February 16th, 2009

carole lombard 01
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On top of the 'Boxoffice'

In yesterday's entry, we noted how one theater manager promoted Carole Lombard's film "Nothing Sacred" during its run. The story was in Boxoffice magazine for Jan. 15, 1938...but as it turns out, that wasn't the only place in that issue where you could find her. This item, consisting of two photos, also appeared:

The caption reads:

"Carole Lombard is on the receiving end of both a bronze tablet erected by Fort Wayne, Ind., her home town, to mark her birthplace, and a cup from the drama students of Los Angeles Junior College for 'the best comedy performance during 1937,' referring to her current starrer, 'Nothing Sacred.' Mervyn LeRoy, in the upper picture, merely muscled in for a free photograph. Presenting the cup to Miss Lombard is Professor Harold M. Turney of the drama department."

What do we learn from this?

For one thing, it proves that not only did Lombard actually see the plaque that's attached to her birthplace, now a bed-and-breakfast (http://community.livejournal.com/carole_and_co/14976.html), but she handled it as well. (Since Carole's final visit to Fort Wayne occurred in 1930, she never actually saw the plaque affixed to the house.)

For another, these publicity photos were probably furnished to the magazine by Russell Birdwell, the publicity whiz for Selznick International and a good friend of Lombard's. (The plaque refers to that studio's "Nothing Sacred.") Note that Carole has the same outfit on in both photos, so they were likely taken on the same day, probably sometime in December 1937, since the plaque was dedicated on New Year's Day 1938.

And why had Mervyn LeRoy "merely muscled in for a free photograph"? Probably because that and the other photo were almost certainly taken at the Warners studio in Burbank, where LeRoy was directing Lombard in her next film (which he also produced)...but Birdwell naturally wasn't concerned about that.

That next film was called "Fools For Scandal," and in the following week's issue, Boxoffice examined the upcoming movie and, nearly three months before its release, gave theater owners suggestions on how to market it:

Boxoffice reminded theater owners that this was co-star Fernand Gravet's second American vehicle and added, "don't neglect adequate mention of Carole Lombard, whose performances in recent pictures have made her a definite draw." (Remember, when this was published, two of her films -- "Nothing Sacred" and Paramount's "True Confession" -- were making the rounds, winning plaudits from both audiences and critics.)

For promotional ideas, suggestions included:

"Take advertisements in local papers next to society and gossip columns on the 'scandal' angle. Have a newspaperman write your ad copy in gossipy style. Get the newspaper to cooperate with you on an 'Amateur Winchell' contest, with entrants turning in juicy bits of neighborhood scandal and offering a pair of tickets daily to the best tipster."

One wonders if any papers actually ran such promotions -- and whether such "amateur gossip" resulted in any lawsuits. Yes, people, journalism was far different in 1938.

Since much of the film was set in Paris, it was suggested theater managers "work out a title tieup with a distributor of French foods...Also negotiate a tieup with the women's page of a local newspaper and run a French recipe contest, submitting as 'Fernand Gravet's favorite recipe.' " (Never mind that Gravet actually hailed from Belgium, although he was quite active in the French film industry, and would be until his death in 1970.)

"Fools For Scandal," of course, would turn out to be a cinematic Waterloo for Carole, but armed with minimal information about the film,Boxoffice couldn't have known it at the time. In January 1938, Lombard was at her career apex, as all these items make evident.
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