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Taking PlaceLocation and the Moving Image$

John David Rhodes and Elena Gorfinkel

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780816665167

Published to Minnesota Scholarship Online: August 2015

DOI: 10.5749/minnesota/9780816665167.001.0001

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Right Here in Mason City:The Music Man and Small-Town Nostalgia

Right Here in Mason City:The Music Man and Small-Town Nostalgia

Chapter:
(p.133) 6 Right Here in Mason City:The Music Man and Small-Town Nostalgia
Source:
Taking Place
Author(s):

Linda A. Robinson

Publisher:
University of Minnesota Press
DOI:10.5749/minnesota/9780816665167.003.0006

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter considers the attempts of Mason City, Iowa, the inspiration for the setting of the film The Music Man (1962), to adapt itself to its on-screen double, River City. It argues that in attempting to sell nostalgia for 1912 River City, Mason City has taken on an alter ego with little remaining marketable value and finds itself trying to sell a nostalgia that, to a great extent, no longer exists. Thus, the case study of The Music Man provides an illustration of the expiration of the nostalgic response and thereby highlights some of the conditions necessary for such pop culture nostalgia to exist.

Keywords:   Mason City, Iowa, River City, American small town, nostalgia, pop culture

It was just as if the movie had come to life, as if they were actually experiencing the thrill Professor Harold Hill sang about when “Gilmore, Liberatti, Pat Conway, the Great Creatore, W. C. Handy, and John Philip Sousa all came to town on the same historic day!”1 This sunny Tuesday was the high point, some might say, of the town’s entire history. Visitors had begun arriving on Monday, or even earlier, during the weekend: high school students and their chaperones; Warner Bros. representatives; members of the press from all over the country; and most exciting of all, movie stars, real movie stars! All told, an estimated seventy-five thousand people descended on Mason City, Iowa, in June 1962 to watch or participate in The Music Man National Marching Band Competition—the annual North Iowa Marching Band Competition expanded into a national competition for this single year—and to celebrate the press premiere of Warner Bros.’s film version of the successful Broadway musical. That Warner Bros. had chosen to hold the film’s press premiere in Mason City, a north central Iowa town with a population of thirty thousand, was due to its author’s good sense in having been born there. And by far the most revered guest at the festivities was Meredith Willson, Mason City’s favorite son, who had spent his boyhood there and then honored the town by memorializing it as The Music Man’s fictional River City—first in his Broadway hit and now, forever captured on film, in the Warner Bros. movie.

Throughout the postwar era, the American small town at the turn of the last century had been an object of nostalgic affection: in published memoirs such as Roderick Turnbill’s Maple Hill Stories;2 in films such as On Moonlight Bay (1951) and Pollyanna (1960); and—in concrete form—in Disneyland’s Main Street, USA, first opened to the public in 1955. This nostalgia positioned the turn-of-the-century small town as offering the utopian solutions, in Richard Dyer’s terms, of energy (in the form of pastoral return) for modern-day exhaustion, transparency (honest (p.134) communications and relationships) for modern-day manipulation, and perhaps most of all, community for fragmentation.3 A long-anticipated film based on a Broadway hit whose music had been in widespread circulation since 1957, The Music Man was the epicenter of this 1950s to early 1960s nostalgia for America’s moment of lost innocence, and that nostalgia, in fact, was the experience Warner Bros. sold to 1962 audiences.

In turn, it was Warner Bros.’s turning The Music Man into a national event that made the film a feasible and attractive hook for Mason City’s self-promotion in the twenty-first century. The forging in popular imagination of a tie between a particular place or locale and a particular film is a phenomenon that occurs with some regularity, reflecting perhaps a desire to bring a piece of cinema’s fictional world into our own, such as when travelers to Madison County, Iowa, seek out the covered bridge from Bridges of Madison County (1995). The on-location film premiere, while probably designed primarily to generate excitement about the film’s release, can also serve as an opportunity to emphasize such a relationship between place and film, as in the 1939 premiere of Gone with the Wind in Atlanta, Georgia, home to the novel’s author, Margaret Mitchell. In the case of Mason City and Warner Bros.’s 1962 film The Music Man, this connection was forged, with the full force of the Hollywood publicity machine behind it, to such a degree that the blurring of identities between Mason City and River City has become a confusing circular dance: today, Mason City promotes itself by adopting the identity of its fictional counterpart, River City, which is, in turn, a fictional version of Mason City itself.

Nonetheless, the effect of Mason City’s twenty-first-century attempt to market The Music Man and its 1912 setting differs significantly from Warner Bros.’s efforts in 1962, and not simply because of the great discrepancy in resources and visibility. In 2011, the sights and sounds of turn-of-the-century America are no longer in popular circulation, and neither, for the most part, is The Music Man itself. Thus Mason City’s effort seems to have come too late, given that it seeks to capitalize on commercial products—The Music Man and River City—that, without the familiarity made possible with such cultural circulation, have outlived their nostalgic range.

From conception to stage to screen to national phenomenon, with a celebration in Mason City along the way

Meredith Willson, author of The Music Man, was born in Mason City, Iowa, on May 18, 1902, to a comfortably middle-class family.4 The Willsons were a musical family, and Willson grew up playing several instruments.5 After graduating from high school, he left Mason City in 1919 to study music in New York City.6 He never (p.135) lived in Mason City again, although he returned for visits for the rest of his life. In the late 1920s, he moved to the West Coast, eventually settling in Los Angeles and finding work in radio, film, and television. In 1932, he became director of NBC’s west division, and in the years that followed, he also conducted radio, television, and motion picture orchestras as well as composing symphonic material, popular songs, and the film scores for The Great Dictator (1940) and The Little Foxes (1941).

