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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Metro's Monster Model For 1961

MGM Offers Its Initial Trade Ad on 1-23-61 for Gorgo 

The producing King Brothers had made thirty-eight pictures since 1940. Gorgo would be their thirty-ninth. Herman, Frank, and Maurice mastered whatever genres made money, and lately, that was science-fiction. Gorgo went before cameras in September 1959 and was nearly a year finishing. The Kings were a corporation with, according to sales whiz Herman, 1800 stockholders. A deal was locked for Metro release in May 1960, Gorgo being shot on MGM-British stages  in addition to locations (Variety called it "a British quota pic"). Metro had large UK facilities. Sluggish use over a past couple years had tempted outright sale of the lot, but then things perked up in 1958-59 and the place became, in Variety's parlance, "a busy and profitable beehive." The Kings were happy to stage Gorgo on Brit isles, Maurice telling Motion Picture Exhibitor's Mel Konecoff that a potential three million dollar job was completed for $1.5 million (actual cost more like $650K) thanks to lower UK tab and qualification under that country's Eady Plan, which, according to Konecoff, meant "one-third of the taxes levied (on Gorgo) were returned to the producers."

The Company Gorgo Kept: Metro's Line-Up For 1961

Herman told trades that he and brothers financed Gorgo entirely on their own and that Metro was merely a distributor in worldwide territories outside England (where the Kings handled the pic via British Lion). Columnist Army Archerd reported Metro's sales department "mucho excited" at prospect of pushing Gorgo, this in July 1960 when the beast looked to land for Thanksgiving over here. That wouldn't happen, as Gorgo work was still ongoing, but MGM planned well ahead, knowing that a best way to handle exploitation shows was to spread them out. Besides, they already had Village Of The Damned set for a sixty theatre opening on December 7, 1960, this one also out of their British facility and looking like a potential sleeper. What any thriller needed was selling initiative with saturation play, and MGM had just the man to direct that for Gorgo.

The Gorgo Delegation, Each With a Pressbook, Getting Ready To Hear From
Merchandising Mastermind Terry Turner

I've spoken of Terry Turner before. He was, in brief, a showmanship genius. There ought to be books about him instead of yet more on names pounded to death in print. Turner was largely what made King Kong's 1952 revival click. He'd do the same for The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms a year later. TT tuned Godzilla's stateside engine and helped Paramount put over War Of The Worlds. By 1960, he was recognized as go-to for whatever sci-fi needed thrust. MGM kept him aboard planes and dining on hotel food for that year's merchandising of The Time Machine and Village Of The Damned. Those two got domestic rentals of  $1.9 and $1.4 million respectively on far less dollars spent. The Time Machine's negative cost was $829K, with Village, Brit-made and Eady Plan assisted like Gorgo, coming in for a mere $320K.

It Wasn't Really a World Premiere, But Japan
Was a Long Way Off, So Who'd Know?
Metro announced in December 1960 that Gorgo would open wide in Japan first, with a January date that was moved up to December 24, twenty-five theatres in principal cities participating. Seventy-five percent of Japan's television stations would take part in advance promotion. Herman King exulted over Nippon numbers posted, his estimate a cool $300,000 for revenues just out of that country, this for a sub-titled version of Gorgo. The King's plan was to dub Japanese-language for another Gor-go, which according to Herman, would spur "an extra 5000 playdates" for the film. Metro meanwhile prepared domestic TV promotion for Gorgo, a record twenty-four different spots. Variety said they wanted to exploit the pic on a "for the whole family" pitch. The spots were said to meet audience needs of all age groups in any situation or timeslot. Terry Turner spent much of December in New York squaring away the TV campaigns as ground was laid for a February 10, 1961 Gorgo premiere in Philadelphia.

Snow's On The Ground, But That Won't Deter Crowds From Seeing Gorgo in Philadelphia

The Fox Theatre's Window Display
The Fox Theatre in Philadelphia was part of the Milgram circuit. It seated 2,200. Maurice Goldberg was with Milgram's advertising department. He was handed Gorgo's all-important first US engagement (billed as a "World Premiere" despite Japan's earlier access). What happened in Philly in terms of exploitation would guide campaigns throughout the country. The important thing to sell is the magnitude of this gigantic monster, comparing it to the cinema mammoth creatures of the past, said Goldberg. Toward that end, he suggested ads using art of Godzilla and King Kong on a much smaller scale than Gorgo in order to emphasize his greater threat. FIRST THERE WAS 'KING KONG'! THEN THERE WAS 'GODZILLA'! AND NOW THIS IS THE BIG ONE, read copy. 60,000 four-page Gorgo heralds were distributed in "the thickly populated areas of the lower income bracket." Now there's insight as to where push for monster movies was most effectively directed in those days. Were shows like Gorgo a province of the poor, in Philadelphia if not elsewhere?

