Fox Plants Roots In Roadshow
|The First RKO Palace Ad For Their Roadshow Roots Premiere|
Darryl Zanuck had been exec in production charge at 20th since the outfit was mid-30's formed. He left in '56 to produce a Tiffany line of literary adaptations to beat back junk on TV. DFZ was for giving the lost adult audience a reason to dress up and attend movies. The Roots of Heaven dramatized a zealot's effort to rescue African elephants from poachers, and colonial government enablers of same. With initially cast William Holden, it might have worked, but Holden couldn't get
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Fox aimed for Christmas general release and abandonment of hard-ticket policy. The roadshow experiment, what Fox called "a trial balloon," failed for blunt reason that The Roots Of Heaven was not an attraction to justify inflated pricing on reserve seats. Neither was The Barbarian and The Geisha, reason good as any why 20th bent to the will of exhibition and offered both these John Huston letdowns to wider distribution without strings. For himself, Huston pitched in where possible, giving trade interviews amounting to travel lectures minus slides. Hazard of
|Juliette Greco --- By All Accounts, A Good Singer, and in The Roots Of Heaven, Not At All a Bad Actress, Remembered Now as One Of Zanuck's Mistress/Discoveries|
Zanuck had been bullish going in. It has majesty written all over it, said he prior to the Palace opening. While it runs two hours, twenty minutes, it is over before you know it. Others disagreed, thus the reel-or-so haircut DFZ gave The Roots Of Heaven. Distributors Complaining About Length Of "Big" Pix, observed Variety about shows which run around two hours and drag in the doing. Age old conflicts between East and West Coasts (selling vs. production)were nothing new, the former pointing up fact that an extra 15 or 20 minutes can add up to a tidy sum when a company puts out 300 or more prints. Maybe it was time to reign in creative indulgence gone overboard. Directors of renown are being given more leeway on the (West) Coast today under the independent setups, and are reluctant to cut their footage, particularly if a lot of work was involved getting it. The trade referred specifically to offenders then on view, including Inn Of The Sixth Happiness, The Big Country, and The Buccaneer, as well as The Roots Of Heaven.
From a roadshow that tanked, Fox let air out of promoting tires with a general release pressbook of only twelve pages and fairly dispirited ones at that. Did they really expect small venues to hold their own "Red Carpet Premieres" as suggested? And it wasn't news that "prestige" meant little in the hinterlands. There was a half-hour production film Zanuck had done in Africa that was network-run by ABC in November, then made available gratis to showmen who could place it on local stations (how many bothered, I don't know --- are there prints of this subject around?). Roots was, not unexpectedly, nixed in the stix. Small towns wanted Tarzan or Bomba pacing jungles, not Trevor Howard on elephant guard duty, and the film's pretentious title gave action fans little to conjure with. Distributors concentrated more and more on urban centers for grosses by 1958, but rural situations were essential to drag product into profit, and The Roots Of Heaven was distinctly not their preferred bill of fare.
Trades by mid-1959 revealed Roots' struggle to crack its first million in domestic rentals, a humiliating figure Fox confirmed, though everyone by then knew it was their biggest loss from what had been a rotten year (The Roots Of Heaven crept over a foreign rentals threshold to $1.1 million). 1963 brought network premiering on NBC --- they'd broadcast nearly the whole of Fox's 50's backlog on Saturday, and later Monday, primetime movies. The Roots Of Heaven was syndicated by September of the same year with forty-five other 20th features just off NBC rotation. Whatever values Huston derived from