In the 1940s and 1950s, Willson cultivated a public persona in addition to pursuing his behind-the-scenes roles of composer, conductor, and radio division director. As musical director of The Burns and Allen Show and The Maxwell House Showboat radio programs, he regularly appeared on air; he was also a guest on various other radio programs, and in the late 1940s, he began hosting his own radio programs.7 In addition, in 1948, he published the autobiographical And There I Stood with My Piccolo,8 to be followed in 1955 with Eggs I Have Laid.9

Key to Willson’s public persona was Mason City, Iowa, and particularly Willson’s memories of his boyhood there in the first two decades of the twentieth century. This persona was very much a small-town boy; as one biographer describes it, Willson “fabricated a caricature of himself, an average fellow from Mason City who simply enjoyed sharing stories about his ‘cousins’ … a naïve, dim-witted character whose presence in the script complemented [radio] stars … like Frank Morgan and Gracie Allen.”10 The degree to which this “homespun” and “folksy”11 persona was a fictional construction—and Willson’s devotion to self-promotion is evident throughout his career—is of less relevance here than how it positioned him to be perceived by American audiences and readers. Specifically, Willson was situated to serve as a public representative of his generation, the last to have experienced the American small town before its complete conversion from its premodern to its modern form. Certainly Willson’s many references to—indeed, the association of his public persona with—turn-of-the-century Mason City were the reason that Broadway producers Ernie Martin and Cy Feuer approached him in 1951 to write a musical comedy about his Iowa boyhood.12

After a long and difficult birth—Willson began writing the play, his first, in 1951—The Music Man opened on Broadway on December 19, 1957, and was an immediate hit. It won multiple Tony Awards13 and ran for 1,375 performances;14 the Broadway cast LP album was a best seller.15 In late 1960 or early 1961, Warner Bros. Studios purchased the screen rights.16

In doing so, Warner Bros. was acting in the manner dictated by Hollywood industry conditions of the time. The various factors acting on the film industry throughout the 1950s had caused a tightening of the economic risks involved with filmmaking.17 As a result, Jerome Delameter notes that “the major studios all but (p.136) stopped ‘original’ musical production and began to lean, instead, on the proven popularity of the Broadway show. Adaptations became the major form of musical productions in the Fifties and Sixties.”18

The postwar decline in movie attendance and the 1950s breakup of the Hollywood studio system have been well documented elsewhere; suffice it to say that from the record $1.692 million in 1946, Hollywood’s box office receipts dropped by 43 percent, to $955 million, by 1961.19 Simultaneously, the dismantling of the studios’ vertically integrated oligopoly and the reduction of their workforce, as one among several cost-cutting measures, resulted in a fundamental change in the nature of film production. Increasingly, in-house production was replaced by the package unit system, a “short-term film-by-film arrangement”20 whereby an independent producer organized a film project, marshaling the narrative property, personnel, equipment, and production sites, and secured its financing, often from a Hollywood studio.21 The net result was that for the studios, each film became a distinct investment risk, in contrast to films during the studio era, where exhibition divisions usually guaranteed profitability across a studio’s annual film output regardless of the box office receipts of any particular film. In the 1950s, however, each film was increasingly subject to the imperative of turning a profit.

Always a cost-conscious studio, Warner Bros. continued to be profitable in the eight years after the end of the war. In 1953, however, after it had been forced to sell off its exhibition division, the studio’s profits dropped to the 1940 level of three million dollars, and in 1958, it recorded annual losses for the first time since 1934.22 What profitability Warner Bros. maintained in the postwar and postdivestiture period was achieved by cutting costs, moving into television production (one of the first of the Hollywood studios to do so), and selling its old movies to television. This, then, was the state of the industry—and Warner Bros.’s position within it—at the time Warner Bros. acquired the motion picture rights to The Music Man. That Warner Bros. regarded The Music Man as an ideal project, as close to a guaranteed hit as could be found, is reflected in an undated studio press release stating that Warner Bros. had acquired the motion picture rights to The Music Man for “the highest price ever paid for any theatrical property” and characterizing The Music Man as “the most sought after theatrical property in entertainment history … fully representative of the best in American tradition and entertainment”23 and “the heaviest pre-sold theatrical property to reach the screen.”24

Warner Bros.’s strategy for capitalizing on the box office potential of Willson’s Broadway success was to make The Music Man an event. As reflected in the studio’s fifty-page press book, Warner Bros. introduced the film with a massive publicity campaign. This campaign was launched with a nine-team publicity “hand-planting” (p.137) tour in April and May 1962, “each team travelling in a Chevrolet Impala station wagon emblazoned with the slogan ‘THE MUSIC MAN is Coming,’” which resulted in “more than 70,000,000 copies of over 20 magazines [carrying] major treatment of THE MUSIC MAN by the time of the film’s world premiere.”25

According to the studio, the “spectacular climax to the tremendous pre-release publicity campaign for THE MUSIC MAN”26 was the film’s press premiere in Meredith Willson’s hometown, Mason City, Iowa, well known as the inspiration for The Music Man’s River City. This was not, in fact, simply a movie premiere; rather Warner Bros. scheduled it to coincide with—and take advantage of—a long-standing Mason City tradition that embodied the film’s central marching band motif: the North Iowa high school band competition. Since its inception in the 1930s,27 this annual competition had always been hosted by Mason City, but in past (and future) years, it was a regional contest, limited to schools located in northern Iowa and Minnesota. When Warner Bros. decided to hold the film’s press premiere in Mason City, however, the two events became linked, and the Twenty-fourth Annual North Iowa Band Festival was expanded, for 1962 only, into a national competition, believed to be the first national marching band competition ever held in the United States.28

Warner Bros. began publicizing the newly christened Music Man National Marching Band Competition a full year in advance. On June 22, 1961, the studio issued a press release promising that over one hundred high school bands would participate in the band competition and that the festivities would receive national and foreign press coverage.29 For its part, the town of Mason City also spent an entire year in planning. Although Warner Bros. provided significant financial support, the event nonetheless required a $35,000 fund-raising campaign by Mason City’s Chamber of Commerce (four times the campaign goal of previous years)30 and the cooperation and participation of all the city’s downtown merchants. In addition, given the prediction that 8,000 band members would be in town for the competition,31 significant citizen involvement was needed to meet the demand for housing.32

The festival became an opportunity for municipal celebration of two of the town’s greatest sources of pride: its annual band competition and Willson, its favorite son. For instance, the annual Iowa State Rose Show, held in the Hotel Hanford, where the VIP festival guests were to be lodged, presented “a floral tribute to Meredith Willson” and sponsored a special sweepstakes for flower arrangements with Music Man motifs.33 A one-of-a-kind gold medal was to be presented to Willson at the premiere, and replica souvenir coins were available for purchase.34 Sculptor Carl Carlson committed to producing a public statue of Willson,35 and the city fathers renamed the Willow Creek footbridge, which, in its pre-1940s incarnation, served (p.138) as Willson’s inspiration for the one in The Music Man, as the “Meredith Willson Footbridge.”36