Milgram had three other theatres nearby, and each plugged Gorgo. Two twenty-foot cutouts of the beast with flashing red eyes sat atop the Fox's marquee. Kable News, which printed Famous Monsters Of Filmland magazine, tied up with Philly's United News Company to put a special issue featuring Gorgo at all newsstands serviced by United, thirty trucks emblazoned with Gorgo advertising and reference to Famous Monsters out on streets. It was neither the first nor last time FM would team with merchandisers of a scare film. Gorgo's pressbook tendered James Warren's address to those showmen who'd care to stock copies. So why such extraordinary effort in Philadelphia? MGM spent heavy here because result in terms of high gross would help Gorgo bookings down the line. Monster movies certainly weren't automatic sellers. It took real showmanship to break one away from the pack.

Gorgo's stand in Philadelphia lasted three weeks, good in any man's language for this sort of product. Obviously, a lot of those poor folks got up the scratch to attend. Youngsters too ... by the thousands. A first week did what Variety called a wow $26,000, with all-day lines over (the) weekend, said the trade. A plunge that came with the second frame was probably expected: $13,000. Still, it was OK for perceived kid stuff. A third week's $8,000 ended the party, Gorgo ceding to another from Metro, Go Naked In The World. At least there were initial high numbers to crow about, and reports by early March from Cincinnati had Gorgo tumbling turnstiles to a "grand" $15,000 opener week, indication that Philly was no flash in the pan. Still, Metro took a breath before spreading to other territories. First of these was 100 theatre saturation in the New York area beginning March 29, then fifty Chicago spots on March 31. April 19 was date set for fifty New England opens. Terry Turner continued supervising Gorgo's campaign, with emphasis everywhere on TV spots.

Said spots were essential to sell monsters. Without them, you'd be sunk, a lesson going back to King Kong's 1952 play-off. Boxoffice takes were offset by large amounts pumped into broadcast promotion, and that was never cheap. To such well-oiled machinery, someone had to throw a wrench, and in this case, it was copy-cats Jim Nicholson and Sam Arkoff (or was it Metro and the Kings copying them?). American-International's answer to Gorgo was Konga, also England-made and by Herman Cohen, a live wire independent who knew his monster market cold, having peddled cheapies through AIP over recent seasons. Whatever good will Gorgo engendered, Konga would demolish, him the ape-skin Goofus to Gorgo's Gallant. Producer Cohen got benefit of the Eady Plan as did the Kings, and half of dough was put up by Anglo-Amalgamated, set to distribute in England, with balance covered by American-International. Cohen said Konga cost close to a million dollars, and that AIP was planning to spend $800K on the advertising campaign. Was Herman to be believed? Probably not, but what did trades care? He was surely fun talking to, then as in later interviews, and probably didn't expect to be taken seriously. Cohen's Konga would be a rock in Metro's shoe for saturation dates (and 500 prints) just ahead of Gorgo through March. Did lingering stench from Konga keep prospective customers away from Gorgo? "Aw, we just saw the other monster picture last week" may well have been words uttered by youth let down by Konga and pledged not to let it happen again, at least not right away. I was taken to see Konga in spring 1961, but not subsequent Gorgo, at the Liberty, for which psychic scars remain to this day.

