April 13, 2010

MadAve In The Movies: The Hucksters

huckster poster.jpg

By Kurt Brokaw

1947: Based on Frederick Wakeman's revealing and generally accurate novel, this mainstream Holly wood drama contains a defining portrait of a lost Madison Avenue veteran--the copy/contact man. It was common during the industry's development - from 1900 through much of the 60s - or account people serving business-to-business and industrial accounts, as well as some package goods marketers, to position, write and present their own work, often slipping layout descriptions or "thumbnails" under the door of the subservient art director.

Clark Gable demonstrates this vividly in "The Hucksters," first condemning a sexy soap ad dictated by Beautee’s chairman…then writing, casting, producing and selling a 60-second radio spot...finally jumping on the Superchief train to negotiate a radio star's contract with his agent, who he seems to know from his wartime service on the War Information Board.

Gable does it all without losing his moral compass, then walks away from his client and his job. He delivers a blistering, Michael Moore-style speech at the Beautee tycoon, calling him a "despot" for controlling so much of what America listens to on the radio. And as he’s walking out of the meeting (and his Madison Avenue career), Gable dumps a pitcher of water on the Chairman’s head. The agency president nearly faints.

It’s a scene we can all relate to.

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