Friday, May 22, 2009

Roman Lettering

Everything comes from somewhere. Or somebody. This blog attempts to acknowledge that whenever it can. It's part of the "mission statement."

Why certain things stay in your mind can be a mystery. I can never remember what the curtains looked like that my wife just took down when she does her seasonal thing. But I do remember sometime in the 1960s when David Merrick, the theater producer of a certain temperament (he once made Carol Channing pay for Dolly's shoes that she wore outside the theater to a party.) who took out newspaper ads quoting people who just happened to have the same names as New York's tight circle of theater critics, telling the readership that a critically panned show was "Wonderful," "Couldn't stop laughing," "The music was terrific." Hype, hype, hype. Bull, bull, bull.

I don't remember all the names, but Walter Kerr was surely one of them, maybe Douglas Watts; they all "loved" the show. It was quickly revealed as a hoax. An embryonic version of the Clifford Irving biography of Howard Hughes. Merrick, it turns out, along with his press agent, took the names from the phone book. Whether they ever got the people to really say those things, I don't remember. Quite a fuss was made over it.

Of course in those days there were at least eight New York dailies to take the ads out in. How, or why they even accepted the advertising has to speak volumes about someone's powers of persuasion. And it turns out, that someone just passed away.

Lee Solters, 89, Razzle-Dazzle Press Agent

The obituary doesn't say so, but Lee sounds to me like the guy who was trying to get advertising in elevators over the blinking floor numbers that everyone looks at, rather than make personal eye contact. Someone described that space as the most coveted of all advertising space.

As recently as 2000 it is reported he got Pope John Paul II to be named as an honorary Harlem Globetrotter before 50,000 people in Saint Peter's Square.

Over 45 years ago I toured Europe with an uncle and cousin and remembered the lettering inside St. Peter's around the nave. It was of course quite high up, and I distinctly remember the tour guide telling us that the letters were seven feet high, a height I thought was incredible to be looking up at.

I wonder what Lee thought.

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