The mid-20th century was the height of American corporate consumerism, when, after a decade and a half of the Great Depression and World War II, the American middle class arose with a new burst of enthusiasm and power. economic. There has never been a better time to be a salesperson than the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.
Once a year these salespeople (and they were largely male) would get together for days of educational meetings and presentations, and at night they were treated to lavish musicals by professional Broadway professionals – sometimes by entertainers. famous people – who were meant not only to entertain, but also to serve as a rallying point to be the best salesperson you can be.
“Bathtubs Over Broadway” rediscovers the forgotten world of industrial musicals through recordings and rare film clips, and it’s as entertaining as a showbiz setting, and sometimes downright funny.
The documentary, directed by Dava Whisenant, centers on Steve Young, not the former 49ers quarterback but a longtime writer for David Letterman, the former late-night host who also appears and is an executive producer. Young is a collector of this material who takes them seriously; he is rightfully impressed with the talent behind them.
A 1965 clip shows Ed McMahon hosting a musical number from Citgo on “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” (“Everything’s Coming Up Citgo!”). A 1989 Ragu convention has a catchy original tune, with singers in medieval costumes: show the world who’s boss / Across the country there’s a cry for a new sauce! (The sauce! The sauce!).
Tony Randall put on a Hardee show in the 1980s, and McDonald’s and Burger King also commissioned their own musicals. There were shows put on by air conditioning companies, the big Detroit automakers and songs that pushed plastic wrap for butchers, Champion spark plugs, floor tiles, blank car keys – the list seems endless.
“We have traveled everywhere. Great hotels, good pay. It was a dream job, ”says Martin Short, who worked for a Chrysler convention.
Young finds former performers and songwriters of these corporate musicals – some famous, like Florence Henderson and Chita Rivera – and others who have worked hard in corporate musicals as a valuable addition to their income.
An unsung hero is Hank Beebe, a prolific off-Broadway musical writer who has become a regular in industrial music.
“They spent a lot of money,” says Beebe, whose catchy “Diesel Dazzle” for General Motors’ Detroit Diesel Division show in 1966 is included in the film. “The first Chevrolet show I did, the budget for it was $ 3 million. Compare that, for example, to what it cost to put on “My Fair Lady” that same month in 1956, which was $ 446,000.
But the holy grail of the industrial musical genre is, for Young, “The Bathrooms Are Coming”, a 1969 production for a company specializing in bathroom accessories, with the unforgettable song “My Bathroom”: “My Bathroom. My bathroom! It is a private place. This is my very special room… Now I am free, I am free, I can truly be free.
The singer is Patt Stanton Gjonola. Forty-five years later, Young asks Stanton Gjonola to sing the song in person. For him, it’s like a private audience with Streisand.
M “Baths on Broadway”: Documentary. With Florence Henderson, Martin Short, Chita Rivera, David Letterman. Directed by Dava Whisenant. (PG-13. 87 minutes.)