This celebratory participation, in fact, went beyond Mason City itself to the state of Iowa as a whole. The city’s mayor and the 1961 North Iowa Band Festival queen, serving as welcoming committee, greeted not only Willson and the Hollywood celebrities when they arrived at the Mason City airport but Iowa’s senators as well, both of whom attended the festivities. Moreover, as Warner Bros. had predicted, the event received widespread media exposure. The Mason City Globe-Gazette reported that Voice of America would cover the festival internationally.37 In addition, newspapers throughout the United States reported on the festival and premiere, ranging from such metropolitan organs as the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Daily Tribune, and the Miami News to those of smaller cities and towns such as the Newark Evening News, the Des Moines Register, and the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

The band competition and film premiere took place on Tuesday, June 19, 1962, although the festivities began the evening before with such events as a motorcade of the film’s celebrities through town; a dinner “for visiting dignitaries” at the Hotel Hanford; a two-hour downtown open house of local businesses for visiting band personnel;38 and a reception for out-of-state “bandmasters and wives” and chaperones. Tuesday morning’s events began with the four-hour Grand Parade of more than one hundred high school marching bands and “queens, floats and personalities.” At noon, a picnic was held in Central Park for the visiting celebrities, other dignitaries, and Iowa and Minnesota bandmasters, serenaded by various barbershop quartets.

The band competition itself occurred Tuesday afternoon at Mason City’s Roosevelt Field, while simultaneously, a program was held in Central Park consisting of concerts by the noncompeting bands and the presentation of the Band Festival queens. At 6:00 P.M., Roosevelt Field was opened for the “grand entry of all bands,” at which time the competition winner was announced and the band queen crowned. In the evening, the festival concluded with the premiere of The Music Man at the Palace Theatre, emceed by Arthur Godfrey and with attendance limited primarily to members of the press.39

In the end, thirty-two bands competed in the band competition,40 and press estimates of the total number of visitors rose as high as one hundred thousand, although the Mason City newspaper reported attendance at seventy-five thousand.41 Whatever the true number, it was anticipated that crowds during Tuesday’s events would be so great that postmaster Henry Pendergraft stopped downtown mail deliveries for the day.42

(p.139) Warner Bros.’s full-court publicity press did not end with The Music Man’s Mason City press premiere on June 19, 1962, and the subsequent Denver, Colorado, world premiere on July 6, 1962.43 For instance, the studio press book proclaims July 1962, the month of the film’s nationwide release, to be Muzak Corporation’s “MUSIC MAN MONTH,” in which, each day, Muzak would feature songs from the film, to the certain enjoyment of elevator riders everywhere. In addition, as part of Warner Records’s promotion of the sound track album, July 25, 1962, was named “‘Music Man Day’ on 750 radio stations [in 45 states] across the country.”44

In the end, Warner Bros.’s extensive efforts to promote the film paid off; The Music Man earned eight million dollars in rentals in 1962, making it number seven on Variety’s List of Big Rental Pictures of 1962.45 According to a studio press release, more than three hundred thousand sound track albums were sold in the first week of its release, making this the best-selling record in Warner Records history.46 The film was nominated for six Academy Awards and won the Oscar for the best adapted musical score.47 It also won the Golden Globe award for Best Motion Picture/Musical, Laurel Awards for Top Musical and Top Male Musical Performance (Robert Preston),48 and the Writers Guild of America award for Best Written American Musical. On July 5, 1962, The Hollywood Reporter announced that seventeen magazines had chosen The Music Man as their picture of the month for August 1962,49 and in its February 1963 issue, The Sign, a national Catholic magazine, named The Music Man best picture of 1962.50

1962 nostalgia for 1912 River City

From the outset, the public discourse about The Music Man characterized the film as an “idyllic” portrait of small-town life at the turn of the century and lauded the film’s ability to re-create for audiences, at least to some degree, the experience of that prior time and place. Thus Warner Bros.’s approach to publicizing The Music Man was to foreground and celebrate its period setting. In fact, in an undated press release, Warner Bros. argued that The Music Man’s period setting was the basis for its appeal:

Whoever believes there is nothing good about the good old days except they’re gone is no judge of the public taste, particularly in movies. Nothing seems to please moviegoers more than a nostalgic backward glance at the days of yore.

… For instance, currently in production at Warner Bros. [is] … Meredith Willson’s “The Music Man,” … which takes place in a small Iowa town in 1912.

(p.140) … Perhaps it is because of every man’s familiarity with the past and his uncertainty about the future, but there is apparently no better subject for a good movie than a little journey into the past.51

In marketing The Music Man as “a little journey into the past,” Warner Bros.’s strategy was to emphasize the film’s period authenticity with publicity describing the studio’s extensive efforts to ensure accuracy in costuming, hairstyles, and set design. Warner Bros. exploited as well the film’s grounding not simply in the general idea of the turn-of-the-century small town but in a specific small town in the specific year of 1912, lending the film an authenticity necessarily enhanced by Willson’s bona fides as long-standing raconteur of his hometown’s history:

It isn’t very often that a man is privileged to stand around and watch his hometown being rebuilt in Hollywood. But this is exactly the experience which is engaging the happy attention of Meredith Willson at Warner Bros., where the storefronts and signs went up on River City, Iowa. River City is, to be sure, the fictional name for the very real town of Mason City, the background for Willson’s fabulous show, “The Music Man.”52

Most critical response to the film was also couched in terms that affectionately—at times lyrically—recalled its period setting. The Hollywood Reporter, for instance, predicted that The Music Man would be a “box office bonanza” because

what Meredith Willson … succeeded in doing … was to create through music a whole era and atmosphere of American life, the Midwest at its first surge of vitality, a period (1912) of nostalgia and affection, a nostalgic, pastoral way of life now irrevocably gone.53

Other critics described The Music Man’s period setting as “the friendly days before world wars shattered [America’s] tranquility,”54 “an age now past but fondly remembered,”55 and “the days when rural America was delightfully naive and small towns had a personality of their own.”56 Significantly, some reviews explicitly pitted the film’s period setting against the present day: “[The Music Man] reminds us that the America of several generations ago could find pleasure in a relaxing park stroll or community dance on a moonlit Summer’s evening. The Jet Age of the Soaring Sixties can too easily forget such modest-paced recreation.”57

This perception of The Music Man’s 1912 small-town setting as nostalgically idyllic, however, is somewhat belied by the text itself. Admittedly, the film’s ending (p.141) is celebratory: Hill is redeemed and reconciled with the town by the boys’ and Paroo’s faith in him, and in the film’s fantastic finale, in which night becomes day,58 Hill’s ragtag boys’ band is magically transformed into a huge, magnificent marching band that parades through the town performing “Seventy-six Trombones.” This ending leaves the viewer with a sense of joyful community as well as what Richard Dyer has identified as the utopian feeling inherent in the Hollywood musical number. It is understandable, then, that the dominant impression of the film’s setting communicated by those writing about the film would be a positive one—one, in fact, in which this satisfying and uplifting ending would cast a decidedly idyllic quality on the town’s temporal distance and geographical distinction from urban and suburban midcentury America.

