Vintage Toronto Ads: Stealing a Kiss

Originally published on Torontoist on June 29, 2010.

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The News, October 12, 1918.

As a holiday matinee, a light musical about stolen kisses sounds more appropriate for Valentine’s Day than Thanksgiving. How well a production about a turkey bandit might have done at the Royal Alex near the end of World War I is debatable—would a dashing young man dressed as holiday fowl leer over the stunned damsel in an advertisement similar to this one?

The Kiss Burglar debuted on Broadway on May 9, 1918 and ran for one hundred performances before hitting the road. The story concerned an American staying in Trieste who, while fleeing a gambler, winds up in the boudoir of a local princess. She thinks he’s a thief, but all he steals is a kiss. The princess soon flees to the US due to the war and runs into the young man again. He steals another kiss, they realize they’re in love, and live happily ever after.

Local newspaper previews of the day tended to be regurgitated publicist copy, but there are subtle hints dotted throughout a piece that ran in the News on October 12, 1918 which indicate that the writer determined they had a piece of fluff on their hands. The show is described as having “a light theme—very light—an exquisite love story.” Playwright Glen MacDonough “has tried to get away from all viewpoint[s] and instill more idealism into his little romance,” while composer Raymond Hubbell had “more successes to his credit than any American composer” despite no mention of his other hits (we suspect only the Man in Chair from The Drowsy Chaperone might be aware of his work today). The review printed three days later was lukewarm toward star Patricia O’Hearn (described as having a “dainty figure” but a weak voice) and concluded that “the play, while diverting, does not rank among the best of the season” (which, given critical standards in Toronto papers at the time, indicates it was a true stinker). The World displayed next to no criticism in its review, as it praised O’Hearn for her ability to handle the “new jazz steps that made a fascinating appeal” during a dance number.

The reputation of The Kiss Burglar has not improved over time. A historical survey of American musical theatre published a decade ago noted that “Glen MacDonough’s book and Raymond Hubbell’s music were never much more than competent.”

Additional material from American Musical Theatre: A Chronicle (third edition) by Gerald Martin Boardman (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), the October 12, 1918 and October 15, 1918 editions of the News, and the October 15, 1918 edition of the Toronto World.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Day by Day in a Cutlass Supreme

Originally published on Torontoist on April 6, 2010.

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Source: Maclean’s, October 1972.

If your friends could see you now in a redesigned ’73 Cutlass Supreme, they’d be impressed by the new set of wheels you got to chauffeur that special person you’re trying to dazzle, even if it is the third new date you’ve gone on this week. Go on, show off your new toy in a public place where people will gawk in amazement and your date will be charmed by your taste for cultural events. Good thing you’ve ventured out at three in the morning to figure out where to ideally position the car for maximum ego gratification.

But the car and its imaginary owner aren’t the reason we’re talking about this ad. Let’s zero in on one of the posters…

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GM’s ad designers may have tried to jumble the letters to avoid copyright issues or invent a foreign-language theatrical sensation, but a sharp-eyed reader in 1972 would have been able to tell that the posters outside the Royal Alex are for the Toronto production of Godspell. After matching the poster with the program, we’ve determined the spotlighted performers below the scrambled title are, clockwise from top left, Avril Chown, Jayne Eastwood, Don Scardino (who replaced original Jesus Victor Garber, who had left to star in the film version), and Gilda Radner. The other poster includes the rest of the cast, which at this point included future SCTV stars Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, and Martin Short. It doesn’t look as if any of the pit band, led by Paul Shaffer, are pictured.

The show’s first preview was in front of a group of two hundred clerics on May 25, 1972. The crowd was pleased with the joyful tone brought to the material, with the exception of a handful of grumbling Roman Catholic priests and nuns who refused to be identified in a Globe and Mail article. When the show opened on June 1, the Globe and Mail’s Herbert Whittaker felt the cast was energetic and high-spirited (“the energy of the performers seem almost diabolical, the frenzy of their enthusiasm unquenchable”), while the Star’s Urjo Kareda found Godspell clichéd, over-directed, and full of self-conscious actors (“there doesn’t appear to be a moment which hasn’t been minutely pre-programmed and choreographed, which leaves the exhausted-looking actors without a hope for the kind of spontaneity or improvisation which might animate and surprise”).

