FORMER SUBWAY ALUMNI LEADER REFLECTS ON HIS "NOTRE DAME ODYSSEY"


Herb Juliano
(1922-1998)

Herb's Archive features an article on the festivities surrounding the star-studded South Bend premiere for Knute Rockne All-American.

 

Pat O'Brien about to give the famous "Win One For The Gipper" speech at halftime during the 1928 Notre Dame-Army game.

 

THE MOVIES

The January 25, 1941, edition of Motion Picture Herald, under the heading 1940-41 Feature Service Data, to aid showmen in checking, production numbers, running time, round table exploitation, audience classification, dates and page numbers of Herald reviews, ran this item:

Knute Rockne-All American (Warner Bros.)
Release Date October 5, 1940
Production No. 502
Running Time 98 Minutes
Reviewed October 12,1940, Page 46
Audience Classification-General
Legion of Decency Rating--Class A- I
Round Table Exploitation-Sept. 28, '40, Page 147; Oct. 19, '40, Pages 67, 7 1; Oct. 26, '40, Page 52; leading to Jan. 11, '41 , Pages 57, 58.

Feature Release Credits for Knute Rockne--All American included Warner as Distributor, the complete cast, Jack L. Warner and Hal B. Wallis as Producers, Robert Fellows as Associate Producer, Lloyd Bacon as Director, Screenplay by Robert Buckner, Leo F. Forbstein as Musical Director, and more, and the film was listed with, among others, KING OF THE LUMBERJACKS, with John Payne and Gloria Dickson; KIT CARSON, with Jon Hall, Dana Andrews, Ward Bond and Lynn Bari; and KITTY FOYLE, with Ginger Rogers and Dennis Morgan.

This reprint of an article from the FILM DAILY YEAR BOOK, 1941, under the title "Warner's Campaign on
KNUTE ROCKNE-ALL AMERICAN," tells it all:

   Famed for their trail-blazing exploits in the field of motion picture ballyhoo with such outstanding campaigns as "The 42nd Street Special," "Virginia City," "Dodge City" and "Fighting 69th," among others, to their credit, Warner Bros. garnered new laurels last year with one of the most extensive campaigns of them all-that on "Knute Rockne All-American." Starting several months before release of the feature, the campaign gathered national momentum up to the climax of its four-theater world premier in South Bend, Indiana, on October 4. From every angle, this ballyhoo was one of the most successful of its type ever staged, with national newspaper and radio coverage, public interest, magazine breaks and newsreel coverage bringing news of the premiere activities to every corner of the land.

   The campaign, which was supervised by Charles Einfeld, Warner advertising and publicity director, began to take shape in July when Mayor Jesse I. Pavey of South Bend journeyed to Hollywood to ask Harry M. Warner and Jack L. Warner to schedule the world premiere in his city. A crew of technicians and actors headed by Pat O'Brien had already been to the University city where "on-the-spot" scenes for the film were "shot. "

    After the decision to hold the premiere at the locale of Rockne's greatest triumphs, Einfeld's publicity forces set the wires humming with preliminary details on the opening. Arthur Haley, Notre Dame business manager, Mayor Pavey and Father John Cavanaugh, vice-president of Notre Dame, traveled to the west coast amidst much fanfare to meet with Harry M. Warner, Jack L. Warner and Charles Einfeld on final plans. A special information and arrangements unit was set up at the Oliver Hotel in South Bend.

    This group began to function during the first week in September, when a National Knute Rockne Week organization was set up with headquarters in South Bend. The entire promotional campaign centered around National Knute Rockne Week which was celebrated September 29--October 5 inclusive, with the four-theater World Premiere of "Knute Rockne-All American" on October 4, as the climax of the events. The premiere then became truly national in scope. Governor M. Clifford Townsend of Indiana issued an official proclamation designating the September 29-October 5 period as National Knute Rockne Week in Indiana and dispatched letters urging the Governors of all other states to issue similar proclamations. Mrs. Bonnie Rockne received the proclamation at the State House in Indianapolis. During the intervening weeks before the premiere, proclamations recognizing Knute Rockne Week were issued by the following Governors: Fred P. Cone, Florida; E. D. Rivers, Georgia; the late Henry L. Homer, Illinois; George A. Wilson, Iowa; Payne Ratner, Kansas; Sam Houston Jones, Louisiana; Leverett Saltonstall, Mass.; Herbert H. Lehman, New York; J.A. Rinehart, acting Governor of Oklahoma; Prentice Cooper, Tennessee; Clarence E. Martin, Washington and Harry Moore of New Jersey.

     After weeks of high-powered publicity and exploitation engineered from Hollywood, New York and South Bend, two "South Bend Specials" carrying over 150 notables, including Hollywood stars, newspapermen, celebrities and Warner Bros. officials, left from Los Angeles and New York, the two sections meeting in Chicago where they joined forces and proceeded to South Bend. Headed by Charles Einfeld, the Western delegation included: Mr. and Mrs. Donald Crisp, Peggy Diggins, Lucille Fairbanks, Mr. and Mrs. Bob Hope, Rosemary Lane, Mrs. Pat O'Brien, Sr., Mr. and Mrs. Pat O'Brien, Ronald Reagan, Irene Rich, Charles Ruggles, Jane Wyman, Gale Page, Anita Louise, Ricardo Cortez and Bruce Cabot.

