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Welcome to All Movie Talk! In this audio podcast, Samuel Stoddard and Stephen Keller talk about old and new movies, famous directors, historical film movements, movie trivia, and more.

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Vintage: Ballyhoo, Part 6

In our last exciting installment of Ballyhoo, we left off in the middle of a shocking marketing stunt, actually used in the 1920s, that began thusly:

Novelty stunt to be worked with newspaper. The latter has a photographer take five photos of girls each day who are willing to pose in the--

We now return to -- Ballyhoo! (But if you're totally lost about what this is all about, maybe you want to backtrack to Part 1 first.)

--streets! To pose in the streets! Makes sense. First thing that popped into mind. Well, it's an exploitative stunt, but exploitation 80 years ago seems a whole lot more wholesome than it does today.

The next marketing stunt is a great dating tip. Strew hearts everywhere. It'll bring out the "love" atmosphere.

I want to see the Silk Chemise stunt worked today, but maybe it can be adapted for different kinds of movies. Like, hang up some humongous purple shorts in the middle of the theater lobby with an "Is this yours?" sign on it. A week later, add a second sign, saying, "This is similar to the shorts worn by The Incredible Hulk in the forthcoming picture!" When people see that, those tickets will sell like hotcakes.

The Bath Scene stunt runs afoul of the changing terminology discussed in Part 5. "Sex feature" wasn't a synonym for "pornography." Probably such films were considered exploitative, but as I said, exploitation once felt a lot more wholesome. Then again, maybe that's just the three generations later in me talking.

So, ok, nobody could have taken the "Gipsy Girls" (old-fashioned spelling there) stunt seriously, but it's still a funny thought. If you believe dreams have meanings, you probably believe they have important meanings. I can just imagine little Ralphie, eagerly tearing open the envelope, reading the note, and his face instantly falling. "It's a crummy commercial!"

It's interesting to me how many of these stunts are gender specific. The stunts often dictate whether you should get a guy for this, or a girl for that. Usually it's girls. Girls sell. I still don't quite fully understand why men's magazines have pretty girls on them and women's magazines have pretty girls on them. At any rate, this "For Men Only" stunt is all about gender roles and playing off relationships. Pretty girl gives a guy a private note. What's the missus think about that? She demands to see. They open it together. Ahhh, the poor sod has been ensnared. Now he'll have to take her to see [name of picture] at [name of theater].

My tone throughout these posts is usually one of amusement at how much culture and advertising has changed over time. But I have to admit, this one, although the wording of the note itself feels pretty old-fashioned, seems brilliant to me, at least in theory, in the way it uses a little psychology to capture the attention of its audience.

I wonder if the reverse would work. "FOR WOMEN ONLY -- Be sure to take HIM to see SUPER DEATH FIGHTERS III! It's the kind of picture men love!"

Nahhh. But, oooh, how about this one? "FOR WOMEN ONLY -- Be sure to take HIM to see LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT IN THE RAIN! It's the kind of picture men love!" I can see that giving women ideas. Poor guys.

The Matched Cards stunt is actually kind of a cute idea. Again, though, it's pretty tied to its era. Today, the cards would be distributed nationwide inside specially marked packages of Frosted Flakes, Oreos, and Bounty, and somebody would make a fortune setting up a web site where you can log which numbers you've found and see if anybody else has logged it.

Printed Kisses...what a fantastic idea. My two favorite stunts this week are still to come, but I think "She has developed this form of greeting to her friends" is easily the best line. It brings to mind a woman wearing glasses and a laboratory coat and peering into a microscope surrounded by bubbling vials and beakers. She jots adds a drop of purple stuff to a concoction. It fizzes furiously, and she jots down some notes on a clipboard as a slow smile spreads across her face. "I've got it!" she exclaims. "James! James! Confound it, where is my assistant? James! I've done it! I've perfected the formula for the perfect greeting! I'll be rich! James, you imbecile, go out to the store and buy a greeting card and some lipstick! I want to test it out immediately!"

Well, "Winks" is probably my favorite stunt this week. What an absolutely fantastic contest idea. Never mind the ukulele thing. Anybody can play a ukulele. Naughty winking takes real talent!

Actually, this stunt makes me realize how standards of attractiveness change over time. Today, kind of the standard provocative pose would include some kind of "smouldering" expression. A confident outward stare, eyes narrowed. A few generations ago, a broad gleaming smile and an exuberant wink was more common. So, hey, why not get a bunch of women up on a stage somewhere to wink and be judged? I'm not sure where the movie promotion comes into it, but that's just a minor detail. I think my favorite category is "wisest" wink.

The Impersonation Idea...inexplicable. I am absolutely positive that this reads with wholly different connotations today than it did 80 years ago, but I am totally in the dark for how this actually came across back then.

The Wedding Stunt closes the "Sex Dramas and Romance" section, and what a way to end it. I'm sure it's every girl's dream to one day have an advertising stunt wedding. You know what would have been awesome? If an excited couple did this, and the wedding reception was the premiere of some movie like...I dunno, Baby Geniuses. They've been spending the last seven months working with the marketing department, and everybody's all excited about this great wedding/movie event, and the happy couple is already planning to watch "their" movie on every wedding anniversary thereafter, and they have the service, and the producer thanks the newlyweds and presents the feature, and the lights dim, and it's the WORST. MOVIE. EVER.

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