Will Success Spoil Rockwell Hunter?

Q1: How does the film relate to Chapter 24 in Foner?
The film is a 1957 movie by Director, Frank Tashlin, about Rockwell Hunter (played by Tony Randall), junior advertising personnel with La Salle Jr., Raskin, Pooley, and Crocket advertising agency on Madison Avenue, New York city.  Rockwell was a writer for advertising campaigns and didn’t see himself as successful. He was also worried that the agency might shut down and put him out of work, therefore, he had to come up with a great campaign slogan for Stay-Put lipstick to help save the company. In a flash of inspiration, Rockwell had the idea that Rita Marlowe (Jayne Mansfield) also known as the actress with the “oh – so – kissable lips,” would be the perfect spokes person for the lipstick. And in return for the endorsing the lipstick, Rockwell was required to act as Rita’s new love interest, “Loverdoll,” which almost jeopardized his relationship with his fiancĂ©e, Jenny (Betsy Drake).
The period in this film (the 50s) was known as the “Golden Age” of capitalism, according to Foner. This was a period when the American economy was on the rise, and unemployment rate was low. Many Americans had increased wages and the standard of living was high (p. 991). Goods and services were affordable for many during this period, which led to the widespread use of products like television, home air-conditioning, automatic dishwashers, jet air travels, electricity, indoor plumbing, and so on (p. 992). Foner also noted that the 50s saw a rise in consumer culture and Americans’ freedom was measured by their “ability to gratify market desires.” According to Foner, “the 1950s represented the culmination of the long-term trend in which consumerism replaced economic independence…” and Americans began to get deeply in debt due to low interest rates and the availability of credit cards (pp. 994 – 5).  
Television played a big role in feeding the consumer culture with large companies sponsoring TV shows and generating advertisements that targeted middle-class Americans with “images of the good life based on endless consumption” (p. 996) Therefore, Rita Marlowe as the spokes model for Stay-Put lipstick in the film was successful because she had numerous fans who wanted to emulate her in a lot of ways, including chasing loverdoll. 

Q2: How can you interpret the film as a commentary on the concept of “The American Dream” and the meaning of success during the 1950s?

“The American Dream” was based on the notion that every American should be able to afford goods and services, education, housing, and be well employed. However, the movie showed that it wasn’t a measure of success for some Americans. For Rockwell, success meant rising to an executive position and finally getting the key to the Executives’ bathroom which also meant joining the men’s club. He never saw himself as successful though he had an office and an assistant until he became the Vice President after getting Rita to endorse Stay-Put lipstick. Only then did he see himself as a successful person. Like Foner said, as Americans’ debts increased, so did the desire to earn more wages and pay off the debts increased. Therefore, success was measured by one’s ability to get the top position in one’s employment and earn a higher wage, as well as the level of one's status in the society.

Q3: How is the workplace portrayed in the film? What does the depiction reveal about life in the 1950s?

In the film, the workplace had a gender hierarchy as well. The men were the bosses while the women were the assistants and quite few in number. The chief executive was portrayed as an old, stuffy man who looked down on the junior employees and ignored them in the hallway. The junior employees, Rockwell for instance, did not feel a sense of success due to the segregated amenities in the workplace (general bathrooms and executive bathrooms).  
The film revealed that the number of women in the workplace was low compared to the number of men. This could be attributed to what Foner said about the increasing suburban dwelling and women preferring to remain housewives while their husbands worked in the 1950s. 

Q4: Does the film make any commentary about the practice of advertising? What does the commentary reveal about life in the 1950s?

The film began with a caricature of TV ads for products that did not perform as well as the campaigns promised. In other words, there was no truth in advertising during this period. More and more Americans owned television sets in their homes and watching TV programs became one of the preferred leisurely activities in America. The film also made a commentary on how the large companies sponsored TV shows and how they cut into the enjoyment of the programs with commercial breaks. This was shown in the scene where Rockwell stood on stage and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, this break in our motion picture was made out of respect for the tv fans in our audience who are accustomed to constant interruptions from messages from sponsors of their programs.”

Give Me Liberty: An American History/Foner, Eric - 3rd Ed


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