    Mort Blumenstock headed the Eastern group which included Postmaster General Frank C. Walker and wife; Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr., who represented the President of the United States on the junket; Rudy Vallee; Owen Davis, Jr., who played Gus Dorais in the film; Aben Kandel, author of "City For Conquest"; Wally Butterworth and Parks Johnson of the Vox Pop program; Willie Howard and newspaperrnen from East of Chicago.

    Trebling the University town's regular population of 101,000 inhabitants, over 200,000 people traveled into South Bend to participate in the festivities. The turnout far exceeded any ever accorded the famed Notre Dame University football mentor in the hours of his greatest triumphs. Thousands journeyed from towns and cities as far away as 300 miles to pay tribute to the memory of Rockne.

    The streets were jammed with thousands of people, making the flow of ordinary traffic virtually impossible. All hotels were filled to capacity and many local residents offered their spare rooms to accommodate as much of the overflow population as possible. The town was thoroughly bantered with likenesses of Rockne and notices about Knute Rockne Week and the Warner premiere.

     When the special arrived in South Bend, it was greeted by a wildly cheering throng while two bands played the Notre Dame Victory March. Mayor Pavey had set aside the day as a civic holiday, and greeted the Warner contingents from the station platform. The entire town cooperated to the fullest. Leading merchants and industries banded all their facilities. The town had the appearance of being under martial law, with hundreds of policemen and state troopers attempting to keep order.

     Escorted by motorcycle policemen, the party pushed through the crowds at the station and went to the Oliver Hotel headquarters. The Vox Pop program held its regular broadcast over the CBS network with Wally Butterworth and Parks Johnson conducting as usual, from the lobby of the Hotel, with the stars as guests.

     That evening the stars and celebrities attended the gala banquet in the Notre Dame Dining Hall. Bob Hope was master of ceremonies of the proceedings. Among the speakers on this program were Pat O'Brien, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr., who read a letter from the President to Mrs. Bonnie Rockne, Father O'Donnell, president of Notre Dame University, Postmaster General Frank C. Walker, and many other prominent personages.
 

Gala dinner at Notre Dame for the film company and Notre Dame priests and luminaries.


     With Governors in all parts of the country lending their support, Notre Dame Alumni Clubs set up Knute Rockne Week dinners to take place that evening, simultaneously with the key affair held in South Bend. Along the lines of the "Fighting 69th" dinners, the South Bend affair was broadcast over a Mutual hookup and piped into the local affairs over the country. Over 50 of these affairs were held. Their great success was indicated by the reams of publicity breaks that poured into the clipping department set up by Warners to keep tab on the progress of the ballyhoo.

     On Friday, October 4, the stars, guests, officials and press attended the civic luncheon at the South Bend Country Club. In the evening, the Kate Smith broadcast was aired from John Adams High School in South Bend. Miss Smith had transported her entire troupe to the site of National Knute Rockne Week activities, and devoted her program to the premiere. It was broadcast over the coast-to-coast Columbia network. Mrs. Rockne, the Notre Dame Band and choir participated in the broadcast, as did Pat O'Brien, Gale Page, Ronald Reagan and Donald Crisp who took part in a radio adaptation of scenes from the Warner film. In addition to her Friday evening program, Kate Smith gave six daily newscasts from South Bend on her noonday spot over the entire Columbia network.

     Following the broadcast came the climax of the week's events-the four-theater World Premiere of "Knute Rockne-All American." The Colfax, Granada, State and Palace Theaters each screened the feature to packed houses-The tickets scaled at $1.10 for orchestra and $1.65 for mezzanine were sold out within the first week of public sale. Thousands stood outside the four theaters hailing the personal appearances of the Hollywood stars and celebrities who appeared at each showing. Following the screenings there was a Knute Rockne Premiere Grand Ball at the Palais Royale attended by all stars, guests and officials.

     On October 5, Pat O'Brien, Gale Page, Ronald Reagan, Donald Crisp and Mrs. Rockne visited the Knute Rockne grave where ceremonies were conducted and a wreath placed.

     In the afternoon the entire group went to the Notre Dame Stadium for the game between Notre Dame and The College of the Pacific, coached by Alonzo Stagg, who also appeared in the "Rockne" film. Between halves of the game, the stars present paid tribute to Rockne on the stadium field, the ceremonies being broadcast over the Mutual Coast-to-Coast Network, immediately following the World Series broadcast, thus assuring a listening audience of millions. The 55,000 seats of the University's huge stadium were packed, with disappointed thousands waiting outside the stadium throughout the game. It was the largest crowd ever to attend an opening season game at this stadium.

     The national ballyhoo for the feature did not end with the world premiere. All told there were 33 radio programs devoted to "Knute Rockne" preceding and subsequent to the opening. Many cities declared local Knute Rockne Week to coincide with the local playdate of the film.

    That was more than fifty years ago and Notre Dame is still exploiting "Knute Rockne-All American". It is still being shown to all incoming freshmen as part of their orientation. It is still considered THE representative film and, for the most part, any attempts at a more modern, more "adult" production of a screenplay about Rockne and Gipp and the relationship between the two has been thwarted by University administrators.

 

 

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