Nonetheless, the film’s narrative arc is that River City, a dystopian town, is healed through the intervention of an outsider. Thus River City, as Hill first finds it, is a narrow-minded, repressive place, unwelcoming to strangers. Municipal government consists of a buffoonish mayor and a feuding, ineffectual school board; the town’s middle-class women, dominated by the mayor’s overbearing wife, are self-righteous gossipmongers. Though River City becomes a literally harmonious town by the film’s conclusion—the once-feuding school board now an inseparable barbershop quartet—this transformation is effected only through the machinations of the city slicker59 con man Hill; key to the happy ending, in fact, is the understanding that River City in its natural—i.e., pre-Hill—state lacks the neighborly sense of community at the heart of the myth of the idyllic turn-of-the-century small town.

To be sure, River City’s dystopia is presented comically and, from Willson’s standpoint at least, affectionately, which renders it less toxic than it would otherwise appear; indeed, as with all comedy, that dysfunction is part of the pleasure the film offers. This dysfunction is undercut as well by the number of occasions—beginning with Hill’s first moments in town—in which the town engages in group song, suggesting on an affective level a greater sense of community than the narrative presents. And certainly by the end of the film, narrative and form converge in a demonstration of community pride and celebration. Thus the film’s construction suggests that the ideal, while not necessarily inherent in this particular time and place, was nevertheless achievable.

Nonetheless, to some degree, this discursive theme of “nostalgia” appears to reflect a preexisting popular construction of small-town, turn-of-the-century America as an idealized moment of innocence as much as anything particular to The Music Man itself. Certainly Warner Bros. capitalized on this construction even as its publicity contributed to it. The presumptive belief in that innocence reflected in this discourse suggests, however, that in 1962, the concept itself was in current (p.142) cultural circulation, familiar to all, and, as a result, had in fact been largely internalized in the American public consciousness as a historical, unquestioned “given.”

2011 nostalgia for 1912 River City

Biographer Bill Oates points out that in the early developmental stages of The Music Man, Willson usually denied that River City was modeled on Mason City, presumably out of concern that the play would be a flop. Once it was a hit, however, Willson “affectionately and deliberately affiliated Mason City as the original home of the ‘Iowa stubborn,’”60 and the affiliation has continued to the present day. In fact, in 2011—with the exception of DVD sales—it is no longer Warner Bros. who seeks to market The Music Man’s nostalgia for 1912 America; rather the entity seeking to do so is Mason City, which has effectively adopted the identity of its fictional self—River City—as a means of promoting itself to tourists. Here again is the effort to re-create—and sell—the pleasures of simpler times, but the effect of that effort is very different now from what it was in 1962; rather, today, Mason City is attempting to sell a nostalgic product increasingly unfamiliar to potential buyers, as River City in particular and the turn-of-the-century small town in general, as part of popular culture, slip more and more outside nostalgic range.

The idea of capitalizing on The Music Man and River City to promote tourism was first broached before the Warner Bros. film went into production. When he sold Warner Bros. the motion picture rights, Willson approached the governor of Iowa to suggest that a 1912 River City motion picture set be built near Mason City, to be “turned into a representation of bygone Iowa, a tourist attraction like Michigan’s Greenfield Village or Virginia’s Colonial Williamsburg”61 after filming was completed. When the state legislature did not act quickly enough on this expensive proposition to meet Warner Bros.’s production schedule, however, the studio decided to shoot the film on its back lot instead.62

The Mason City press premiere generated a similar suggestion. In the midst of its June 15, 1962, coverage of the event, the Mason City Globe-Gazette published a large drawing of a city block of Music Man–style buildings, enclosing within the block what appear to be a carousel and a small circular train track. Above the drawing, the headline reads, “Dream Envisions Real River City.” In the accompanying article, Luvern J. Hansen, a Mason City businessman, proposes that the city build a “River Cityland”:63

What would “River Cityland” be like? With a little imagination, it could be Disneyland, the World’s Fair, and an introduction to the space age, all in one thrilling development. What would “River Cityland” feature? … As (p.143) a starter, I could suggest an authentic “River City” main street, planned after the Warner Brothers sets for Meredith Willson’s The Music Man. The show windows in these replicas of by-gone days could serve as a museum of early century Mason City and trade area …. The more people we can get to come to Mason City …, the better for all who are a part of this fine city.64

Such a re-creation of River City did not come into existence, however, until Mason City’s Music Man Square opened its doors in 2002. Housed within the Music Man Square building are the Meredith Willson Museum, the Conservatory of 1905,65 the 1912 River City Streetscape, Reunion Hall,66 Mrs. Paroo’s Gift Shop,67 and the Exploratorium for early childhood music education. A glossy, four-color booklet promoting Music Man Square states that future plans include a five-hundred-seat Performing Arts Center (eventually to house a summer stock theater) and the conversion of “the old Mason City Bakery building, originally developed in 1917 and once owned by Meredith Willson’s father, … into a village-type bakery.” Across the street from the Music Man Square building stands the Meredith Willson Boyhood Home, which has been restored—with some of the Willson family’s original furniture—to its appearance in the 1910s. Both the Music Man Square Web site and the promotional brochure ask,

Have you ever fantasized what it would be like to step into an actual motion picture? That’s how many people feel when they visit the River City Streetscape in “The Music Man Square.” It’s always July 3, 1912 in the Streetscape, and Professor Hill is about to get off the train. Do the storefronts look familiar? That’s because they are based on the sets used in the Warner Brothers 1962 film version of The Music Man.68 From Mrs. Paroo’s front porch to Madison Park to the Pleez-All pool hall, you’ll feel as if you’d rented a video of the movie.69

The Music Man Square Web site explains that

Mason City’s rich musical heritage inspired Meredith Willson to use his hometown as the setting for one of America’s favorite musicals, The Music Man. So it seemed only natural to celebrate the life and music of Meredith Willson by developing this multi-million dollar complex adjoining his boyhood home, not only to honor him but to sustain the spirit of “River City, Iowa.”

