Wednesday, February 8th, 2012...9:42 am
Ultra-effective for street ballyhoo purposes!
As cataloging of the Fredric Woodbridge Wilson Collection of Theater, Dance and Music (Harvard Theatre Collection) progresses, the treasures it contains are ever more in evidence. A recent standout is a group of fifteen cinema pressbooks for films from the 1930s, from studios including Warner Bros., Columbia, and RKO. Pressbooks, or campaign books, were a marketing tool targeted at cinema proprietors – they both convinced the theater to show the film, and provided multifarious ideas for its promotion. Printed at up to 22 inches in height, with a reproduction of the movie poster on the cover and numerous illustrations within, they’re lavish publications that propose similarly lavish ad campaigns.
While a theater owner could use them to order posters, placards, cutouts, stills, and banners advertising the film, pressbooks are interesting for the variety of promotional angles they offer. They often supply copy for radio spots and newspaper articles, critical praise, contests, tie-ins with other products (or “tie-ups” in the parlance of the period), and, most amusingly, stunts for the theater to orchestrate around town. Much was expected of the local cinema: execution of these stunts often entailed construction of elaborate costumes or displays with motorized parts, and many required hired actors and vehicles. The pressbook for Shall We Dance? recommends “a piano on a truck with a good-looking girl singing numbers from the picture”. Less routine is the suggestion that “perhaps a yak can be ‘borrowed’ for an hour” in order to promote Lost Horizon, set in Tibet.
[Thanks to Ryan Wheeler, Bibliographic Assistant, for contributing this post.]