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.

Behind the Scenes: “The Guns of Navarone” (1961)

It’s time to celebrate the 60th anniversary of The Guns of Navarone – world premiere on April 27, 1961, in London and New York opening on June 22, 1961. Although the picture set a new benchmark in high-octane entertainment, a fast-moving war thriller packed with twists and a genuine all-star cast, it was far – very far – from the sure thing it appears in retrospect.

Box office smash in Britain.

For a start, U.S producer Carl Foreman, a victim of the McCarthy anti-communist witch-hunt of the early 1950s, was unable to assemble any of the talent he had set his heart on. He lost his preferred male cast of William Holden and Cary Grant and original scriptwriter Eric Ambler, the thriller writer famed for The Mask of Dimitrios and other novels.

He had a registered a major publicity coup by engineering the screen debut of opera diva Maria Callas, one of the most famous people in the world, but she also dropped out as did his other initial choice for leading lady. On top of that, once filming began he lost his director, Alexander Mackendrick, who had not only achieved a critical and commercial success with the British Ealing comedy The Ladykillers (1951) but also crossed the Atlantic to make the acclaimed The Sweet Smell of Success (1957) starring Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis, to prove he could handle big Hollywood stars.

On top of that David Niven nearly lost his life during production and by the time the picture appeared Gregory Peck had suffered so many box office flops that he was a potential liability. And Foreman’s own marriage was in trouble.

Building the massive guns set.

It was a wonder it was made at all for Foreman was nobody’s idea of a sure thing. Although he had made his name as a screenwriter with three Oscar nominations for Champion (1949), The Men (1950) and High Noon (1952), his career was in ruins after being slung out of America for his supposed communist sympathies. He set up in London where he wrote screenplays under pseudonyms. But in 1956 won a four-picture production deal with Columbia at a time when that studio was investing heavily in making films in Britain to take advantage of the government’s Eady Levy (effectively, a tax rebate) and cheaper costs. But his first film, The Key (1958) with William Holden and Sophia Loren flopped in the U.S. Columbia persevered, seeing Foreman as the man to tackle its biggest-ever European production.

The Guns of Navarone almost fell at the first hurdle. Foreman’s first choice of location was Cyprus which was threatening to erupt into a civil war. At the last minute, he changed his mind and shifted production to Rhodes. Foreman, who also acted as screenwriter, made considerable changes to the book by British bestselling thriller writer Alistair Maclean, not least of which was introducing female characters to a story that had been resolutely all-male.

Original hardback book cover.

There was tension on set – four-time Oscar nominee Gregory Peck was annoyed at sharing the screen with two winners David Niven (Best Actor for Separate Tables, 1958) and Anthony Quinn (twice Best Supporting Actor for Viva Zapata, 1952, and Lust for Life, 1956). Replacement director J. Lee Thompson (Ice Cold in Alex, 1958) managed to sink a ship on loan from the Greek navy.  The Actor’s Strike in Hollywood nearly forced the departure of the two younger stars.

The set for the titular guns was the largest ever built, costing £100,000, and even though that proved a design miracle, that, too, was not exempt from disaster, having to be rebuilt after a thunderstorm destroyed part of the set. The injury to David Niven was so severe he nearly died, putting the production in jeopardy. Even when the film approached completion there were other obstacles in the way, composer Dmitri Tiomkin (The Alamo, 1960), for example, demanding a record fee and Foreman locking horns with Columbia over his insistence on launching the picture as a roadshow, request which was ultimately denied, and one of the reasons for the film’ release delay,

I’ve written a book about The Making of The Guns of Navarone. Originally published in 2013, it has been revised with over 30 illustrations added for a new edition to tie in with the 60th anniversary – available both in print and Kindle versions. Needless to say, it would also make an ideal present for Father’s Day.

If you’re interested in this kind of book, you might like to know that I’ve also written The Making of The Magnificent Seven.

