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Roadshow!: The Fall of Film Musicals in the 1960s [Hardcover]

Matthew Kennedy

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Book Description

23 Jan 2014
Full-page newspaper ads announced the date. Reserved seats went on sale at premium prices. Audience members dressed up and arrived early to peruse the program during the overture that preceded the curtain's rise. And when the show began, it was—a rather disappointing film musical.

In Roadshow!, film historian Matthew Kennedy tells the fascinating story of the downfall of the big-screen musical in the late 1960s. It is a tale of revolutionary cultural change, business transformation, and artistic missteps, all of which led to the obsolescence of the roadshow, a marketing extravaganza designed to make a movie opening in a regional city seem like a Broadway premier. Ironically, the Hollywood musical suffered from unexpected success. Facing doom after its bygone heyday, it suddenly broke box-office records with three rapid-fire successes in 1964 and 1965: Mary Poppins, My Fair Lady, and The Sound of Music. Studios rushed to catch the wave, but everything went wrong. Kennedy takes readers inside the making of such movies as Hello, Dolly! and Man of La Mancha, showing how corporate management imposed financial pressures that led to poor artistic decisions-for example, the casting of established stars regardless of vocal or dancing talent (such as Clint Eastwood in Paint Your Wagon). And Kennedy explores the impact of profound social, political, and cultural change. The traditional-sounding Camelot and Doctor Dolittle were released in the same year as Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, representing a vast gulf in taste. The artifice of musicals seemed outdated to baby boomers who grew up with the Cuban missile crisis, the Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. assassinations, race riots, and the Vietnam War.

From Julie Andrews to Barbra Streisand, from Fred Astaire to Rock Hudson, Roadshow! offers a brilliant, gripping history of film musicals and their changing place in our culture.

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"Everyone who loves the films of Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, and Gene Kelly wonders what happened to movie musicals after the 1960s. Roadshow! is an extensively researched and engagingly written account of the demise of musical film during those decades of tumultuous cultural upheaval." --Philip Furia, co-author of The Songs of Hollywood"High of budget and misplaced of ambition, roadshow musicals define an arresting--and quite troubling--moment in the history of film. With meticulous research and a suitably critical eye, Matthew Kennedy details the plunge from feast to famine, from bounty to bankruptcy, from The Sound of Music to Song of Norway." -Richard Barrios, author of A Song in the Dark: The Birth of Musical Film"Matthew Kennedy has written a colorful, entertaining and well-researched history of the Hollywood musical's greatest moment of crisis. This book helps to fill an important gap in our understanding of the postwar American film industry." --Sheldon Hall, Senior Lecturer in Stage and Screen, Sheffield Hallam University

About the Author

Matthew Kennedy is a writer, film historian, and anthropologist. His books include three biographies of classic Hollywood figures: Marie Dressler, Edmund Goulding's Dark Victory, and Joan Blondell. He lives in San Francisco.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  20 reviews
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Little Discussed Trend of Hollywood History Makes a Fascinating New Read 24 Dec 2013
By James Robert Parish - Published on Amazon.com
The phenomenon of gargantuan roadshow film musicals (with their high-priced reserved seat tickets, intermissions, souvenir booklets) engulfed Hollywood in the mid-1960s to the early 1970s. The huge commercial success of Twentieth Century-Fox’s 'The Sound of Music' (1964) seemed—at the time—to provide a heaven-sent salvation for Hollywood studios then buckling under the strain of diminished filmgoer attendance, changing tastes of moviegoers, and the downfall of the studio system. Using the philosophy that much bigger is always much better, Tinseltown studio honchos recklessly rushed to make mammoth song-and-dance screen projects such as 'Doctor Dolittle' (1967), 'Camelot' (1967), 'Star!' (1968), 'Hello, Dolly!' (1969), 'Paint Your Wagon' (1969), and 'Man of La Mancha' (1972). How these already gigantic financial investments skyrocketed into astounding fiscal irresponsibility and sank at the box office from lack of sufficient creative control is the meat of Matthew Kennedy’s fine new book 'Roadshow!: The Fall of Film Musicals in the 1960s'.
Kennedy weaves an engrossing tapestry from an impressive array of facts as he relates how these overblown productions were born in haste, went awry in the craziest ways, and then floundered disastrously at the box office. What makes this excellent book so absorbing is the author’s colorful, highly readable chronicle. It smartly juggles the antics of dictatorial studio executives, often misguided creative talents, and desperate marketing gurus as they jumped blindly over the cliff of reason and entertainment value. What resulted from this chaos were colossal movie musicals misfires.
Kennedy’s study of this little-explored area of Hollywood film history is an extremely satisfactory mix of detailed research, astute observations, and flavorful narrative. His chronicle is well-paced and grabs the reader’s attention from beginning to end as we relive the many wacky events that created these massive celluloid train wrecks.
This is an excellent read!
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Age of Exclamation Point Musicals 25 Dec 2013
By takingadayoff - Published on Amazon.com
Oliver! Star! Hello, Dolly!

