I have noticed down the years that publicists can often get over-excited about what looks, on paper, to be a very interesting job proposal. But sometimes, by the time you’re only half way through, the job has exposed hidden depths.
I have been reading about some of the shenanigans of Paul Macnamara, who entered the film industry in 1945 as the director of advertising and publicity for the David O. Selznick organisation. The Selznick Releasing Organization was making a picture from author, Eric Hodgins’ bestseller, Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House. The deal was struck by Dore Schary, who was part of the Selznick organisation and also a friend of Eric Hodgins. Very quickly the picture became an important one as David Selznick got Cary Grant and Myrna Loy to sign on.
Macnamara demonstrated a publicists’ enthusiasm when he first heard about the picture. He went overboard, as it looked like a promotion man’s dream. However, it didn’t turn out quite like that. Macnamara had the idea to build a duplicate of the “dream house” in a hundred cites across the United States. Each builder who signed on for the promotion would get the plans for the house as it appeared in the film. To top it off, the house would be raffled off on the night the film opened in that city, with part of the money going to charity.
David Selznick and Macnamara secured a gigantic co-op advertising campaign aimed at every one in the building business. Then General Electric showed an interest in the project, as they were just coming out with their new all-electric kitchen. After much negotiation, GE agreed to supply the entire electric kitchen at no cost to the studio. They also agreed to spend a million dollars on a magazine campaign featuring the film, the house and of course the kitchen. Another part of the deal was that Cary Grant would get the kitchen once the picture was done. In order to meet the filming schedule, the kitchen had to be sent to the studio by plane at great cost, but it seemed that General Electric were prepared to do just about anything.
I have learnt that no matter how good things appear to be, there’s always a scorpion’s tail waiting to bite, forcing things to a crisis point. Everything looked like a winner for Macnamara, until the promotion department hit a crisis. Builders were calling up from all over the U.S. with complaints about the plans for the “dream house”. The Studio’s art department had designed the “dream house” to be built for a film set, not for real people to live in. The builders were calling the press department saying ” there are no closets anywhere” , “there is no plan for the staircase”. The calls kept on coming. By midnight the same day, Macnamara had succeeded in hiring an architect to sort out the problems; closets were included and so was a space for the staircase. All seemed to be back on track, until Macnamara received a personal telephone call at his home, in the early hours of the morning, from a Mr Black who worked for the General Electric Company. He was ranting and raving and screaming at Macnamara down the phone, threatening to sue the studio. Macnamara knew this was real trouble.
What had happened was that the night before, a General Electric sales manager from the East Coast was wending his way back to LAX. With a couple of hours to spare he passed the Loyola Theater which was advertising a “major sneak preview” of Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House. The sales manager knew all about the film and GE’s involvement so he couldn’t wait to see the film. The picture started and he waited patiently to see the GE all-electric kitchen. One hour passed and no kitchen. When two hours were up and the film was obviously winding down, the sales manager was seriously worried. He missed his plane back to LAX in order to see the end of the film. There were long scenes in the living room, the garden, the hallway, but NOTHING in the kitchen.
The sales manager knew how much this would affect GE. They had spent a million on advertising, sent the kitchen by plane and nothing would be recouped at this rate. He called his superiors back East and told them the kitchen was not in the picture. Macnamara had got the call from GE and knew he was in big trouble. GE were going to sue. Macnamara went to the studio, asked them why the kitchen scenes had been cut, only to be told that they were slowing the movie down, so had been edited out. Selznick himself and Macnamara ordered the re-edit to make sure the kitchen scenes were in. They couldn’t risk being sued even if it meant the movie was far too long and slow. Macnamara sent a telegram to the Marketing Manager at GE and within a couple of days, it was all sorted out again. The film opened to better than fair reviews, and the “dream houses” were raffled off in all the cities. But even after its completion, the campaign was tainted when the winner of the largest “dream house” in L.A. committed suicide a year later as he couldn’t afford to pay the taxes on his luxurious home. Several years later, Macnamara found himself sitting next to Cary Grant on a flight to New York. Grant turned to Macnamara and said “what about the toaster? I never got the toaster you promised me…”
As I see it, brands expect far too much from entertainment clients, and entertainment clients don’t give the necessary respect to the brands which get involved in artistic exercises.