Who doesn't remember that classic Filmack jingle? But who remembers who Filmack was? Or who knew that that particular snipe was animated by Dave Fleischer, of Popeye fame? This post is dedicated to those concession stand items of yesteryear that are gone now-- for better or for worse-- and the circumstances surrounding them. Read on, dear visitor...
Our story begins in 1946. It's the year after the Second World War has ended, and a little invention known as the Television is slowly creeping its way into households. At the same time, it's causing sales to slowly creep out of other public locals, namely movie theaters. And while more and more Americans tuned in, more and more Exhibitors rushed in ways to win audiences back. This process hits its peak in 1953, when movie studios take note, and incorporate new methods of film-making: widescreen, better color, stereophonic sound, and 3-D.
At the same time, food distributors took advantage of the situation by promising salvation through concessions. Reading the ads placed in Exhibitor magazines such as Motion Picture Herald and BoxOffice, one could easily see how a theater owner might think he'd make a cool million in the first week off of concession stands alone. Distributors offered them everything, save for the moon! "600 per cent profits in the first week!" was the slogan for one. Even if it was 600% in the first week, I'm sure it was 50% the next.
Going through these magazines is like stepping into a little time machine made out of paper. They've got everything-- the dirt on the studios, the new releases, what productions were in the works, what you could do with your theater, and most importantly, how the picture was doing across the country.
In my opinion, BoxOffice was the best of these magazines at the time, and clearly they knew how to keep their reader's interest. Each issue was about 80 pages thick, sometimes 100 if you had a special issue with a section known as "The Modern Theatre." It was here that some of the strangest and most fascinating items were advertised, as they were all brand new, practically untested. Furthermore, BoxOffice gave you the pictures you wanted, too-- what the items looked like, how it worked, and those ever-important shots of new theaters that had just been remodeled or built.
I think our first item is possibly the most bizarre of the bunch-- who would possibly dream up such a strange invention as chili in a cone? Well, the Rutherford Food Corp. did, according to this advertisement.
Even more entertaining than the idea of a chili cone a la ice cream is the extravagant claims that its cracker cone will "keep crisp four times longer than it takes even the slowest person to eat it." The salty cracker cone, as the put it, to me seems like it would be of the taco shell variety, probably made of some sort of corn meal that had been deep fried into that shape-- covered in salt, of course.
The chili, which was made by-- surprise!-- the Rutherford Food Corp., measured in at an exact 104 ounces (they're very specific about this), but of course, you have to buy that as well as all of the accouterments to store it. I'm also still confused about the 66% gross, though... I assume they mean that at the prices that they sold them for, the exhibitor got 66% OF the gross. But how did it perform? How many were sold?
One can't help but imagine some Midwestern theater in the middle of nowhere selling these things. No doubt some poor clod bought one to his ultimate dismay, as I can just picture the thing crumbling and spilling chili into his lap. I imagine cleanup was a major issue with this item, not to mention that chili smells quite potent. Sitting next to someone eating these things was probably very unpleasant, with odors and sounds of crunching cracker taking priority over the film at hand.
In doing a little research, I found reference to a Rutherford Food Corp. in Kansas City, MO-- in 1947, that company was not paying overtime for its employees, and a major lawsuit was filed. Apparently, if this was the same company, the chili makers were paying their employees in beans...
The next item is pretty neat. Who doesn't like milkshakes? What server doesn't like speed? And what Exhibitor doesn't like PROFITS? That's what the Port Morris Machine & Tool Co. seem to promise, with a guarantee that their shake machine will produce a 16 oz., 27° F shake in 20 seconds.
It's machinery like this that you don't see in theaters anymore-- sleek, deco, stainless steel body, glass windows to see the shake process at work. I wonder how big the actual thing was... those machines always looked much bigger in the photos than in person. I'd imagine this machine was probably fairly large-- six, or even seven feet tall, but in reality, it was probably three or four.
The item below is still produced, but less common in movie theaters. Jujyfruits (and their miniature counterpart, Jujubes), for a long time were a staple of theater concessions. Why they've disappeared in recent days remains a mystery to me, but the lack of Hersey products in general may have something to do with it. Perhaps it's just a regional occurrence.
The original distributor, Heide, had (has?) been in business since 1869, and Jujyfruits have been around since 1920, when they first hit the market, and eventually, made their way into movie theaters. Little known are the origins of the strange shapes they're molded in, but according to several source, they come in the form of Pineapples, Tomatoes, Raspberries, Grape Bundles, Asparagus, Bananas, and Pea Pods. Strange as this combination is, Jujyfruits had been a winning choice in theaters for years because of their transparent quality that makes choosing which Jujy to eat easier.
