Most of the photographs that appeared with obituaries of Lauren Bacall, who died on Tuesday at age 89, showed her in scenes from her films like “To Have and Have Not”, “Written on the Wind”, “Murder on the Orient Express” and “The Mirror Has Two Faces”. But just about every article also included one of several photographs taken on February 10, 1945, when, on a visit to the National Press Club in Washington to entertain servicemen, Bacall perched atop a piano being played by US vice-president Harry Truman.
The photo series took on additional fame when, two months later, Truman became president upon the death of Franklin Roosevelt. As for how the photographs came to be taken, the story goes, Bacall’s press agent, Charlie Enfield, who was also the publicity chief at her movie studio, Warner Bros, prompted her to pose with Truman. It was an era of what were known as publicity stunts, when disc jockeys fried eggs on sidewalks on hot summer days, sets of twins toured the country to promote Toni home permanents and the Texas oilman Glenn McCarthy threw “Houston’s biggest party” to celebrate the opening of his Shamrock Hotel, a ploy that made its way into “Giant”, the novel and movie inspired by his life.
As quaint as those promotions may seem now, how different are they at heart from the modern-day marketing tactic of using social media like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to share content created by advertisers? In 1945, a press agent pulled off a publicity stunt. In 2014, a marketing content specialist tries to create a brand message that goes viral — as when the Boston Red Sox star David Ortiz took a selfie with President Barack Obama during a ceremony in April honouring the team’s World Series victory.
It turned out that Samsung, which has a deal with Ortiz to use its Galaxy Note 3 smartphones for social media posts, distributed the photograph to its millions of Twitter followers, inciting the ire of White House officials, who seek to prohibit the use of the president and the office of the presidency for commercial purposes.
“I love the analogy,” Owen Dougherty, the chief communications officer of the Grey Group, who served as a press aide to three Chicago mayors, said in an interview. “It was a publicity stunt then, which became a ‘photo op’, which morphed into the selfie that is today’s activation.
“In this age, when