Martin Gardner Takes Apart the Publicity Machine
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February 16, 1967, Vol. XII, No. 18
The Publicity Machine Runs Out of Gas
By Martin Gardner
It was a perfect example of how the Publicity Machine attempts to create Something out of Nothing. Or, in the case of Elia Kazan's novel, Something out of the Unknown. At the Big Buildup party at Brentano's for Elia Kazan and his novel, "The Arrangement," the Publicity Machine broke down. It ran out of gas.
One of the basic functions of any Publicity Machine is to create an opinion and to persuade the mass audience to accept it. In order to do this, it is necessary to create a greater incentive for believing it than there has been for believing the old one.
Everybody was there. Waiting for something to happen. Some news. Some excitement. Something that would give them a reason for being In on An Event. Copies of Kazan's book were piled high all around the place, just waiting to be stolen. But the book that was swiped most was "The Descent of Dominic Shapiro."
Tennessee Williams was there with his $400,000 white-toothed giggle. Paddy Chayevsky was there stifling belches with the back of his butcher-pudgy hand. Andy Warhol was there flashing Shit-Eating-Grins at the television cameramen. Everybody wondered what to do next.
The Machine had broken down. There was no direction. So everybody ogled. The uptown press ogled the movie stars. The movie stars ogled Andy Warhol and a brace of his manic-depressive Chelsea Girls. The magazine people ogled the homosexuals. And near the end of it all, the mob waiting to retrieve their overcoats ogled a middle-aged Jewish teenybopper who had a crying jag right out of a Grand Concourse wedding reception.
Lobster Newburg was the main course at the champagne buffet, served in the Rare Book section of the store. Except it wasn't lobster. It was camouflaged blowfish. The party was scheduled to last to midnight, but by 9 the champagne had run out. The scotch went by 9.15, adn by 10 the only way you could get a drink was to send over to Schrafft's bar for a take-out.
The daily press was at a loss to find news. One energetic reporter wrote down on her pad that Kazan had autographed Warhol's hand. Another reporter wanted to know if it was true that his latest Undergound movie had a scene where the actors didn't move, but the seats vibrated.
Great excitement had been generated by the Machine, because the invitations said that Tennessee Williams, John Steinbeck, Budd Schulberg, William Inge, Thornton Wilder, and Archibald MacLeish were going to be co-hosts, and all the press and cameramen and everybody wanted to see what would happen when all this talent was in one room. But like a highly-touted baseball rookie in his second year, there was no follow-through. As soon as each writer arrived, the press pounced on him with a great geschrai, only to find that there was no direction to be gained from him either.
The Machine had been set up properly, and had run smoothly, but there was no follow-through. No direction.
Parties like this can be a publicity man's nightmare. Everything was going right, the right people showed up, but it never got off the ground. Jim Moran had the right idea. When he set up a publicity party, he made it work. Like the time he wondered about the pop songs "Shoot the Sherbet to Me, Herbet" and "Shoot the Meat Balls to Me, Dominic," so he set up a party at the Hotel Pennsylvania where he invited a whole flock of Herberts and Dominics and was on hand with plenty of sherbet and meat balls. According to one report, 30 Herberts and 20 Dominics showed up for the party. An orchestra played the two songs. One Herbert began shooting sherbet at the Dominics with a vacuum cleaner, while the Dominics retaliated with slingshots and a toy cannon filled with meatballs. They splattered each other with meat balls and sherbet and the hotel suite had to be redecorated after the Great Event.
But the party had style. And direction. And most of all, everybody had a hell of a good time, not to mention forming an opinion about the state of pop songs.
Every Publicity Machine can't be filled with meat balls and sherbet, but it's one way to start things happening.
[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]
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