion. In fact, it was only the British television industry that kept the genre alive, in the second half of the 1950s pumping out such series as The Buccaneeers, The Adventures of Sir Lancelot, Sword of Freedom and The Adventures of William Tell. The 30-minute Robin Hood series ran in Britain on ITV in 1955-1959 and was picked up by CBS in 1958
This Presbook was a fold-out, the initial A4 sheets pulling out to form a giant A2 sheet. Hammer was relying on the fact that by the time the movie appeared in America, the series was being shown on various television stations. Some of the marketing ideas were straightforward enough such as utilizing toy stores that would likely have swords and archery sets among its inventory and it would be easy enough to sent a promotional girl or man down a main street decked out in tights and leather jerkin.
But it was a bit of a long shot to expect a theater manager in a small town to host a fencing tournament. The stars were little help – Richard Greene had virtually no marquee value not having made a picture in five years until his television success prompted Cold War thriller Beyond the Curtain (1960) but that was British-made with little American penetration. The public might be more familiar with bad guy Peter Cushing after his interpretation of Sherlock Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959) and horror pictures The Brides of Dracula (1960) and The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958).
There might have been some mileage out of newcomer Sarah Branch as Maid Marian but she did not feature at all in the Pressbook. The marketeers appeared to be relying solely on the popularity of the Robin Hood legend and perhaps audience familiarity with old Errol Flynn pictures that popped up with regularity on television channels because, unusually for a piece of material that was meant to sell a picture to theater managers, this made remarkably little impact as a marketing tool beyond the fact that it was unavoidable in the middle of a weekly trade magazine.
Pressbooks (also known as Campaign Manuals) were notorious for coming up with all sorts of insane and inane devices in an attempt to entice the moviegoer. The extremely handsome 20-page A3 pressbook for Andrew V. McLaglen’s Civil War western Shenandoah (1965) was no different in that respect – “racetrack in your area – hold a Shenandoah handicap.” Or how about this classic: “In Shenandoah the war stops for a cow that wanders between the fighting…a local dairy might be interested: Everything Stops While The Public Drinks Our Milk etc.”
Luckily, the marketeers had some better ideas, mostly based on the traditional folk song of the title which has a hymnal quality. So star James Stewart was roped in to cut a record, released on the Decca label, with special lyrics of that famous song. For a start the idea of Stewart singing was a clever stunt in itself, but the main aim was not to garner some newspaper coverage but to attract the attention of radio stations and use the record’s cover as a means of encouraging music stores to set up window displays.
And never mind Stewart’s contribution to the canon of singers of the song, the marketing team identified more than 30 other versions of the song by the likes of Harry Belafonte (four versions), Jimmie Rodgers (three) and Guy Lombardo and instrumentals by British jazzman Acker Bilk of “Strangers on the Shore” fame and guitarist Duane Eddy. Decca was putting further promotional push behind an album entitled “The Blue and the Grey, Songs of the American Civil War.”
Theater managers were urged to suggest to radio stations they group some of these tunes together “for an interesting period of broadcast listening, perhaps in a musical segment of Civil War songs or a radio contest to identify the vocalist.”
In addition, the marketing team sought coverage in the television pages of newspapers since many of the supporting cast were small screen regulars – Doug McClure star of The Virginian, Glenn Corbett star of Route 66 and James McMullen a regular on Ben Casey – and newcomer Katharine Ross had been featured in a few shows. “You should take advantage of this away-from-the-amusement-section opportunity to pick up extra publicity space directed to the TV page reader!”
Of course, the main purpose of a Pressbook was to provide the theater owner with the actual advertisements for the movie. He or she would cut these out and drop them off at the local newspaper which would use them to make up the ads that ran in the newspaper. These came in a variety of sizes from small single column black-and-white efforts to larger five-column full-color ads.
And they also came with an avalanche of taglines (note the varying use of capital letters) and images. The key tagline was “Two Mighty Armies Trampled Its Valley…A Fighting Family Challenged Them Both.”
Or you might have come across these alternatives –“Like giants they stood in the path of two might armies…and with their fighting spirit challenged them both” or “James Stewart, A Giant Of A Man Who Fought For Shenandoah” and “When History Called for Men and Women Larger than Life…Charlie Anderson and his proud family answered the challenge – with courage mightier than guns – and with love that no cannot could ever shatter.”
And there were more: “They reached for their rifles in the name of love…not hate…to challenge two mighty armies” down to the simpler “Shakes The Screen Like Cannon Thunder” and “Where A Mighty Adventure Was Born.” You might be led to believe from this fusillade of taglines that the marketing department could not make up its minds about which tagline was best and just chucked them all at the theater manager, leaving them to choose.
But that was not the case. The reason behind the disparate taglines was precisely to provide choice, to allow the theater manager to decide how best to market the picture to suit the audience he or she knew best.