The Guns of Navarone (1961) *****

Stone-cold action classic that blazed a trail for the big-budget men-on-a-mission war picture like The Dirty Dozen (1967) and Where Eagles Dare (1968). Brilliantly structured, written and directed,  and featuring a sea battle, storm, shipwreck, mountaineering, chase, interrogation scenes, infiltration of an impregnable fortress, a pair of romances, two traitors, and an awe-inspiring climax make this a candidate for one of the greatest war pictures ever made.

The set-up is simple. Knock out the gigantic guns at Navarone or two thousand men will perish. It’s mission impossible and the clock is ticking. You don’t know who to trust and the enemy is ruthless.

In the early days of the all-star-cast, producer Carl Foreman rounded up an astonishing line-up, bulking out the bestseller by Scottish thriller maestro Alistair Maclean (The Secret Ways, 1961) with three top stars in five-time Oscar nominee Gregory Peck (The Big Country, 1958), double Oscar-winner Anthony Quinn (Heller in Pink Tights, 1960) and Oscar-winner David Niven (Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, 1960). Add in British household names Anthony Quayle (Ice Cold in Alex, 1958), Stanley Baker (The Concrete Jungle, 1960) and James Robertson Justice (Doctor in Love, 1960), a sprinkling of rising stars in James Darren (Let No Man Write My Epitaph, 1960), Gia Scala (I Aim at the Stars, 1960) and Richard Harris (The Night Fighters, 1960) and renowned Greek actress Irene Papas (Antigone, 1961).

Each man is a specialist. Capt. Mallory (Gregory Peck) the mountaineer whose climbing skills are essential to completing the fist part of the mission, explosives expert Corporal Miller (David Niven), mechanic ‘Butcher’ Brown (Stanley Baker), Greek patriot Stavrou (Anthony Quinn) and the ruthless killer Pappadimos (James Darren) who has the contact with the Greek resistance. The stakes are ramped up when we learn both Mallory and Stavrou have bounties on their heads, not to mention the fact they are sworn enemies, and that before the mission even gets under way, spies are discovered in the camp. The ostensible leader of the group Major Franklin (Anthony Quayle) is wounded early on, turning him into a liability and making Mallory the de facto leader.

The stakes are ramped up further – this time through relationships. Their Greek contact turns out to be a woman, Maria (Irene Papas), brother of Pappadimos. She brings with her a mute girl Anna (Gia Scala) for whom Mallory develops romantic feelings while Stavrou has eyes for Maria. Mallory is also torn about Franklin, his best friend.

And from there it pitches into one disaster after another. They are too easily hunted by the Germans. They are shelled with mortars and attacked by dive bombers as they race across open mountains and through caves to reach their destination. They have to shoot their way out of traps and finagle their way into the fortress. There are twists and turns all the way, the clock ticking in almost James-Bond-style as the deadline for the destruction of the troops approaches.

And although this is clearly a war picture it is also as obviously an anti-war one, no end to the killing in sight, people dying pointlessly.

Although the acting was ignored come Oscar time, each of the stars delivers and it is a communal tour de force. Director J. Lee Thompson (Ice Cold in Alex) ensures that in visual terms none of the stars dominates, each given equal screen time while the strong supporting cast each has their own narrative arc. With over two-and-half-hours’ running time, Thompson has both the bonus of time to allow each element to be fully played out and the problem of keeping the picture taut and he succeeds brilliantly in both aims. It is a masterpiece of suspense. And it looked fabulous, the guns themselves, by which the picture might succeed or fail, were awesome.

Thompson was Oscar-nominated as was producer Carl Foreman for both Best Picture and the screenplay, Dmitri Tiomkin for the score (one of the longest-ever), John Cox for sound, Alan Osbiston for editing. Bill Warrington who did the visual special effects and Chris Greenham who did the sound effects were the only winners on the night.

It was a commercial smash, top picture of the year in the U.S., the biggest  picture of all time at the British box office and breaking records all over the world.