Shortly after this ad appeared, the production moved from the Royal Alex to the Bayview Playhouse (recently the site of a short-lived Fresh and Wild grocery store). Kareda gave Godspell another go after the move and found it more to his liking (“the actual performance is much more relaxed and ingratiating in the intimate confines of the Playhouse”). After 488 performances, the final bows were given on August 12, 1973.

Additional material from the May 26, 1972 and June 2, 1972 editions of the Globe and Mail, and the June 2, 1972 and September 11, 1972 editions of the Toronto Star.

Vintage Toronto Ads: And So The People Came

Originally published on Torontoist on June 23, 2009.

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Toronto Tonight!, February 9–23, 1989.

You’re flipping through the entertainment options for a night on the town in 1980s Toronto. Let’s see…a cabaret musical about sex that employs a double-entendre for its title…and it has nudity…and it features tunes like “Fellatio 101” and “I’m Gay”…and it hasn’t been shut down by the morality squad yet.

Nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more?

Let My People Come was unveiled in New York in January 1974. Shows at its Off-Broadway venue quickly sold out, and soon there was a cast album, touring productions, and interest from film producers…yet the show never officially opened, as local theatre critics were never invited to the production. As Mel Gussow of the New York Times noted after he snuck into a performance, it had “all the earmarks of success except for blurbs in ads.”

The Toronto production sold out during its opening night at the Basin Street Cabaret at 180 Queen Street West on February 16, 1981. Local critics weren’t dripping with praise. Wilder Penfield III of the Sun seemed most engaged with the show, finding it more sweet than scandalous (he recommended that “connoisseurs of extravagant bodies and fantastic fantasies should head back towards Yonge Street”). He noted that “only the masochists, the deaf-and-blind, and the criminally stupid among us could have possibly been shocked by what followed,” and that the cast “take off their clothes with the innocent exuberance of skinny-dippers, and when they play at being wicked, you don’t believe them for a moment.” The Star’s Bruce Blackadar found it “totally unerotic, sometimes juvenile, faintly musical, and right out of the Sixties’ ethos. It was like going to watch a bunch of high-schoolers—although reasonably talented ones—take off their clothes while singing The Pirates of Penzance.” Ray Conlogue of the Globe was the least impressed—”While Hair had counter-culture optimism, and Oh! Calcutta! had Kenneth Tynan’s acerbic wit,” he noted, “Let My People Come had only the odour of opportunistic insincerity…supposedly celebrating the joys of sex, its songs are imbued with a penetrating joylessness.”

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Front cover of 1974 soundtrack recording (not from the Toronto production).

Another unimpressed observer was Ann Stirling Hall, president of the Canadian Association of Burlesque Entertainers. Her main beef was that the actors appeared to be able to get away with nudity while the city’s erotic dancers risked arrest if they removed their g-strings. “Do you know what would happen to me,” she told the Sun, “if I walked on stage, took my clothes off and said ‘this is my costume?’ I’d be laughed out of court. I’m not jealous. I think the entire idea behind the play is fantastic. But I just don’t understand Toronto. There are these tons and tons of regulations, and some people seem to feel the weight of the rules more than others.” Hall registered complaints about the production with the Ontario Human Rights Commission, who dismissed her discrimination case, and the Metropolitan Toronto Police morality squad.

Several members of the morality squad showed up for the February 19 show and issued a warning to the cast and producers that if they didn’t cover up they could face charges for violating the public-nudity section of the Criminal Code. The cast responded by wearing ballet slippers during the next performance. In preparation of any legal hassles, the producers had set aside ten thousand dollars for a lawyer. A spokesperson for the venue noted that earlier Toronto productions with actors in the buff (Equus, Hair, Oh! Calcutta!) had not faced problems and there had been few complaints so far. Attempts to shut the show down failed and it ran at several venues around the city over the rest of the decade. The show bared all for the last time in July 1989 at the venue shown above, now the location of the Drake Hotel.

Curious to hear what all the fuss was about? WFMU’s Beware of the Blog has the full Off-Broadway soundtrack for your listening pleasure.

Additional material from the February 19, 1981 edition of the Globe and Mail, the May 7, 1974 edition of the New York Times, the February 19, 1981 edition of the Toronto Star, and the February 18, 1981 and February 19, 1981 editions of the Toronto Sun.