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Monday, December 11, 2023

Ads and Oddities #4

Ad/Odds: Hopalong Cassidy, Design for Death, The Outlaw, and Sarong Revue

YEAR-ROUND HOPPY HOLIDAY --- Show me someone who to this late day collects Hopalong Cassidy merchandise, omitting those passed whose heirs dump precious cargo onto eBay or elsewhere. They say Elvis records from the fifties went same route, as in who cares now and how much will you give for the lot? If someone drove up and offered me the completist ever collection of Hoppy merchandise, would I bite, or even discuss biting? I remember a Columbus con where the paper auction featured a Roy Rogers accumulation from years a late fan dedicated toward having it all, and what happened? You might guess. One was either there for Roy, or Hoppy, or not. Hoppy had one, several, epochs, a first when he launched in 1936 for Paramount, then after the war when William Boyd bought the negatives and brought Hoppy roaring back to television viewership many times the number of those who watched him in theatres. This was popularity beyond anything previously witnessed for a cowboy. Others had lunch boxes sure, maybe comic books, bric/brac here or there, but nothing like seismic shift brought on by Hopalong Cassidy as a new generation’s idol. The event was so large as to inspire a movie spoof, Callaway Went Thataway, the Citizen Kane of sagas spun off an old-time western star who was not what his image seemed. They say Boyd, at least his handlers, reacted Hearst-like to humor near the knuckle which caused MGM to add disclaimers for Callaway. Look at variety of product under Cassidy banner --- everything but a Hoppy tuxedo and evening gown for Dick or Jane. I like the “Slick-Up Kit” to promote good grooming, and the “Bath Roundup to Make Bathing Fun for Junior.” What would such Loot of the World, to borrow for Kane’s newsreel narrator, come to in eBay dollars? Could it all be catalogued and appraised? Kidding of course, but if this were thirty-forty years ago, I’d be asking straight-faced, and Hoppy hunters still on the job would answer.

DESIGN FOR DEATH (1947) --- Outrage documentaries were still catnip well after the war, real-life atrocity a gift to keep giving. Did Design for Death really win an Academy Award? Makes me kind of want to see it, except nobody seems willing to present it, at least streaming or broadcast on TCM. Maybe Design for Death would be a hotter potato now than when new. In any case, it probably would not be worth the guff of tracking down. Imagine an “Oscar Month” featuring Design for Death, TCM cheerleaders gathered for a “responsible” introduction explaining necessary context and “problematic” aspects. Exploitation features belong to their time for sure. Most couldn’t get a pass except in plain brown wrapper that is small label discs. Look at this doozy of an ad however. Aggressor Nations Plot War! One guess, maybe two, as to who they’re referring to. Then there’s venerable “Captured Secret Jap Films” as if a previous war was ongoing still. Had the government urged restraint in this area? Conflict was after all over. Why fan old flames? “Police-State War Rackets” has entertainment possibilities that sort of foretells The Third Man to come. You could call Design for Death a scare film … in fact, let’s definitely call Design for Death a scare film. Do note these credits --- Dr. Seuss and his wife wrote it! That is surely one for Ripley. Richard Fleischer co-produced. I should check his memoir to see if Design for Death is covered. With such talent aboard, Design for Death was no catch-penny project. It only looks like one. Check the supporting program, five units of fun with swing, Leon Errol, and cartoons to rinse off with.

--- For whatever good or bad reason, I have never sat through this notorious event of a western. Maybe missing out on the forties and billboards splayed everywhere made me self-conscious for not knowing the real show that was publicity for Jane Russell as directed by Howard Hughes, who took charge after Howard Hawks had enough and walked off. The Outlaw floated around theatres for many years, especially I suspect in the southland, our Starlight Drive-In using it as late as 1974. Public domain status enabled stations to rely upon The Outlaw rather than pay for better product, but today is not to praise or damn, but to recognize one among what surely were thousands of arresting ads sent out on behalf of a greatest tease in so-far history of film. This was for an early San Francisco engagement in 1943, no doubt a Hughes test run to see what he could get away with on the promoting end. You can bet there was nothing in the movie to measure against depiction here of Jane Russell, but wait … how do we know how much Outlaw they saw in Frisco? Surely multiple versions played prior to a final and general release three years later. Someone could write a book on the checkered exhibition history of The Outlaw. Hughes had boldness his money made possible and did not answer to anyone. Others no matter maverick reputations toadied to somebody, in any event to wider corporate interests. Hughes was his own vast corporation, pity that for all his panache and talent, he was not a sane man. The Outlaw shows up often on TCM. Is their print good? If there’s an “owner,” at least of original elements, it would be Universal, as they have most of the rest of Hughes.

JUNGLE DUO --- Couple of spoiled boys in the neighborhood (more so even than me) had an 8mm film called Jungle Witch, unknown quantity because when was there ever a movie called Jungle Witch? Some of us were invited to watch eight minutes where among other things a gorilla killed natives and maybe Buster Crabbe was in for a look. Latter query suggested the feature from which Jungle Witch was culled went by name Nabonga, a PRC circa 1944 that featured Crabbe and “introduced” Julie London. What difference did titles make? Hardly mattered if there ever was a Jungle Witch. Showmen felt largely the same when such pictures were new or nearly so, per here combo of “Swamp Woman” and “Jungle Man.” I won’t hazard a guess as to identity of the two features --- they’d suffice for this occasion and maybe other where what you saw mattered less than getting a load off feet or catching winks between plant shifts. I’ll guess this was wartime and minds were on something other than silly happenings on screen. Reaction might have approximated mine twenty years later for Jungle Witch. There actually was a Crabbe vehicle called Jungle Man that PRC released in 1941, but I’ve got a guess this show could have been anything of Buster in pithy headgear. Swamp Woman came also of PRC, with Ann Corio, who stripped for burlesque when not jungle engaged. Her work and identity were called “exotic,” and customers could and often did pay into theatres hoping she would do something up to then forbidden in movies. “Sarong Revue” sums these up, and I give the Studio Theatre credit for programming and ad design. Note doors unlocked at 9:30 am and “Open All Night,” clean-up crews busy during interim.