COMPETITION: Win a Signed Copy of “The Making of The Guns of Navarone”

To celebrate the 60th anniversary of the opening of The Guns of Navarone I am offering a copy of my book “The Making of The Guns of Navarone.” This is a revised and enlarged edition – the first time with illustrations (over 30 of them) – of the original version which was published in 2013.

The Royal World Premiere of the film took place at the Odeon Leicester Square, London, on April 27, 1961. But it was not released in the U.S. until June, opening at the Criterion and Murray Hill cinemas in New York. At all three cinemas it broke the box office record.

All you have to do to enter is guess from all the films reviewed in the Blog in April which five proved the most popular (judged from the number of views).

Put the five you have chosen in ascending order.

Email your answers to me at bhkhannan@aol.com

The person who gets the most right in the proper order will be declared the winner.

The book will be posted free of charge anywhere in the world and, being the author, I can arrange for it to be signed. The closing date is Monday, May 17.

Feel free to let your friends know.

Good luck.

Book Into Film – The Venetian Affair

Sometimes I wonder if studio executives ever read a book before they purchase the rights or whether they just rely on the assumption that a bestseller must have a storyline worth adapting for the movies. I always had the impression that in many instances producers were simply buying up what they saw as a ready-made audience, that if a novel sold a few million copies enough of those satisfied readers would turn up to see the adaptation which would more than pay for what the book cost to buy (not counting the automatic marketing bounty that came from bookstore displays). These days we are used to films rigidly following the storylines of bestselling novels, even expanding the movie version into two parts to accommodate it.

But that was far from the case in the 1960s. As shown previously in this Blog, some films – Fathom (1967) a classic example – bore little resemblance to the source material while others such as The Flight of the Phoenix (1965) were more faithful renderings and others (example: The Quiller Memorandum, 1966) built on what the author had originally created. I often wondered at the reaction of a screenwriter handed an adaptation of a bestseller. Is he/she instructed to junk the whole thing and start again, retaining only the title, or asked to see what they can make of it, making other stuff up as they go along?

Sales of Helen MacInnes books increased as the 1960s wore on with The Double Image in 1966 and The Salzburg Connection in 1968 both making the annual Top Ten list, the latter the last of her books to be filmed.

In this case, producer E. Jack Neuman hired himself as the writer so I’m guessing he already knew that, beyond a simplified version of the storyline and some of the characters, he was going to dump virtually every aspect of the Helen MacInnes novel.

There were two explanations for this. The first was Neuman’s record as a creative force and it occurred to me he saw his version of the MacInnes leading man as a potential movie series character. This was his movie screenwriting debut but he had been churning out episodes of television series – including Wagon Train, The Untouchables and The Twilight Zone – for over a decade. More importantly, he was showrunner of three series – two dramas Sam Benedict (1962-1963) and Mr Novak (1963-1965) and a western A Man Called Shenandoah (1965-1966) which between them clocked up over 100 episodes – so he knew how to keep a good character going.

The second issue was the difficulty in adapting the work of MacInnes. The Scottish writer had been turning out bestselling espionage novels long before Ian Fleming, Alistair MacLean and John le Carre picked up a pen, but only two had ever been turned into pictures. And the reason was simple. The plots were anything but simple. Not so much twist after twist but complication after complication. The Venetian Affair is dense and in particular, consists, in many scenes, of exposition with characters explaining to other characters what the hell is going on.

In fact, the plot for The Venetian Affair is so obtuse – although strangely enough, quite contemporary – that it would never have worked on film. The C.I.A. are trying to get hold of a fake letter that will implicate the U.S. and Britain in a plot to assassinate French President Charles de Gaulle (fake news in today’s parlance). So that was never going to work in a movie. Preventing an assassination, yes, but, of course, what a preposterous idea to think anyone could kill de Gaulle without having a time machine that could flash forward to Day of the Jackal. In any case, the C.I.A. only find out about the letter’s existence because someone picks up the wrong overcoat – so that’s not going to play either.

