Walter Mencken 11 a.m., Nov. 22
Anatomy of an Ad Campaign: The Marx Bros. A Night at the Opera
It was in seventh grade that I first met the Marx Brothers proper and have the "Boone Booster Club" of the Daniel Boone School to thank for arranging the introduction.
The "Club" was a pre-home video perk for students attending the elementary school in Chicago’s West Rogers Park neighborhood. One Tuesday morning each month we were allowed to dispense with our studies in order to watch a 16mm print projected on the big screen (not a crappy science documentary shown on a classroom wall) and during class time.
The auditorium's pull-down screen was positioned between two huge oil paintings of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. (Daniel Boone was nowhere in sight.) Normally the indiscriminate school "programmer," Mrs. Kolling, would take whatever the distributor (back then it was Films, Inc.) threw her way.
Instead of Laurel & Hardy's Babes in Toyland, we were subjected to the insipid Disney remake. In addition, there was Blackbeard’s Ghost (another live-action Disney hellhole), the feature length version of Journey to the Beginning of Time (which worked better in five-minute installments on Garfield Goose and Friends) and two episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. spliced together to form a feature. There was a Martin and Lewis film, but the clueless booker chose Taurog (Pardners) over Tashlin (Artists and Models).
Somehow a print of A Day at the Races found its way to the Boone auditorium, and it's safe to say my life has not been the same since. A half-dozen classrooms congregating in the school’s assembly hall -- where critical focus was unheard of, the sound system was just slightly better than a subway train, and the tattered window shades allowed more light to come in than the Sistine Chapel -- was not the optimum viewing condition for any movie. In spite of all of the hardships cast upon this budding young cinephile, the 107 minutes spent watching A Day at the Races was the single greatest learning experience in eight years of public school education.
As if preordained, WBKB-TV scheduled a 1:00 a.m. screening of Races later that weekend. I reasoned with my parents that since it wasn’t a “school night,” they should allow me stay up way past my bedtime for an extra serving of "tootsie-fruitsy" ice cream. My mother, generally the softer touch of the pair, wanted nothing to do with the idea. My father actually stepped up to the plate and, after hearing my appeal, uncharacteristically ruled in my favor. He assured my mother that “the kid will be asleep ten minutes after it starts and we’ll never hear about it again.”
I didn't fall asleep. Nor did I nod off during next week's presentation of A Night at the Opera. In fact, they showed every Marx Bros. movie (with the exception of Animal Crackers) followed by many months worth of films featuring Mae West and W.C. Fields. I never shut my eyes on one of them until the closing credits rolled.
It's no surprise that the first ads I researched after discovering Google Newspapers were those featuring the Marx Bros. I'll gladly share more of my lovingly-restored archaeological finds in future posts.
Spokane Daily Chronicle. November 27, 1935.
Spokane Daily Chronicle. November 28, 1935.
The Tuscaloosa News. December 1, 1935.
The Calgary Daily Herald. January 15, 1936.
The Calgary Daily Herald. January 16, 1936.
The Calgary Daily Herald. January 17, 1936.
Need more Marx? Check out Anatomy of an Ad Campaign: The Marx Bros A Day at the Races.
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