Blogger Supersoul said...

You've done it again, John. You have highlighted a major 1950's generational touchpoint for me. Nobody was bigger than Hoppy in the early '50's. As young as I was then, I never missed an episode of "Hopalong Cassidy" on my family's Dumont TV. He was my favorite TV cowboy back then. Gene and Roy also got my attention, but for some reason, Hoppy was my number one cowboy hero. You just knew he was the good guy because he always wore his white Stetson. You would not believe the tremendous amount of authorized Hopalong Cassidy merchandise there was available at the time. In fact my parents surprised me with an entire suite of official Hopalong Cassidy bunkhouse bedroom furniture for Christmas in 1952. I a very happy and surprised little 5 year old boy that Christmas. Once again, John, thanks for the warm and happy reminders of my youth. I'm beginning to think you would have loved living in that time and place in America

8:12 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

Wikipedia sez "Design for Death" was adapted from a wartime military training film written by the Geisels, padded and likely juiced up for commercial release. That raises some questions: Did the government sell it to a producer? Was there any approval process on what was done with it? Was it, perhaps, quasi-official propaganda for American-style democracy?

9:20 PM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

Hoppy was, and still is, my favorite screen cowboy. And I ran my standard 8mm JUNGLE WITCH for my neighborhood kiddie friends more than once.

7:07 AM  
Blogger Mike T. said...

I have nothing to add about any of these films--I came along 20 years too late for Hoppy mania--but I did notice that Gimbels' phone number is just one digit off from the nearby Hotel Pennsylvania's as made famous by Glenn Miller.

8:52 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Mike Mazzone delves into what became of cowboy collectibles:


Great Hoppy post, as with almost all cowboy collectibles (gun and holster sets seem to be an exception and for the most part have held up ) have gone way down, exactly for the reasons you cite. Just Kids Nostalgia recently offered a large B Western collection on eBay with many wonderful, rare items in the offing, it was an education just to go through the listings to see such a diverse selection that someone had lovingly collected over the years. After the auction ended, I went to “completed” and was not necessarily surprised to see that many of the unique items ended up selling for a single opening bid of $20.00 . Such a shame for these cultural touchstones of a past generation.

If anyone wants an insight to the effect Hoppy truly had on his young fans, they need to look no further that to Don Mclean’s classic album “American Pie” (a cultural touchstone in itself). Evidently, Don was part of the Hoppy generation and illustrated on the inner sleave of first pressings is a portrait of Hoppy seated on Topper with a lovingly written tribute to the man that will surely bring tears to your eyes.

10:51 AM  
Blogger Neely OHara said...

Great post, John! I was not only too late for the Hoppy era, but as a kid if the only TV offering was a western or a war movie, I headed outside with a book.

And I wanted to add that when the huge Outlaw poster (of Russell on the haystack — a single straw dangling provocatively from her lips) appeared in Time Square, Garson Kanin is said to have observed to a friend that a better title might have been, A Sale Of Two Titties.”

2:42 PM  
Blogger DokG said...

When I was a kid back in the 60s, I came across a collection of records my mom had stored up in the attic. Among them were a couple of Bozo and Hopalong Cassidy multi-disc 45 sets that came in a nice gate fold package with a storybook. That was my first exposure to Hoppy - and my last, until an insane movie fan showed up in the movie Fade to Black, all tricked out in Hoppy gear and gunning down a young Mickey Rourke. Didn't really star watching the movies until just a few years back, when the covid lock down gave me the opportunity to marinate in old B westerns. Buck Jones and Johnny Mack Brown became my sagebrush obsessions, but I appreciated Hopalong Cassidy as well, and hoovered up a couple of the big collections.

Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, back in the mid-70s, we had a program called The Worst of Hollywood. Despite the name, the folks behind it were big B-movie fans, and the followed the broadcasting axiom to educate as well as entertain. They had in-studio interviews with Mantan Moreland, John Carradine, Frankie Darro and many other surviving B performers and creators. I remember seeing Jungle Man on Worst of Hollywood (also Crabbe's go at Tarzan), as well as Swamp Woman, Strangler of the Swamp and the life-changing Radio Ranch. A great, great show - and a wonderful introduction to second-tier Hollywood. Even the genuinely unbearable films that occasionally popped up were given context and background by host, Bob Deckleman. My life long appreciation of Monogram, PRC, Grand National and the like, began there.

8:25 PM  
Blogger MikeD said...

Hoppy is still a big deal at the Lone Pine Movie Festival!

10:39 AM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

Hoppy was an obsession and I had most of the clothes and other frills. Roy came pretty close (especially on tv) and The Lone Ranger knocked me out with his COLOR movies. Fifteen cents for a ticket and a dime for the bag of popcorn; was Heaven ever more attainable?

10:32 AM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

You've got to see the restored, uncut version of The Outlaw. The barely unspoken sexual attraction that Pat Garrett and Doc Holiday have for Billy the Kid is hilarious. Walter Houston (Doc) plays it for all it's worth. Jane Russell's close up going in for a kiss is wild -- I don't know how audiences reacted then. The whole thing is tremendously entertaining. By the way, is it true that the censors approved it in 1943, but Hughes pretended the opposite just to build up interest over the years?

12:03 PM  

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