(p.144) Within this Web site, the Meredith Willson Boyhood Home Web page promises visitors “turn-of-the-century nostalgia,” while “The Musical” Web page points out that “Meredith Willson’s Iowa home town of Mason City, with its pool hall, footbridge, and annual Band Festival, is unmistakable as the inspiration for the fictional ‘River City.’ All the spirit and flair of this classic Americana is being captured in ‘The Music Man Square’—right here in River City!” (Figure 6.1).

One item for sale in the gift shop is a video titled It’s Yesterday Once More! The History of Mason City, Iowa 1853–1962. The video unabashedly promotes itself as nostalgia—box copy reads, “It’s Yesterday Once More is a nostalgic 80 minute video program that captures the essence of the 140-year history of a small county seat town in northern Iowa”—and it positions Mason City as an Anytown, the embodiment or representative of all small midwestern towns, whose familiarity offers a universal nostalgic pleasure:

[This] is the story of Mason City, Iowa, no different from a hundred other small agrarian towns in Midwestern America …. Seeing this program will rekindle anyone’s memories of their own particular hometown and they will be reminded of the nostalgic and warm feeling they perhaps have for their own childhood.

Using still photographs, music, occasional sound effects, and voice-over narration, the video relates Mason City’s story, from its founding as a traders’ camp in 1853 through the industrial growth and prosperity of the 1910s to World War I and the Depression. At this point in the city’s history, however, external events seem to end. Instead, the video moves into the life histories of two of its favorite sons. After relating the life story of puppeteer Bil Baird, the video summarizes Willson’s biography and ends with the press premiere of The Music Man in 1962. Robert Preston’s Broadway recording of “Seventy-six Trombones” plays on the sound track over a photograph of Willson exuberantly leading the 1962 parade, followed by a series of more contemporary color photographs of high school marching bands that appear to date from the 1970s. Preston’s song then continues to play under the film’s credits, which crawl over more black-and-white, early-twentieth-century photographs of Mason City and its residents.

In fact, however, It’s Yesterday Once More! reveals that Mason City in 1912 was a very different place from the 1912 River City depicted in the Warner Bros. film. According to the videotape, Mason City enjoyed its “most prosperous period of growth” in the first decade of the twentieth century, during which an influx of southern and eastern European immigrants introduced a new diversity into the (p.145)

Right Here in Mason City:The Music Man and Small-Town Nostalgia

Figure 6.1. Music Man Square Streetscape, Mason City, Iowa. Mason City Convention and Visitors Bureau.

town’s predominantly West European stock. River City had a population of two thousand in 1912; in contrast, between 1895 and 1907, Mason City’s population grew from six thousand to sixteen thousand, at which time it was the twelfth largest city in Iowa. By 1912, Mason City had a fifteen-year-old streetcar system, five banks, four vaudeville houses, four newspapers, numerous schools, and at least two hospitals. The first automobile had appeared in Mason City in 1903, and the city’s first motor company was established in 1906; in 1913, Mason City passed its first traffic laws for automobiles and constructed the first mile of concrete highway in Iowa. One of Mason City’s major industries, a cement plant on the outskirts of town, had been built before the turn of the century; the video describes the town’s new immigrants as finding work not only in the cement factory but in brickyards and packing plants. The video’s photographs of early-twentieth-century Mason City present a town of many large brick buildings and a well-populated business district, a very different kind of municipality from the hamlet portrayed in The Music Man or replicated in Music Man Square.

Still, the industry conditions that spurred Warner Bros. to promote The Music Man so aggressively put Mason City in the position to capitalize on its favorite son’s creation. Warner Bros. not only worked to ensure The Music Man’s success but it literally brought that success home to Mason City, making the town, like the studio itself, both a factor in and a beneficiary of that success. Warner Bros.’s (p.146) greatest contribution to Mason City, however, was the attention it drew to The Music Man itself, which ultimately, through the film’s popularity with audiences, gave River City sufficient stature and public presence to make it a useful promotional tool for Mason City. In addition, the Warner Bros. film itself taught Mason City that the past could be both a pleasurable experience and a marketable product, and furthermore, that a fictional past is the most likely to be successful at both.

The result is a curious circularity of identity, consumption, exploitation, and promotion, with Mason City posing as the fictional version of itself: Willson created River City from Mason City, which now re-creates Mason City from River City. Like a mind-teasing puzzle, the overlays and doublings of images and identity become confusing and seem almost impossible to untangle, like the mise-en-abyme construction of the cereal box with the picture of a sports star holding a cereal box with a picture of the sports star holding a cereal box. For example, The Music Man melds Mason City’s long-standing pride in the marching band with the film’s triumphant finale, in which River City’s suddenly immense marching band fills the city’s streets. Indeed, the 1962 Band Festival parade, with Willson at its head, seems itself a parallel or replication of the movie’s ending. Both are exuberant celebrations of the marching band and of the small town. For that matter, both are spectacles of gratitude to the man who has brought joy and excitement to an otherwise unexceptional existence.

