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carole lombard 06

Exploit, 'My Man,' exploit

Posted by vp19 on 2009.01.24 at 01:25
Current mood: creativecreative
As noted earlier this week, many issues of Boxoffice magazine from Hollywood's Golden Age are now online. A trade publication for theater owners, it frequently discussed ideas for marketing or "exploiting" films. The process was substantially different than it is today; movies didn't place premiums in cereal boxes or have tie-ins with fast-food chains (aside from White Castle hamburgers, which was only in a handful of cities, there were no such chains to speak of). Television was embryonic, and the movie industry hadn't really harnessed radio yet.

We're going to periodically examine how Carole Lombard's films were promoted, and we'll kick it off with a look at exploitation for one of her most famous movies...



..."My Man Godfrey," with ex-husband William Powell.

The film was released in September 1936, but a few months beforehand -- in the May 30 issue, to be precise -- Boxoffice reviewed the film favorably and gave exhibitors some ideas on how to promote the product.



It noted Powell's recent success in "The Great Ziegfeld," and added Lombard "is a definite coin attractor in any man's theatre." The magazine suggested theaters play up the society girl-butler angle of the romance, even dressing up ushers as butlers -- tails and all. (This was, of course, contingent on getting some sort of tie-in with a local formal wear store.)

For areas with liquor stores (and remember, this film came out less than three years after Prohibition was repealed), window displays of Powell serving cocktails was considered a good idea. "A good liquor outfit can feature liquors during the run of the picture with special cocktail recipes named after the two stars" -- presumably with a bit more kick than a "Shirley Temple" -- "or a 'My Man Godfrey Fizz.'"

Or how about this, one of several proposed "ad lines" to insert in brief newspaper ads for the film: "Lovely Lombard and Playboy Powell in the Go-Gettingest Goofy Romance of Their Careers!"

In September, Boxoffice noted this promotion from Universal:



It was called "Diary Of A Debutante," and was 3 by 4 inches, with a pink cover; its "handwritten" 10 pages includes several stills from the film. I have no idea how many of these Universal issued -- but I'm guessing they're extremely rare, and among the most unusual items associated with promotion of a Lombard film.

Some exhibitors came up with their own ideas. For example, in October the manager of the Keith's theater in Baltimore was told by some of his patrons that because the film was so funny, some customers missed the jokes. He contacted Universal to send him a copy of the "Godfrey" script, and a lobby card was installed telling the public that the complete script was available in the outer lobby to enable those who missed the jokes to catch them.

The manager also arranged for a car dealer to supply him an automobile, in which he placed a man and woman in the back seat, riding around the city. A sign on the side read, "What Fun! What Fun! I am a Society 'Deb' and I'm going to take 'My Man Godfrey' to see William Powell and Carole Lombard at Keith's Theatre."

One presumes a theater manager in Providence, R.I. read Boxoffice, because the following month, his theater tried the same tactic:



This time, note it's Lombard who gets top billing.

All in all, some fun ballyhoo, and these promotions helped "Godfrey" become one of the year's biggest hits.

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