If Don Draper and his fellow "Mad Men" had written a show for Ethel Merman, it might have sounded something like "The Bathrooms Are Coming," one of the rare and curiously entertaining industrial musicals being screened Sunday at the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington.
That 1969 love song to American Standard plumbing products is a "crown jewel" among the thousands of industrial musicals produced as corporate propaganda from the 1950s to the 1980s, says Steve Young, a writer for "Late Show With David Letterman," who's hosting the event called "Everything's Coming Up Profits: The Film Show." It even includes a charming number called "My Bathroom," in which a woman harmonizes with her reflection in a mirror.
Often produced and filmed on New York City stages to take advantage of Broadway talent, the goal of industrial musicals was "to get the people at conventions fired up in a way that only good music and musical theater could do," says Young, who co-wrote "Everything's Coming Up Profits: The Golden Age of Industrial Musicals" (Blast Books) with Sport Murphy, and is developing a documentary on the subject.
A forgotten musical genre
Never heard of industrial musicalsl That's because these brassy and unreservedly promotional shows generally were seen only at business conventions and were rarely recorded for posterity. Young rediscovered the all-but-forgotten genre while rounding up musical oddities for "Dave's Record Collection" during his 25-year gig at "Letterman," which ended this year.
"Occasionally, I found souvenir albums from events like sales conventions and sales meetings," many featuring "wildly improbable lyrics about selling typewriters or gasoline or a thousand other products," Young says.
A 20-minute 1973 General Electric film he will be showing sings the praises of silicones. Also on the bill: a 1965 Citgo convention musical medley hosted by Ed McMahon, a 1967 Purina dog food song-and-dance stage show, and a beer sales meeting film animated by Hanna-Barbera.
Drawing top talent
While some industrial musicals were parodies, others were finely crafted originals by future toasts of Broadway. In 1959, five years before their smash "Fiddler on the Roof," composer Jerry Bock and lyricist Sheldon Harnick wrote an industrial musical about Ford tractors, Young says. "Cabaret" songwriting team John Kander and Fred Ebb and actors Martin Short and Florence Henderson also strutted their stuff in corporate shows before going on to more prestigious stage and screen projects.
"You would make more money on the industrial show circuit than on Broadway," Young says.
Equally rewarding was the audience reaction these films would get, Young says: "I've heard composers say they would be watching from the sidelines, and if they hit all the buttons, they would see tears streaming down the faces of the guys in the audience."
WHEN | WHERE July 26 at 7:30 p.m., Cinema Arts Centre, 423 Park Ave., Huntington
INFO $12; 631-423-7610, cinemaartscentre.org