I like the subtle slip of TV Guide's logo in the bottom advertisers listing. I'm sure Exhibitors didn't like being reminded of who they were up against, but at the same time must have been getting a kick that a magazine representing their competition was advertising product that they themselves carried.
One of my all-time favorite items while digging around movie theater catalogs was this one, seen on the right. Although I vaguely remember seeing one as a kid, I can't say that I distinctly remember ever seeing it in a theater, and past that, it never had anything but an orange drink being circulated in it. When I saw this in one of the Modern Theater catalogs, I fell in love with it again.
There's something magical looking about it, as if the fountain inside the plexi-glass dome was some sort of microcosmic world of its own. I've seen no less than five or six of these being offered up in the same issue, so it must have been very popular at the time. Even the company that produced it, Majestic Enterprises, Ltd., seemed to live up to their name, in this case.
This particular model is quite nice-- apparently it's illuminated inside with a pale orange light, too, which I imagine had its own special effect. Like the milkshake machine, though, it was much smaller in person than it looked here. Here, I'd imagine it was four or five feet tall, while in reality, it measured a mere 32 inches high. With six gallons of drink pouring through, it, though, I'm sure it was still an impressive sight.
While fried chicken might have been a little much for a simple movie theater, it was a natural for Drive-ins across the country. It was cheap, quick to make, and had a relatively long shelf life. Already an American favorite, making its way to theaters was not much of a stretch of the imagination.
Seen here are two patrons of the Altoona Drive-In, located in Altoona, PA (long torn down), eating some mighty fine southern fried chicken. The pre-cooked chicken (yum!), dubbed Chick-n-Basket, was an invention of Frozen Farm Products, Inc., and was apparently a big seller for them at the time.
In each serving was three pieces of chicken, and judging by the photo, probably some french fries, too. Some distributors reported 100-150 servings (36 servings in a case) sold every night. According to the article (BoxOffice, Oct. 2, 1954), "the suggested price per portion is one dollar, although drive-in prices vary from 80 cents to $1.25." Available from the same company were baskets (seen in photo) that were plastic, and cost $35 per 1,000 baskets.
Also available, according to this article, were display materials and snipes, in both color and sound, and sported a special jingle to the tune of "A Tisket, A Tasket!" I'd love to see one of those!
That brings me back to my initial topic-- Filmack. Established in 1918 by Irving Mack, Filmack was the main distributor of snipes and concession trailers. If there was anything that you needed to announce for your theater, Filmack was the place to go to to when you needed custom snipes.
Filmack sent out their monthly catalog, Inspiration, every month, announcing all of the various snipes they could print up for you, along with the print. To fill in space where they didn't have anything to put in their 10-14 page catalog, corny jokes were inserted without rhyme or reason. On top of that, Mack had his own article, Mackaroons, which was filled with more corny jokes/tidbits of wisdom, such as "it isn't what young girls know that bothers parents, it's how they find out!" One can only imagine a show breaking down, and having the manager stepping up on stage with his own stand-up act lifted entirely from Inspiration. I'm sure that went over well!
In 1953, Filmack hired animator Dave Fleischer, who had finished his tenure at Columbia after leaving he and his brother's animation studio and was at that time working at Universal as a special effects inventor. Their goal was a series of generic cartoon snipes that utilized color and catchy jingles, and could be used in any theater to generate interest in concession stand products.
Printed in Technicolor, a process that became cheaper in bulk quantity, snipes such as "Let's All Go to the Lobby" were a run-away success with Exhibitors as they made going to the lobby an amusing and memorable movie going habit. At $11.25 a snipe, they were not cheap, but they paid for themselves instantly in the increase in concession sales they generated. Seen above was a February of 1954 special-- buy both snipes for the low price of $20!
And here is the two page advertisement, just in time for the 4th of July for the lesser seen, but equally as catchy, trailer, set to the tune of "This is the Way We Wash Our Clothes!" Note the special mention of the Drive-In, which had begun to take off in just a few years previous.
Filmack is still in business (based out of Chicago) and you can still buy 35mm prints of these classic trailers at nominal prices here. You won't be getting Technicolor prints anymore, but their latest batch of low-fade Eastman prints are still quite stunning. In fact, "Let's All Go to the Lobby" was registered by the Library of Congress in 2000 as being "culturally significant," and added it to the National Film Registry. It is, as I know it, the only snipe to have ever been entered as such. Irving Mack is smiling, somewhere.