The legendary Berwyn/Chicago-based horror/sci-fi film host will showcase “Dr. Cyclops” (1940), this Sat., Dec. 30 at 8 p.m. Eastern/7 p.m. Central on Me-TV.
“Dr. Cyclops” was directed by Ernest B. Schoedsack. Merian C. Cooper served as one of the co-producers of the film with Dale Van Every (Cooper did not receive screen credit for the 1940 Technicolor sci-fi fantasy-thriller). Both Cooper and Schoedsack were known for their wildly successful 1933 monster hit for RKO Radio Pictures, “King Kong.”
Cross-promotion was nothing new for the major studios and their motion picture newsreels. Up until the time of television (and prior to the 1948 “Paramount” anti-trust consent decree), the major studios usually had their newsreel units cover Hollywood or New York premieres of their parent studio’s motion pictures, or in the form of one-reel publicity short subjects.
The interesting fact is that the artist’s recording label, the company that manufactured the instrument (that the artist is using during the recording session) and the studio that filmed the newsreel have some sort of connection to each other. And that ties in to the category of “cross-promotion.”
Vinnie Bell, then a recording artist for Decca, showcases his Coral Electric Sitar, in a piece for the September 9th, 1967 edition of Universal Studios’ Universal Newsreel. Eventually, this was a cross-promotion piece for parent company MCA, and its divisions (Universal, Decca and Coral/Danelectro).
1967: By this time, the motion picture newsreel was winding down in production, and there were only two newsreels in circulation: Universal Studios‘ “Universal Newsreel”and Hearst’s “News of the Day” (formerly known as “Hearst Metrotone News,” as it was released for theatrical exhibition by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer).
In the edition of Universal’s newsreel (narrated by longtime newsreel announcer Ed Herlihy) that was released on Sept. 9, 1967; the story was on Decca recording artist Vincent “Vinnie” Bell, showcasing and playing his new Coral “electric sitar” instrument. The song that Bell played during the newsreel was a rendition of the Bert Kaempfert song, “That Happy Feeling.”
Ironically, Decca handled North American distribution rights of the original Kaempfert recording in 1962.
What does this have to do with Cross-Promotion?
In 1962, the Music Corporation of America (MCA), the leading talent agency and television syndication/production company (headed by Lew Wasserman), acquired American Decca Records. Along with Decca and its subsidiary labels, MCA also acquired Universal Pictures as part of the package (four years earlier, the company acquired the Universal Studios lot in Universal City, California- primarily for production of the company’s television shows).
This did not sit well with the Justice Department, so to avoid any anti-trust concerns, MCA divested its talent business, and decided to focus on motion pictures, television production/syndication and recorded music.
In 1966, the entertainment conglomerate decided to expand into the field of musical instruments, by acquiring the Danelectro Corporation, which was founded in 1947 by Nathan I. “Nat” Daniel (1912-1994).
Danelectro was known for manufacturing electric guitars not only under their own name, but for catalog department stores including Sears, Roebuck & Company (under the “Silvertone” name) and Montgomery Ward (under the “Airline” name).
According to the May 1967 press release in Billboard, the MCA subsidiary introduced the first electric sitar on the market, along with the research and development of both Vinnie Bell and and Nat Daniel. The instrument was introduced to the public at the Chicago Music Show that same year.
When this instrument was put into production, the electric sitar did not bear the “Danelectro” name. It was made under the “Coral” name, as Coral was a former sister label to Decca, only re-purposed by MCA for the production of musical instruments during this time, to compliment the entertainment conglomerate’s music and home entertainment subsidiaries (including a line of “Decca Musical Instruments”).
Yet, the relationship between MCA and Nat Daniel would not last long, as the entertainment conglomerate shuttered the musical instrument division, due in part to lackluster sales.
WITH ALL THAT ASIDE:
Not only is this an interesting look at cross-promotion, but this is a unique look at Bell and his “electric sitar.”
At the end of 1967, Universal Studios decided to end their newsreel operation, while competitor Hearst decided to focus on their existing “Screen News Digest” series for exhibition in the classroom.
Now presented from a new high-definition transfer from the National Archives and Records Administration (with other select Universal Newsreels on their YouTube channel), one can finally see the clarity of Vincent Bell, hard at work with Decca recording engineers recording his rendition of “That Happy Feeling,”
This was interesting piece of cross-promotion between Universal’s then-parent firm (MCA), showcasing their recording artist (on Decca Records) with the latest innovation in the field of electric musical instruments (the Coral Electric Sitar) at the time.