The Bitter and The Sweet,
with a Free Ruler as
Reward for Attending
Jim and Sam must have gotten a laugh, if not grosses accorded Gorgo thanks to Metro's greater distributing muscle. AIP advertised Konga as being in "SpectaMation," which was an altogether crock, both the so-called process and what it didn't deliver in terms of special-FX. Konga took $650,000 in domestic rentals on 10,795 bookings. Gorgo got $1.3 million in domestic rentals, plus $929K foreign, a pretty good outcome, but not the six million dollar gross Herman King had anticipated. Both The Time Machine and Village Of The Damned had done better for MGM than Gorgo, but the Kings would stay aboard to follow-up with Captain Sindbad for Metro release. The Brothers did get stung when Gorgo received an "X" certificate from British censors prior to fall 1961 UK release: It means that no children under sixteen can see it, and that's a big slice of the market, complained Frank King. He went on to say that Gorgo gives a touching picture of mother love and it's wrong that children should be denied the chance of seeing it. Meanwhile, British-Lion went out with a tongue-in-cheek campaign tendering Gorgo as "the monster-with-a-heart." Fifty-two years later, we have a Blu-Ray Gorgo just out from VCI, mine delivered as this post is being written, settling where I'll be over the next couple of hours. Maybe Gorgo will rise yet again as a Greenbriar Watch List entry.


Blogger Mark Mayerson said...

Ironically, Charlton Comics licensed both Gorgo and Konga for comic books and both were drawn by Steve Ditko, better known for Spider-man. Those comics are being reprinted in two hardcover volumes as Steve Ditko's Monsters. The first volume, featuring Gorgo is already out and the second, featuring Konga, is out in May.

7:46 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Did not know about that, Mark. Thanks for the info.

A Charlton "Gorgo" comic in hardback ... boggles the mind.

7:53 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

The Monarch book of GORGO knocked me for double loop as it contained the first heavy duty sex I encountered in a book as a kid. Wow! I wonder how many other kids had their minds exploded by it. Sex scenes that had nothing to do with the movie seemed to be a big feature of such books.

As for the movie, GORGO was, is and always will be one of my favorites.

4:43 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer speaks to the Gorgo-Famous Monsters tie-in:

It's interesting that M-G-M would have sought a tie in with "Famous Monsters of Filmland" for the "Gorgo" release. The problem, however, with sending orders for promotional materials to Mr. James Warren of Philadelphia, is that he would refer them to his Captain Company subsidiary, and the show would be long gone before they were delivered. Or maybe it was just the opposite, and thousands of children across the land were disappointed because of Mr. Warren's divided loyalties. "I have an order here from a little boy in Levittown, but he shall have to wait until I have taken care of this 'Gorgo' business."

I am that little boy from Levittown, and I am still waiting.


6:42 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

I ordered a ton of stuff from Captain Company and got all of it. Not so fortunate with ordering from CASTLE OF FRANKENSTEIN.

This is the first time I heard of someone not getting their order from Warren.

There is, of course, nothing worse for a kid nor an adult. I bought back issues and all of their masks. Had a great time on Hallowe'en with the masks. My home town in New Brunswick, Canada, had never seen anything like it. Myself and some friends literally scared the yell out of everyone who saw us. The town talked about that night for months.

7:11 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

I ordered the back issues I'd missed (only 8 issues) in 4 installments and received 3 of them. I never got my order of issues #1 and #4. To this day those are the only issues I've never owned, and, of course, they're the rarest of them all.

I bought the paperback of GORGO and dropped it on the living room coffee table. My mom picked it up, shaking her head at yet more monster stuff. Then she browsed the pages and, after a while, said to me, "you're not planning on reading this, are you?" I said, "no, I just wanted it for the cool cover." She said, "Good," and handed it to me. So, of course, I went straight to my room and read it. Hot stuff!

10:34 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

I loved GORGO and still do. Saw it when new at my local movie house and then again at the drive-in some 44+ days later (44 days was the usual required gap between a hardtop and an outdoor showing).

One of the big things we moppets liked about GORGO was that mama monster and offspring walked away into THE END credits instead of meeting a ghostly demise.

12:10 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

"One of the big things we moppets liked about GORGO was that mama monster and offspring walked away into THE END credits instead of meeting a ghostly demise."

You said it. That came about because Eugene Lourie's son cried for the dinosaurs after seeing the earlier films. Lourie decided to make another one to put a smile on his son's face instead of tears.

2:19 PM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Eugene Lourie kept making the same dinosaur movie over again, was pretty darn good each time. Love that Basil Gogos cover for Famous of his earliest I believe!

10:23 AM  
Blogger rnigma said...

Speaking of Charlton, the ad for the Monarch tie-in paperback has the address of Capitol Distribution Company in Derby, CT - which is where Charlton was based (and CDC distributed Charlton's magazines and comics).

11:55 AM  

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