Research for the Sons of Barnum brings me to New York to find the great publicists of the entertainment business, Broadway, in particular. Many of the early film companies had headquarters in New York and it was in such places that many of the great publicists like Harry Reichenbach fine tuned their craft in the shadows of these offices. Meeting Ralph Dyer, now in his 90’s uncovered some of the exploits of these Broadway press agents, giving me a great deal of insight into a recklessness that has long been forgotten.
Recently the Broadway hit Spamalot celebrated its 1000th performance by inviting 10000 people to assemble in Times Square with coconut husks to make the sound of 1000 Monty Pythonesque horses. It made great ink in New York, but failed to connect around the world. In comparison, Dyer’s stunt to promote an off Broadway show called Zeigfeld was a major success. Dyer hired a pack of show girls to audition for the chorus line. Each of the girls was wanted by the police for a variety of misdemeanours. When the day of the audition came, Dyer tipped off the NYPD and the photocall turned into a riot, culminating in Dyer being held in a police cell overnight. The show got acres of publicity, and a local “girl next door” starlet who had been groomed for the part got the job and huge attention. In the mists of time, the show has been forgotten but the press agent’s chutspa still burns bright.