Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Newsreel Corner: Cross-Promotion for Vinnie Bell and the Coral "Electric Sitar"

Cross-promotion was nothing new for the major studios and their motion picture newsreels.  Up until the time of television (and before 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.

For the newsreel that was recently unearthed on the official YouTube channel of the National Archives and Records Administration, it not only shows one recording artist and his rendition of a popular song, but also showcasing a unique "electric" version of the sitar instrument.

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 with the category of "cross-promotion."

Vinnie Bell, then a Decca recording artist, showcases his Coral Electric
Sitar, in a piece for the September 9th, 1967 edition of the
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 by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer).

In the edition of Universal's newsreel (narrated by Ed Herlihy) that was released on September 9th, 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 licensing rights and distribution of the original German 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 company 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" brand) and Montgomery Ward (under the "Airline" brand).

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 the existing Screen News Digest newsreel series for classroom presentation (more on Hearst and SND can be found here).

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,"

An interesting piece of cross-promotion between Universal's parent firm (MCA), showcasing their recording artist (on Decca) with the latest innovation in the field of  electric musical instruments (the Coral Electric Sitar) at the time.

"DOWNTOWN MOVIE NIGHT ON THE CREEK" IS BACK: One year ago, At The Matinee reported on the Downtown Frederick Partnership and their Free Movie Night on the Creek series.

The organization is bringing the event back for this year, by kicking off the series and showcasing Steven Spielberg's 1993 masterpiece, Jurassic Park (based off of the novel by Michael Crichton).

The outdoor showing of Jurassic Park will be shown at the Carroll Creek Linear Park on the evening of July 24th.  Doors open at 7:00 PM, and the film begins at 9:00 PM.  This is being shown in relation to the new installment in Universal's franchise, Jurassic World (which will be released in theaters nationwide on June 12th).

Last year, I asked one of the directors of the Downtown Frederick Partnership if the event would include revival screenings of classic and contemporary films.  Though I did receive a prompt response from the executive director of the organization last year- the group did not have any plans of showcasing classic or contemporary feature films during the event.   Yet another unfortunate indicator of classic cinema being ignored in the Frederick area.

To all fellow readers of At The Matinee:  When I learned that the Downtown Frederick Partnership was bringing back its Free Movie Night on the Creek festival, I left a message on the organization's Facebook page.

If you're interested in requesting that classic films be shown during the event, let your voice be heard- by posting on the Downtown Frederick Partnership Facebook page, or by directly contacting the group here.

NOTE: I'm not badmouthing the current lineup of motion pictures for the festival, just suggesting that classic and contemporary films on a giant outdoor screen would be great for those that may have never seen them on the big screen before.

Previous posts on Free Movie Night on the Creek can be found here and here.

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