At the same time, however, Mason City’s twenty-first-century effort to capitalize on The Music Man seems somewhat ill conceived. The nostalgia for sale in Music Man Square, such as in the It’s Yesterday Once More! video, is in part the same that Warner Bros. sold with the film in 1962: nostalgia for the simpler, slower, more innocent way of life popularly associated with America’s turn-of-the-century small town. In Music Man Square, however, what is also being sold is nostalgia for the 1962 film itself. Thus Music Man Square is an obvious attempt to inspire a form of what Roger Riley, Dwayne Baker, and Carlton S. Van Doren identify as movie-induced tourism, whereby “through movies, people are sometimes induced to visit what they have seen on the silver screen.”70 Riley and his colleagues have conducted empirical studies of tourist visitation levels at such locations as Devils Tower National Monument, Historic Fort Hays, the Dallas Book Depository, and the Dyersville, Iowa, cornfield baseball diamond, as affected by the release of the popular movies filmed in those locations: Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Dances with Wolves (1990), JFK (1991), and Field of Dreams (1989), respectively. These studies confirm a significant, measurable increase in tourism (between 40% and 50%) at such sites following the films’ release and for at least four years afterward. The authors report as well that, among other examples, counties and municipalities (p.147) have developed and marketed movie-related tours, such as the Driving Miss Daisy tour of the Druid Hills neighborhood in Atlanta, Georgia, and “in at least one case, a movie has made a small town into a boutique of movie memorabilia (Fried Green Tomatoes [1991]).”71 Ultimately, Riley and colleagues determine that

the visual media of today appear to construct anticipation and allure that induces people to travel. In the case of major motion pictures, the constructed gaze is not a sales strategy for tourism promotion but an entertainment ploy where storylines, underlying themes, exciting events, spectacular scenery, and characters create hallmark events. These events create exotic worlds that do not exist in reality but can be recreated through a visit to the location(s) where they were filmed.72

Their research also indicates, however, that “the pulling power of movies tends to fade as other events capture the viewing public’s eye.”73

Music Man Square, however, offers its visitors a dual nostalgia: not only for the 1962 film but, at least to some degree, for that of Mason City’s (fictional) former self; that is, Music Man Square attempts to provide visitors something akin to the experience of walking through the idealized 1912 community of River City itself. Thus, in addition to movie-related destinations, Music Man Square reflects the phenomenon of the “theme town” that Mira Engler reports has become “an unparalleled force in Iowa”74 since the early 1980s. By marketing themselves as themed tourist attractions, Iowa towns attempt to “alleviate the pain of desertion by youngsters, by industry, and by retailers; to repopulate the empty stores on Main Street; to overcome a sense of placelessness and geographical anonymity; and to regain a sense of worth and pride.”75 Indeed, tourism is now Iowa’s third leading industry, following agriculture and manufacture, and is crucial to the survival of many small rural towns.76 Engler perceives the impulse that makes such efforts successful as “a desire to make the imaginary real.”77 She identifies four categories of Iowa theme towns: Old World, Frontier America, Old Town, and Agrarian America (or Country Charm); of these, Music Man Square most closely approximates the Old Town model, in which “prosperous Main Street businesses and the public life of the 1920s are captured in the ‘good-old-town’ experience.”78

In fact, of course, Music Man Square is not an example of movie-induced tourism, as Riley and colleagues define it, and neither does its presence make Mason City a theme town; its curious hybridity of elements of these two types of tourist sites mirrors a certain weakness in its attempt to sell nostalgia for The Music Man. Rather than the film’s drawing viewers’ interest to an existing tourist (p.148) attraction or the film’s creating the tourist site—as occurred most famously with the Dyersville, Iowa, cornfield baseball diamond, which became a tourist destination only after droves of movie fans began to visit it—here The Music Man is the excuse offered for tourism; that is, rather than The Music Man’s sending visitors to Mason City, Mason City dangles The Music Man as bait, hoping to draw visitors in. Movie-induced tourism, as defined by Riley and colleagues, is a spontaneous phenomenon, whereby filmgoers are inspired by a film to try to enter or experience it by visiting one of its shooting locations; not only is The Music Man, over forty years old, unlikely to have such an effect on someone who might watch it today, but what Mason City offers is not The Music Man’s shooting location but a replica of the back lot set on which it was filmed. Moreover, Music Man Square is simply a stage set, whereas the Iowa theme town, although often a modern-day fabrication, is nonetheless a collection of functioning establishments approximating its “real-life,” historical model. Whereas Engler contends such theme towns offer a reassuring, fictional past, Music Man Square offers a replica of a fictional version of Mason City’s past—indeed, it offers not even the chance to inhabit the fictional world of 1912 River City but rather the Hollywood construction of that fictional world, in a sort of museum version of a Universal Studios theme ride.

Furthermore, The Music Man itself is a cultural product that itself seems to have largely fallen outside nostalgic range. It is true, as The Hollywood Reporter noted in 1962, that “the rocketing success of the stage musical in New York and London proves it isn’t necessary to have been part of that period [1912] to enjoy [The Music Man].”79 Fred Davis acknowledges that a person can experience a secondary nostalgia for times and places that have been represented so frequently in mass media that he or she has the illusion of having lived through them.80 If those frequent representations disappear from popular culture, however, such nostalgia eventually becomes impossible. The twin, albeit somewhat contradictory, requirements for pop culture nostalgia are distance and familiarity, which must exist in the proper balance for collective nostalgia to exist; too much distance and too little familiarity in the public consciousness will cause the nostalgic object to fade from sight; that is, it will fade from sight unless it continues to serve its psychic role, but the greater the temporal distance between the present day and the nostalgic object, the greater the chances that changed circumstances will have eliminated the object’s psychic role altogether or that another, more recent nostalgic object will have taken its place. Familiarity, in turn, in the late-twentieth and early-twentyfirst centuries is increasingly the product of mediation, as Jameson and others have noted in their critiques and examinations of postmodernity; a 2011 period (p.149) film set in the 1940s or 1950s is as likely to evoke a 1940s Hollywood film or 1950s television program as the lived experience of those decades. The nostalgia engendered for the turn-of-the-century small town in The Music Man, however, was one brought into being by the reaction between the idealized River City on screen and currently circulating cultural memory among audience members of the lived experience of the turn-of-the-century small town, personally known, or if not, received as firsthand accounts of that lived experience. As such, nostalgia for the turn-of-the-century small town was dependent at least in part on a circulation of cultural artifacts that had a built-in time limit—that is, the lifespan of its generation—and was in fact increasingly supplanted from the late 1970s onward by nostalgia for a more recent time and place, representations of which had been in uninterrupted circulation in American movies and television since the time of its actual existence: the 1950s–1960s small town or suburb.

