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Thursday, April 19, 2012


Where Monsters First Walked

Broadway's Rialto Theatre was whole-hog on horror. Owner/manager Arthur Mayer designed the place to showcase mayhem and his entrance drew patronage like flies to a light bulb. Collegiate Mayer kidded Rialto selections, a go-to wit for trade columnists appreciative of this clear genius who didn't take himself, let alone the biz, too seriously. Most chillers world-opened at the Rialto because its staff was hands-down best at promotion. Front and lobbies were laboratories for how-to selling down the line. Ideas that worked best worked first at the Rialto. Distribution/exploitation staff from RKO/Universal H.Q.'s walked mere blocks to see and learn how best to merchandise Bedlam and House Of Frankenstein. Often the two worked in tandem toward most effective monster marketing. What clicked here was figured to do so for customers nationwide.


It's happy days when Rialto front stills surface. Each is art to my palette. Mayer didn't hang displays personally, but vetted final result. There was staff who designed and built ballys, these customized from gaudy sheets of big-head anarchism. Specially built archways loomed over patrons arriving, as here for Bedlam. Mayer took his cue from fairgrounds --- all the venue lacked was sawdust flooring. Folks could enter off the street or walk up from subway platforms. The place exuded more crass than class, Broadway's black sheep of first-runners. I wish I'd been on hand to roll out file cabinets when they closed, as chances are there were photos taken of every campaign done. What can be salvaged from trades has, and will continue to be, posted here.

1 Comments:

Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

The Rialto regulars were also suckers for Laurel & Hardy, and Mayer frequently booked both L & H first-runs and reissues throughout the 1940s. Several of their later films had their New York premieres at the Rialto, where Mayer gave these low-budget features the "A" treatment.

Arthur Mayer's autobiography, Merely Colossal (1953), is an enjoyable read chronicling one man's contribution to showmanship. Mayer had hoped to be involved in movie production, but through various lateral moves he wound up in promotion and then exhibition. He tells one story about his sales-rep days, when an exhibitor complained that a garish movie-thriller poster wasn't gory enough. Mayer facetiously suggested that maybe he should splash a bucket of blood on it... and the exhibitor took him seriously! So when the time came for "The Merchant of Menace" to showcase his own horror offerings, he went all-out on the ballyhoo, complete with the box-office girl answering phone calls with screams!

4:02 PM  

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