Posts Tagged ‘It Happened One Night’

Clark Gable (1901-1960)

Clark Gable (1901-1960)

In my last two posts, I blogged about Clark Gable destroying undershirt sales when he took off his shirt in the 1934 Columbia picture “It Happened One Night” to reveal only bare skin and no undergarment. Men wanted to be like Gable and stopped buying undershirts. It would take a war, 17 more years, and another sexy actor before undergarments would become popular again. This time though, the t-shirt would jump from underwear to outerwear.

It was 1951, the actor was Marlon Brando, and the production was “A Streetcar Named Desire.” On Broadway and then on the big screen, Brando electrified audiences with his portrayal of the animalistic Stanley Kowalski who struts about in his stand-alone, outerwear t-shirt. Originally, the t-shirt was issued by the U.S. Navy (as early as 1913) as a crew-necked, short-sleeved, white cotton undershirt to be worn under a uniform. Although men did wear soft cotton tees after the war, they were worn for labor or under a dress shirt, but not to be seen in public. But Brando’s Kowalski is a brawny exhibitionist, fond of strutting about the streets in a tight, sweaty, smelly, and sticky tee that accentuates his massive torso and rippling biceps. Brando pulls the tee shirt up and over his head in one scene as he flirts with the sister-in-law, and in another scene, rips at his shirt in anguish as he cries upstairs to his wife with the unforgettable line, “Stella!” (Click to see.)

Actor James Dean (1931-1955)

Actor James Dean (1931-1955)

Offscreen, Marlon Brando took the rebel fashion statement even further, pairing his white t-shirt with boots, motorcycle, and an anti-establishment sneer. It started a t-shirt craze. Next thing we know, movie icon James Dean (“Rebel Without A Cause,” see last post) borrows the Brando t-shirt, jeans and boots look but tops it off with a jeans jacket. From that point on, the t-shirt is set loose and becomes next the symbol of restless and rebellious American youth.

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Continuing from yesterday’s post, “Clark Gable: He’s Just Not That Into…Undershirts,” we are talking about name brand products being deliberately displayed in movies to influence consumer spending. Placing products in movies is big business for merchandisers, ad men, and marketers – and highly competitive, given the cluttered field.

To learn about strategic product placement in movies, I visited the website of Norm Marshall & Associates of Los Angeles/New York/Boston/Sydney/Tokyo, an entertaining marketing firm. We sense the cutthroat nature of the business when we read on Norm Marshall’s website that:

“As audiences continue to be sliced among proliferating media and properties, we continue to find ways to reach them.”  History has proven the effectiveness of product placement in movies. Norm Marshall cites these examples:

Tom Cruise in "Risky Business"

Tom Cruise in "Risky Business"

When Clark Gable got undressed for bed, he was seen not wearing an undershirt under his shirt in the 1934 movie “It Happened One Night.” The most popular undershirt in the 1930s was the sleeveless A-shirt, or tank top. Undershirt sales plummeted, thanks for Gable – for no real man would wear an undershirt if screen idol Gable didn’t.

James Dean, the movie idol of the 1950s, caused sales of Ace Combs to reach record levels when he slicked back his hair with one in “Rebel Without A Cause.”

Sales of RayBan™ sunglasses skyrocketed after handsome and sleek Tom Cruise wore them in the 1985 movie “Risky Business.”

Association with Steven Spielberg’s movie E.T. The Extraterrestrial increased the sales of peanut butter and chocolate Reeses Pieces™ by 70%.


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Warner Brothers' 2009 box office hit, PG-rated "He's Just Not That Into You"

Warner Brothers' 2009 box office hit, PG-13 rated "He's Just Not That Into You"

According to a February 25 New York Times article, The American Medical Association is planning on lodging an official complaint against Warner Brothers for its “disturbing images of specific cigarette brands” in their new movie, “He’s Just Not That Into You.” Melissa Walthers, director of the health advocacy group’s effort to reduce teenage smoking, says that there is no artistic reason to include such images.

While the movie “He’s Just Not That Into You” doesn’t show anyone smoking, there are numerous shots of the cigarette brand Natural American Spirit Lights in their recognizable bright yellow box as well as a red Marlboro carton, and the AMA is not happy. Ironically, the story line places smoking in a negative light. The main character, played by Jennifer Connelly, leaves her husband not because he cheated on her (although he did) but because he lied about quitting smoking.

Ms. Walthers says that various studies estimate that smoking in films prompts 200,000 young people to start smoking each year. Other health organizations besides the AMA have pressured The Motion Picture Association of America to “trim tobacco sequences” from their movies, but the industry cites the need for artistic license and, in 2007,  refused to consider an outright ban on cigarettes and smoking in film.

it-happened-one-nightAs for anyone out there skeptical about the power of the media to influence consumers, look back to the year 1934 and the release of the Frank Capra comedy, “It Happened One Night” with Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, the winner of five Academy Awards, including Best Picture (Columbia). Sales of men’s undershirts declined sharply after Gable, undressing for bed in a scene, took off his shirt and appeared bare-chested and sexy. He was not wearing the traditional undershirt, a standard clothing item at the time for men. According to legend, sales of undershirts plummeted overnight. American men had made up their minds. If Clark Gable didn’t think he needed an undershirt under his shirt, then neither did they.

Click here to see the famous scene from “It Happened One Night” titled, “The Walls of Jericho.” (That’s Claudette Colbert with Gable, who, win finishing the movie, pronounced it the worst she’d ever made – then went on to win an Oscar for that very movie.

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