Indeed, in the decades since 1962, turn-of-the-century America has lost its position within America’s autobiography as the country’s lost moment of innocence. Stuart Tannock posits nostalgia as having a three-part structure: a prelapsarian past, a definite break or rupture, and a post-lapsarian present. In this construction, World War I served as the break separating the pre-lapsarian turn of the century from the post-lapsarian modernity of the twentieth century.81 A comparable break—this time in the continuity of America’s apparent progress toward ever-increasing success, power, and “greatness”—occurred in the 1960s with such sociocultural disruptions as the Kennedy assassinations, the Vietnam War, and Watergate. For instance, Paul Monaco perceives 1962 as America’s last year of innocence; he attributes the popular turn to nostalgia in the late 1960s and 1970s in part to American society’s collective sense of disorientation resulting from the upheavals and transitions generated by these disruptive events.82 With this new break, the pre-lapsarian world shifted from pre-World War I to pre-1965, and the object of this post-lapsarian turn to nostalgia was no longer the turn of the last century but later moments in the twentieth century such as the Depression (Bonnie and Clyde, 1967) and, increasingly after American Graffiti (1973), the 1950s and early 1960s. As for The Music Man itself, a recent biographer of Willson points out that

before Willson’s play finished its initial run, it placed in the top ten most attended Broadway musicals, outdistancing The King and I and Guys and Dolls. Although its position slipped before later musicals that drew more patrons, none can compare to the popularity of this musical’s life in community (p.150) theater and on high school and college stages, a distinction that has never diminished.83

Indeed, today, The Music Man lives on in a form closer to what Rick Altman deems “folk” rather than “mass” art, as a stage play often performed by community, college, and high school theater groups. For instance, the Music Theatre International Web site listed eighty-seven productions scheduled for summer and fall 2007 throughout the country at summer theaters, community theaters, and children’s, high school, and college theater programs, with performances to be held at summer camps, churches, local opera houses, high schools, festivals, and parks.84

Postings on the online The Music Man forum hosted by the Web site Musicals. net (“The Resource for Musicals”), however, indicate certain limitations in The Music Man’s penetration into today’s popular culture. All of the individuals posting questions or responses on the forum are involved in theatrical production; many are young people, some in high school, and are auditioning for or performing in productions of The Music Man. And many—especially those who produced or performed in The Music Man—praise the play. At the same time, however, occasional posters express a certain disdain for it: “Here in Wyoming not many people enjoy cheesy musicals like The Music Man”; 85 “Old ladies like The Music Man. When I was in it, we did a lot of matinees and lots of blue hairs came”;86 “The majority of us hate the Music Man. Even the director hates the Music Man.”87 More significantly, those who have been cast in the play pose questions about costuming, hairstyles, and props that reveal a complete ignorance of the period setting; in fact, postings are sometimes premised with such disclaimers as “I know absolutely nothing about the setting for this play.”88

Thus the presence of The Music Man itself in cultural circulation today is a different sort of thing from other vintage cultural products of its era such as 1950s and 1960s television shows that have been in continuous circulation in intervening decades through syndication and cable networks such as TV Land and Nickelodeon. That The Music Man is a known quantity is reflected in references made to it in other pop culture: for instance, a character on NBC’s The West Wing89 refers to “Marion the Librarian”; Conan O’Brien performed a parody of “Ya Got Trouble” as host of the 2006 Primetime Emmy Awards; while The Simpsons spoofed The Music Man in an episode titled “Marge vs. The Monorail.”90 Furthermore, the Broadway play has been revived twice, once in 1980, with Dick Van Dyke as Harold Hill, and more successfully in 2000. It won the Tony that year for Best Revival of a Musical, and a made-for-TV version, starring Matthew Broderick as Harold Hill, aired in (p.151) 200391 and is now available on DVD. Despite its critical success, however, the 2000 Broadway show was simply one of many revivals of former Broadway hits in the last several years, part of a current producing strategy of relying on “known” hits, and the 2003 broadcast of the made-for-TV version was an event that appears to have drawn very little public attention. In short, though The Music Man is present in the American consciousness, it seems to lurk in the background of American pop culture, something many may have encountered in a high school theater production while never having watched the 1962 film. It is undeniable, then, that The Music Man’s cultural presence today in no way resembles the national phenomenon that the film represented in 1962.

It is true that the Mason City Foundation reports that over three hundred thousand people have visited Music Man Square since the Meredith Willson Museum opened in May 2002.92 Even so, Mason City’s erection of the River City Streetscape seems a questionable gesture in the town’s overall project of encouraging outsiders to come spend their money there, an appeal likely to attract only die-hard fans of Hollywood musicals. By contrast, one might picture Mason City’s River Cityland had it been constructed in the early 1960s and in continuous operation since. It is likely that the mere existence of River Cityland would have altered The Music Man’s place in American cultural consciousness. Another fruitful comparison—despite widely divergent financial resources, size, and skill in execution—is with Disneyland’s Main Street, USA, the obvious model for the proposed River Cityland. Both tourist attractions purport to replicate a small-town street at the turn of the last century, both do so in a manner that is blatantly idealized and sanitized, and yet both reveal the limits of nostalgic range, even though one does so by its failure and the other by its success.

That is, in 2005, the public flocked to Disneyland to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, a celebration Disney gave the theme of “homecoming.” Structurally, Main Street is the retail corridor through which visitors to Disneyland must pass on their way to its various “lands” and their rides and attractions. Today, certainly for younger visitors, the time and place it represents has been lost because the aural and visual references it contains (the horse-drawn trolley, Model-T, nickelodeon, barbershop quartet, piped-in period music, and gingerbread building styles) are no longer in cultural circulation as they were in the 1950s and 1960s.93 Thus this Main Street, USA, facade has taken on a secondary—and now dominant—meaning as the “Entrance to Disneyland,” the result of its continuous exposure to the public in this role for five decades.

In contrast, The Music Man has had no such continuous public exposure, and (p.152) of course, neither has the newly constructed River City Streetscape; rather, the film itself, and the time and place it depicts, have largely fallen out of nostalgic range. Ultimately, then, in attempting to sell nostalgia for 1912 River City, Mason City has taken on an alter ego with little remaining marketable value and finds itself trying to sell a nostalgia that, to a great extent, no longer exists. Thus the case study of The Music Man provides an illustration of the expiration of the nostalgic response and thereby highlights some of the conditions necessary for such pop culture nostalgia to exist.

Notes

(1) “Seventy-six Trombones,” from The Music Man, by Meredith Willson.

(2) Roderick Turnbull, Maple Hill Stories (Kansas City: Roderick Turnbull, 1961).