However, what the book does have is a good title. Venice is an excellent locale for a spy movie. The only problem is only half the novel is set there. The first half takes place in Paris. What else the book has from a screenwriter’s perspective is that the ex-wife, Sandra Fane (Elke Sommer), of the central character Bill Fenner (Robert Vaughn) is a Communist defector who is considering defecting back and to achieve that requires the presence of her former husband.

So that formed the emotional heart of the film, potential reunion or further betrayal, that Fane is just going to dupe him a second time. And that’s about as much as Neuman takes from the book. The rest of the plot – the bombing, Fane disguised as a nun, virtually all the action, the bad guy, the brainwashing, the mouse sequence – is the invention of Neuman.

In the book Fenner is not an alcoholic but it’s more dramatic in the film if he is. Some of the characters from the book such as hard ass CIA boss Rosenfeld (Edward Asner) appear on screen much as described. Others have characters enhanced – Vaugiround (Boris Karloff) here a global kingpin is a mere moral philosopher in the book. The character of Claire Connor (Felicia Farr) is hardest done by. In the book, she is a central figure, the widow of an agent, teamed up with Fenner in a pretend romance that turns real. But in the film, she has become the mistress of a diplomat.  

I had already enjoyed the movie but my appreciation of the creative endeavor that went into its making increased by reading the original material screenwriter Neuman had to work with.  

The Secret Ways (1961) ***

This gritty realistic thriller, based on Alistair Maclean’s The Last Frontier, has much in common with The Quiller Memorandum (1965) with spies stalked through dark cobbled streets. To pay off his gambling debts, Michael Reynolds (Richard Widmark), posing as a journalist, agrees to smuggle out of Hungary resistance leader Jansci (Walter Rilla) on the Soviet hit list after the failed 1956 uprising.  Assisting him is Jansci’s daughter Julia (German star Sophie Ziemann) and, making her debut, Senta Berger as Elsa.

This is a city of staircases and tunnels and echoing footsteps and authorities keeping close tabs on visitors. The first time Widmark escapes their notice he is beaten up and it takes considerable skill, dodging through cinemas, creeping along window ledges, to make any headway in his assignment. Various complications ensue, not least that Julia despises Reynolds and that Jansci does not want to flee his country. Reynolds, who starts out as anything but your standard good guy, ends up less mercenary.

Mostly it is atmospheric cat-and-mouse with ruthless opposition partial to the odd spot of torture. Once it gets going, it a chase that the escapees are unlikley to evade. That Reynolds is distrusted by those he is trying to help and that he doesn’t want to be here at all, forced into adventure by adverse personal circumstance, stokes up the tension.

Widmark doesn’t quite abandon his snarling persona but manages some deft dry-wit comedy when trying to play a journalist accommodating his hosts. Senta Berger makes a striking debut. Sophie Ziemann is less impressive but veteran character actor Walter Rilla has the brooding and charismatic presence of a leader. Vienna, generally not considered a soulless city, does a great job standing in for Budapest.

This was one of many Widmark bids to gain greater control of his career and provide himself with more interesting leading roles than the standard villains or tough guys that Hollywood marked him down for. He was the producer and at one point took over direction from Phil Karlson after artistic differences of opinion. Jean Hazlewood, Widmark’s wife, wrote the screenplay. While there’s less out-and-out action than Maclean devotees brought up on Where Eagles Dare and Fear Is the Key might expect, there are still considerable rewards from an intelligent screenplay and the crackle of pursuit. Seen as a late entrant to the Hollywood cloak-and-dagger genre than a precursor of the 1960s Bond-style adventure, this has a great deal going for it.

Catch-Up: Previously reviewed in the Blog – Senta Berger in Major Dundee, Bang! Bang! You’re Dead!, and The Quiller Memorandum; Richard Widmark in The Bedford Incident, The Long Ships, Flight from Ashiya and Alvarez Kelly.