Ask my wife or daughter and they’ll tell you: it doesn’t take a lot to make me happy. It could be something as simple as a matchbook tie-in for David O. Selznick’s Duel in the Sun (although I don’t think I’ll be saving the peel-off stickers I noticed on my bananas advertising the new Alvin and the Chipmunks movie.) I cackled like a child when I recently opened the package containing my latest “find”—a 12-inch wooden ruler advertising the 1943 movie The Song of Bernadette. The fact that I paid five bucks for it made the acquisition all the sweeter.
I love movie memorabilia, including stills and posters, but I have a special fondness for oddball items such as this. In fact, the odder the better.
I feature some of the more photographable pieces in my newsletter, Leonard Maltin’s Movie Crazy, but I tend to stick to “flat” items that look good in print. Even reproducing the Bernadette ruler as part of this column is tricky because without seeing it full-sized it’s difficult to fully appreciate.
My earliest ruler touts Jackie Coogan’s 1925 silent feature The Rag Man, and says “Make a rule” to see (The Kid himself) – Jackie Coogan in The Rag Man.” Every movie-related ruler is obliged to make some sort of pun; it must have been in a promotional handbook. The Song of Bernadette says it “will more than measure up to your entertainment expectations!” Perhaps someone at 20th Century Fox remembered the 6-inch piece distributed seven years earlier for MGM’s The Great Ziegfeld, which used the same line…or perhaps great minds think alike.
Lest you think that this kind of ballyhoo has disappeared, movie studios still send out tchotchkes to make an impression on media folk. Among my favorites in years gone by: an oregano shaker for Mystic Pizza and a sculpture of Thing holding an Addams Family snow globe in his hand. Use of these gimmicks has diminished somewhat since the economy took a nosedive, but it hasn’t completely disappeared.
The last wooden ruler I received was in conjunction with Kinsey, in 2004. It’s nine inches long and says “Let’s talk about sex.” There’s an angle no one would have dared to try in the 1930s or 40s.
By the way, the kicker on the Song of Bernadette piece is on the back of the ruler. Embossed there along with a pair of reviewer’s quotes are the words “Paradise Theatre, Karachi.” How this far-flung foot-long piece of wood wound up back where it probably originated, in Los Angeles, I’ll never know…but I’m awfully glad it did.