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.”