How to commit marriage (and get away with it)
The object Iâve chosen to highlight this week has been inspired by the fact that no less than five of the staff here at Adam Matthew towers are tying the knot this summer. And itâs clear from discussions during coffee breaks that whether itâs wishing we had our own J-Lo with her slick headset, or wondering what Wilson Phillips might actually charge, representations of weddings form a big part of our understanding of, and expectations for, the big day.
Browsing through the entertainment memorabilia collection in our resource Popular Culture in Britain and America, I came across a press kit for the 1969 film How to Commit Marriage. A fascinating primary source contemporary to a dynamic time in American cultural life, this item also offers insight into Hollywoodâs values and aims.
Image Â© Bowling Green State University. Further reproduction prohibited without permission
The press kit was produced by the Cinerama Releasing Corporation and provides guidance for promoting the film, whose plot contrasts the impending marriage of their children with a couple's imminent divorce, was a vehicle for comedians Bob Hope and Jackie Gleason â both some decades past their career highs.
The pack includes press releases, Yellow Submarine-inspired poster facsimiles, and a section ominously titled âExploitationâ. In it, the Cinerama Releasing Corporation recommends staging a ânoveltyâ live event by selecting a couple to get married on the stage of the theatre, with Bob Hope acting as best man. These were designed to be legitimate wedding ceremonies engaging local businesses to offer prizes; and it worked.
âIn a contest [âŠ], prospective couples were encouraged to send in letters (of fifty words or less) stating why they wanted to be married alongside Bob Hope. The winning couple would be married onstage, with Hope as the best man. The newlyweds would also win a trip to Las Vegas, $25 worth of groceries a week for three months from the Lucky 7 supermarket, and a host of other wedding presents.
Bobb Bailey and Grace Davilla were the winning couple for the May 30, 1969 ceremony [âŠ]. Said Bailey at the time, âI think having him (Hope) as my best man is going to be the greatestâ.
(Welling, David, Cinema Houston: From Nickelodeon to Megaplex, pp.62-63)
This bizarre gimmick evidences the press kit's â as well as the filmâs â conflicting approach to a target audience in the midst of the social revolution. Short-form press releases look to engage with everything youthful; the music is foregrounded (âA swinging, hip sound which will appeal to the younger generationâ); wacky set pieces are highlighted (â25 gallons of simulated mud were usedâ) and the word âgroovyâ is generously applied.
Novelty ceremonies designed to âattract swingers to âcommit marriageââ appear glib, but the participating couples were legally married and thereby aligned to convention. And while the filmâs plot portrays co-habitation and alternative lifestyles, it is with a harsh comic treatment. The music is mocked, mysticism is a device for slapstick and the narrative resolution is ultimately the reinforcement of marriage (spoiler alert, the divorce never happens).
Outwardly progressive and covertly conservative has long been the Hollywood way, and this press kit offers just a small indication of that central conflict at a fascinating point in cultural history.