Lux Radio Theatre: Radio, Film, and Advertising – A Fortunate Encounter

Lux Radio Theatre: Radio, Film, and Advertising – A Fortunate Encounter

Juan Carlos Rodríguez-Centeno
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3119-8.ch013
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Lux Radio Theatre was a radio program that remained on the air in the United States of America for more than twenty years (1934-1955). It aired radio plays which were adaptations of hit movies. Dozens of Hollywood movie stars were involved in the program, which was created by an advertiser and its agency, at the service of a sole product: Lux toilet soap. This chapter provides a discussion about the complex and costly, in terms of production, mode of advertising that were these radio plays, a unique encounter between Hollywood and advertising.
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Throughout the history of advertising, movie stars have been widely used to sell products. The use of celebrities has proven to be a successful advertising model and continues to be used to this day. Of all the celebrities who are famous for either their social, political or cultural roles, Hollywood stars are the leading roles of this advertising formula, followed by models and singers. It is a symbiotic relationship that benefits the stars as well as the product that is being “advertised.”

Although this is nothing new, the multiple ways in which this practice can unfold manifests itself in an ample range. This chapter discusses the complex and costly, in terms of production, mode of advertising that was the radio play. The change in current publicity models makes the case of the radio play created solely for the purpose of advertising a product a rare bird indeed. As it is not something that is very common today, this makes it worthy of a historical examination; radio and cinema’s past in advertising created a triangle of media and modes which reached its golden age in the era of the radiophonic experience of the Lux Radio Theatre program.

In 1924 the British manufacturing company Lever Brothers introduced a new product: Lux toilet soap. The product was released one year later in the United States of America; for the purpose of promoting the soap, the company hired the services of the most experienced and prestigious advertising firm of the time, J. Walter Thompson, which was founded in 1864. For the first three years, the brand’s advertising was centred on the attributes of the product, but at the beginning of 1928, the agency began a new tactic, which is still used today: product placement in the world of cinema, in general, and in the beauty and glamour of actresses, in particular.

In that era, Hollywood had become the metonym of the United States film industry. Hollywood stars were venerated idols for millions of spectators who flocked to the cinemas to worship their icons and even though using actors and actresses in advertising was nothing new, the Lux advertisements was a whole new dimension and reached a relevance that had not been seen before.

Husband and wife team Stanley B. Resor and Helen Lansdowne Resor played an important role in this new positioning. They bought the agency in 1916, with other partners. Helen Lansdowne Resor began to work at the agency in 1908 and her creative work was key. Today she is recognized as one of the most important women in the history of advertising.

May McAvoy was the star of the first advertisement using the new strategy, which illustrated the model that would be repeated in dozens of commercials for decades to come and that at the same time embodied the aspirations millions of consumers yearned for. She was a young, beautiful actress, at the top of her career starring in silent films like Lady Windemere’s Fan (Lubitsch, 1925), Ben Hur (Niblo, 1925) and The Jazz Singer (Crosland, 1927) with Al Jolson. This explains why the brand chose her for the first advertisement, in which the actress testifies: “A smooth skin –studio skin- is one of the most important assets a screen star has –like every woman and ever more than most women, I have to guard my skin -I always use Lux Toilet Soap- a lovely soap it keeps my skin exquisitely smooth”.

Even though it’s only May McAvoy’s image that appears in that ad, she is not the only person from the world of film that was included. We also find John M. Stahl’s testimony, who at the time was a famous producer for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and later a prestigious director. One of the many things he did was discover new talent, and his opinion became a powerful enticement at the service of Lux soap: “Tremendous Allure in lovely smooth skin. Few people can resist smooth exquisite skin. Studio skin, we call it –that skin of rare, lovely smoothness, which defies the cruel, blazing lights of the close-up. Such a skin can´t be faked even with the cleverest make-up. It must be genuine. This perfection of skin is one of the greatest holds a star has on her public”.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Lux Radio Theatre: Classic radio anthology program that was broadcasted in United States since 1934 to 1955 sponsored by Lux toilet soap.

Star System: Method of creating and promoting stars in the so-called golden age of Hollywood.

Advertising: A professional form of persuasive communication that aims to promote products, services or ideas.

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