All my recent Hollywood publicist research has led me to the much-talked-about Hollywood myths. Over the years of movie publicity, a plethora of myths exists. A young intern at the Academy Library in Los Angeles, who I met on my last trip, has written to me having found some interesting information on a lady named Mary Mayer, who was the unit publicist for a time on the movie “The Wizard of Oz”. Mary Mayer had attested to the astonishing truth (according to her and the cinematographer, Hal Rosson,) that the coat chosen for the character “Professor Marvel” was actually found to belong to the original author of The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum.
The character played by Frank Morgan actually played five different roles in the Wizard of Oz. In the Emerald City, he was the cabbie who drove the Horse of a different colour, a guard at the entrance to the Wizard’s palace, the doorkeeper at the Wizard’s palace, and the Great and Powerful Oz himself. In the Kansas sequences that opened the film, he played the disreputable Professor Marvel.
Nearly all the makeup and costumes designs used in the film went through numerous revisions and changes before and during the filming, and Morgan’s outfits were no exception. Although Morgan did not make his first appearance before the cameras until 14th January 1939, he posed for makeup and costume test shots of all his characters in mid November 1938. On 17th November, Morgan tested his Professor Marvel make up on the set, using the same costume he had worn for his Wizard test shots the day before. Six days later, Morgan again posed for test shots of the Professor Marvel character, this time with a different hairstyle, jacket and tie.
The story behind the jacket selected for this second test shot (and ultimately used in the film itself) is one of the most curious of all Oz anecdotes. Supposedly, according to Mayer, the director wanted a coat that would show “grandeur gone to seed”. It had to be a nice looking coat but one that was very tattered. The wardrobe department had gone to a second hand shop on Main Street a bought a whole rack of coats. Victor Fleming, the director, and the wardrobe department got together and chose one coat. It was a kind of Prince Albert coat, in black broadcloth with a velvet collar but the nap was all worn off the velvet. The coat fitted Frank Morgan (Professor Marvel) and had the right look of shabby gentility. One afternoon on set, Frank turned out one of the pockets in the coat. Inside was the name L. Frank Baum.
Mary Mayer wired the tailor in Chicago and sent pictures of the coat to them. They replied confirming that the coat had been made for an L. Frank Baum. Even Baum’s widow identified the coat as his. It was presented to her after the film was finished. The whole affair however, was dismissed as a publicity stunt and even though Mayer vouched for it, she couldn’t actually get anyone to believe it.
The second truth / myth from The Wizard of Oz concerned a lone munchkin supposedly swinging from a tree. When Dorothy meets the Tin Woodsman and the happy troupe skip away into the sunset towards the Emerald City, a lone hanged munchkin can be spotted swinging from a tree. Legend has it that, jilted by his little lover, the yellow brick road layer tied a noose round his neck and jumped to his death during the last seconds of filming the scene. Apparently, the death was hushed up and no one noticed the mini corpse had actually made it into the film until it had already been released. According to movie historians, this legend is a lie. The film actually used some large birds from the local zoo to add to the garden feel. In the scene in question, one of the birds (an emu or a crane) is standing tall at the back of the set, flapping its wings, and it is this image that has been confused for our jilted munchkin.
This goes to show, whether true or not, how rumours can attain myth status. Nowadays, the internet is responsible for much of the hype and many of the rumours and has become a regularly used method of spreading the word. In 1999, Blair Witch Project was one of the first movies that gained so much pre-release buzz because its production company marketed it specifically over the internet. They claimed the low budget movie was actually real footage from a documentary gone horribly wrong. By creating such mystique around the movie, people eagerly anticipated its release, to be terrified by something they truly believed was real. The movie, Snakes on a Plane’s current pre release buzz was attributed to the internet, but was not as calculated as Blair Witch Project’s. It was actually creative web users and rapid word of mouth phenomena via the internet that helped to turn Snakes on a Plane into one of the most anticipated films of the summer.
New Line was eager to keep the buzz hot. So, imitating the interactive-content-driven publicity blitz that fans had started, the studio’s marketing team collaborated with social-networking site TagWorld on a “Snakes on a Plane”-inspired song contest. (An electro pop act called Captain Ahab emerged the winner.)
“Snakes on a Plane” enthusiasts were encouraged to spread the word to their friends through semi personalized telephone calls from Jackson. Most important, not only did New Line step up the marketing, but it made changes to the movie based on fan feedback.
As told on so many news outlets, blogs and fan sites, director David Ellis rounded up the cast for five days of reshoots, responding to the fans’ reactions and upping the film’s gore and obscenity to bump its viewer advisory rating from PG-13 to R. And now, as screenwriter Friedman imagined a year ago, the final cut of “Snakes on a Plane” really does include Jackson’s character saying, with gritty action movie determination, “I’ve had it with these (expletive) snakes on this (expletive) plane!”
Just recently I read about a U.S. writer, actor and filmmaker called Adam Muskiewicz who has set up a website www.elviswanted.com. He claims that the website was set up mostly for publicity and to get the public involved in an independent documentary exploring the myth that Elvis is still alive. The hoaxing of Elvis Presley’s death is the biggest myth in the history of pop culture. Does it have any merit, the film asks, are there any facts behind it? The film and the website aim to explore persistently popular rumours that Elvis did not die on August 16th 1977 but may have gone into hiding. As the 29th anniversary of the King’s death passes, a 3 million dollar reward is being offered for anyone who finds Elvis Presley alive. The result is that the number of hits to this website is mammoth and the interest in the final documentary is colossal.
Although myths have been handed down by word of mouth since time began, it does seem surprising how any rumour or myth propagated prior to the internet, could keep up its momentum and reach such wide audiences as they didn’t have the power to propel the stories. The internet has turned myth mongering into a rapid and global phenomenon that publicity machines will always tap into as a means of spreading news.