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Roadshow!: The Fall of Film Musicals in the 1960s Hardcover – January 2, 2014

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A Look Inside: Roadshow!: The Fall of Film Musicals in the 1960s [Click Images to Enlarge]

Peter O’Toole and James Coco are directed by a script-wielding Arthur Hiller on Luciano Damiani’s “depressing” set for Man of La Mancha. This was the film that killed the roadshow in America once and for all. From the collection of Photofest.

William Wyler
Director William Wyler and star Barbra Streisand confer during the filming of “Don’t Rain on My Parade” in Funny Girl. Body language suggests the two have switched jobs. Streisand is sitting in producer Ray Stark’s chair. From the collection of Photofest.

The Finian’s Rainbow gang: director Francis Ford Coppola, stars Petula Clark, Don Francks, and Fred Astaire, producer Joseph Landon and star Tommy Steele. From the collection of Photofest.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* The Hollywood roadshow picture—a movie that opened slowly, a few markets at a time, with hoopla and reserved seating and higher ticket prices—dates back to the silent era. Big-budget musicals were a roadshow staple in the 1940s and ’50s, and by the ’60s, most musicals were roadshow pictures (and, not incidentally, cash cows). This hugely entertaining book tracks the decline of the Hollywood musical, beginning with what appeared to be the genre’s high point: the back-to-back-to-back financial successes of Mary Poppins, My Fair Lady, and The Sound of Music. As film historian Kennedy notes, with success comes imitation, and the major studios, in some cases out of sheer desperation to turn a much-needed profit, raced to churn out as much product as they could. This led to a veritable avalanche of mediocre to downright awful movies like Doctor Doolittle, Paint Your Wagon, Star!, Camelot, The Happiest Millionaire, Darling Lili, and oh so many more. The author’s research is impeccable, his story fascinating (Greed! Desperation! Ego! An utter failure to understand what audiences wanted!), and his writing lively (he calls The Great Waltz, based on the life of Johann Strauss, “a great big lump of meh”). There were successful musicals in the mid-to-late ’60s, of course, and in the early 1970s (Fiddler on the Roof, for example, and the revolutionary Cabaret), but they were few and very far between—the studios’ relentless quest for more musical material and for the huge profits they hoped to reap essentially killed the big-budget musical. Kennedy sounds pretty upset about that, and, after reading this fine book, you will be, too. --David Pitt
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (January 2, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199925674
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199925674
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 1.2 x 6.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,006,555 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By James Robert Parish on December 24, 2013
Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover
well as a Matthew Kennedy’s valuable and revelatory book on Hollywood’s era of Roadshow Musicals is as fine a delineation of this type of Hollywood film product as ever has been written. The book’s subtitle, The Fall of Film Musicals in the 1960’s, describes the scope of Kennedy’s concerns. His chronology covers films from The Sound of Music, Camelot, and Funny Girl to Paint Your Wagon, Oliver!, and Hello, Dolly! The author describes his book as an elegy for this now-extinct “event” type of movie going, the grand old theaters in which they played, and its place in the movie habits of American culture. He describes this era lovingly, but also critically. His research is extensive and he details thoroughly the various movies, their stars, the movie makers (such Jack Warner and Darryl F. Zanuck) and their studios caught up in the excitement of developing these movies and the showcasing of them to the American public, as well as the tremendous financial cost in promoting these large shows. Kennedy’s excellent depiction of this little-discussed era in Hollywood’s history is captivating and a must read for all fans of both Musicals and Hollywood films, as well a a valuable resource for film historians.
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