A roadshow was a movie released by a major studio, in just a few theaters at first and with great fanfare, then weeks or months later, released slowly to other theaters throughout the country. Tickets were issued at higher than normal prices and with assigned seating. The idea seemed to be to make the movie experience more like a Broadway theater experience.

I did not know about this phenomenon until I visited Graumann's Theater in Hollywood and saw a display of fancy tickets and programs from movies in the 1920s and 1930s. I didn't realize the practice continued into the early 1970s until I read this book.

It all seems rather quaint now that the blockbuster movies are released on as many screens as possible all at once and if a new release doesn't impress on the first day, it disappears quickly. In the 60s even the worst flop would take months to fail.

Matthew Kennedy begins with the most successful roadshow, The Sound of Music. This was the peak of the roadshow phenomenon and for movie musicals as well. For the next ten years, movie musicals got more expensive and overproduced and never achieved the success of Sound of Music. Movie studios went broke trying.

Kennedy gets into the nuts and bolts of putting together a 60s musical and even into the finances. And then there's the gossip. The story of the making of Doctor Dolittle is my favorite of this bunch, with Rex Harrison insulting everyone, and his wife (who wasn't in the movie) creating a scene wherever she went. Of course the movies that were flops are the most fun to read about. Paint Your Wagon was doomed from the start, and Finian's Rainbow could have been halfway good, but boneheaded moves like filming Fred Astaire's dance scenes so that his feet weren't visible on screen kept it from having a chance.

Roadshow! is a fun look at a slice of movie history.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well done 15 Jan 2014
By Irving Parke-Rhode - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I really enjoyed this book. Well researched and chock full of interesting tidbits about the series of big budget musicals from the mid to late 1960s that rolled off the Hollywood assembly line only to be greeted with apathy, indifference & sometimes hostility by the moviegoing public. I've long been fascinated by this period of Hollywood history and often wondered why no one had written a book about it, considering the huge sums of money lost. This book is the answer. Who knew that "Song of Norway" actually turned a profit? The end notes are worth looking at too for the occasional extra bit, for example, Fox abandoned the "Doctor Dolittle" Great Pink Sea Snail on the beach in St. Lucia. Whereabouts today unknown. The soundtrack of "Paint Your Wagon" was certified Gold, etc. Only complaint is a lack of pictures but university press books are often light in the photo department. If you're interested in this subject you need to buy this book.
17 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fair 20 Jan 2014
By Washington Reader - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
While this tome is certainly well researched, I have difficulty accepting Kennedy's point-of-view per roadshow musicals. Kennedy states he never did buy a reserved-seat ticket to see any one of the roadshow movie musicals because he was raised in California's Central Valley, far from large urban areas. How can he honestly asses them? Seeing "Star!" or "Hello, Dolly!" in 70mm TODD-AO is NOT the same as watching it on DVD or via other home video medium. Both films play better in 70mm than they do on home video. While 70mm screenings are relatively rare, they do happen. As an author, I think Mr. Kennedy's POV would have benefited, perhaps, from taking of such screenings in Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, etc.

Much of Mr. Kennedy's work has been lifted, albeit correctly cited and documented, from "The Studio," "The Fox That Got Away," and other books. Even his "Star!" review was lifted from his earlier DVD review. To his credit, he did sift through university archives for "Camelot," and that research is most welcome.

Mr. Kennedy's disdain of much movie musical roadshows seems to be formed by the ghost of Pauline Kael and other film critics. It was difficult for me to know if I was reading a review from The New Yorker or if this was truly Mr. Kennedy's opinion.

Finally, Mr. Kennedy incorrectly cites 1968 when "Star!" had its general release; it was 1969. He also gave a song from "Half A Sixpence" the wrong title. There were other errors, too, incorrect names, etc. He used the term "reserve seat" and not "reserved seat," the term used in most film roadshow advertising.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good research + Fun 13 Feb 2014
By Emily W. Leider - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A highly entertaining, well written, thoroughly researched and entertaining look at the post-50s decline of movie musicals. The pages on Rex Harrison's divo antics are alone worth the price of admission.
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