(3) Richard Dyer, “Entertainment and Utopia,” in The Cultural Studies Reader (London: Routledge, 1993), 277–78.

(4) John C. Skipper, Meredith Willson: The Unsinkable Music Man (El Dorado Hills, Calif.: Savas, 2000), 1.

(5) Ibid.

(6) Ibid.

(7) Meredith Willson Show (ABC, 1948–49; NBC, 1949–50) and Meredith Willson Music Room (NBC, 1951–53). In addition, in 1950, Willson became cohost with Tallulah Bankhead of The Big Show. He even attempted television with a shortlived television program, The Meredith Willson Show (July 31, 1949–August 21, 1949). Ibid., 96; Bill Oates, Meredith Willson—America’s Music Man: The Whole Broadway-Symphonic-Radio-Motion Picture Story (Bloomington, Ind.: Author House, 2005), 195–98.

(8) Meredith Willson, And There I Stood with My Piccolo (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009).

(9) Meredith Willson, Eggs I Have Laid (New York: Henry Holt, 1955).

(10) Oates, Meredith Willson, 1–2.

(11) Ibid.

(12) Meredith Willson, “But He Doesn’t Know the Territory” (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009), 15.

(13) At the 1957–58 twelfth annual Tony Awards, The Music Man won Best Musical, Best Actor/Musical (Robert Preston), Best Supporting or Featured Actress/Musical (Barbara Cook), Best Supporting or Featured Actor/Musical (David Burns), and Best Conductor and Musical Director (Herbert Greene).

(14) Oates, Meredith Willson, 129.

(15) Time, July 21, 1958, 42.

(16) The Music Man (p.153) Bob Thomas, “‘Music Man’ Film/Cameras Ready to Blaze Away,” New York World Telegram, January 13, 1961.

(17) Justin Wyatt, High Concept: Movies and Marketing in Hollywood (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994), 80.

(18) Jerome Delameter, “Performing Arts: The Musical,” in American Film Genres: Approaches to a Critical Theory of Popular Film, ed. Stuart M. Kaminsky (Dayton: Pflaum, 1974), 135.

(19) Wyatt, High Concept, 67.

(20) Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell, Film History: An Introduction (Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2003), 336.

(21) Ibid.

(22) Ibid.

(23) Warner Bros. Studio press release, undated, The Music Man files, USC-WB Collection.

(24) Ibid.

(25) Warner Bros. Studio press book, The Music Man.

(26) Ibid.

(27) Oates, Meredith Willson, 144.

(28) “Cary, N.C. Band Advance Arranges for Appearance,” Globe-Gazette (Mason City), [April 1962]

(29) Warner Bros. Studio press release, June 22, 1961, The Music Man files, USC-WB Collection.

(30) “City to Revamp Central Park Lighting before Festival,” Globe-Gazette (Mason City), February 13, 1962.

(31) “Expect 8000 High School Musicians for Band Festival,” Globe-Gazette (Mason City), February 17, 1962.

(32) See, e.g., “Who Will House Music Man Bandsmen until Blast Off?” Globe-Gazette (Mason City), March 28, 1962; “Need Lodging for 755 Band Guests,” Globe-Gazette (Mason City), May 11, 1962; “No Cancellation of Housing Facilities Now, PLEASE!” Globe-Gazette (Mason City), June 14, 1962.

(33) “Meredith Willson Tribute in Iowa State Rose Show,” Globe-Gazette (Mason City), June 13, 1962.

(34) “Gold Medal Struck for M. Willson,” Globe-Gazette (Mason City), June 15, 1962.

(35) Cliff Carlson, “Sculptor Gives Details for Proposed Willson Statue,” Globe-Gazette (Mason City), April 9, 1962.

(36) Resolution 4820, “A Resolution Expressing Appreciation to Meredith Willson, and Naming a Certain Footbridge in His Honor in the City of Mason City, Iowa,” June 4, 1962; “Footbridge Named for Willson,” Globe-Gazette (Mason City), June 5, 1962.

(37) “Voice of America Will Give Band Festival World Coverage,” Globe-Gazette (Mason City), June 7, 1962.

(38) (p.154) “Stores to Put on Festive Dress for Music Man Bands,” Globe-Gazette (Mason City), March 1, 1962.

(39) The Music Man Marching Band Competition Festival Program, Mason City, Iowa, June 19, 1962.

(40) The band from Rockville, Illinois, was the winner.

(41) Phil Currie, “75,000 Jam City for Band Festival/4-Hour Parade Is Led by Meredith Willson,” Globe-Gazette (Mason City), June 19, 1962.

(42) “‘Music Man’ Festival Stops Mail Delivery,” Post-Advocate, June 19, 1962; Carl Wright, “‘They Stopped the Mails’/U.S. Newspapers Laud ‘Music Man’ Festival,” Globe-Gazette (Mason City), June 25, 1962.

(43) Frances Melrose, “‘Music Man’ to Premiere in Denver,” Rocky Mountain News, June 3, 1962.

(44) “‘On the Air’ with Hank Grant,” Hollywood Reporter, July 25, 1962. Warner Records’ two-page advertisement in Billboard Music Week for National “Music Man Day” boasts of “more than 700 radio stations throughout the U.S. light[ing] a belated firecracker for Meredith Willson’s ‘The Music Man.’” “Now! Join In and Celebrate National Music Man Day July 25th,” Billboard Music Week, July 28, 1962. The two-page spread includes a “partial list” of radio stations, representing forty-five states, that were to participate in National Music Man Day.

(45) Variety Anniversary Issue, January 9, 1963. The Internet Movie Database lists the film’s domestic grosses as $14,953,846. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0056262/business. Warner Bros. studio records indicate that the projected direct cost for The Music Man as of February 28, 1961, was $4.24 million. Production budget, The Music Man, February 28, 1961, The Music Man files, USC-WB Collection.

(46) Friedman, Warner Bros. Studio press release, July 30, 1962, The Music Man files, USC-WB Collection.

(47) In addition to the music scoring nomination, The Music Man was nominated for Best Picture; Best Sound; Best Art Direction-Set Direction, Color; Best Costume Design-Color; and Best Film Editing.

(48) Shirley Jones placed third for the Laurel Award for Top Female Musical Performance.

(49) “‘Music Man’ Pick of Month,” Hollywood Reporter, July 5, 1962.

(50) “‘Music Man’ Selected as Best Picture,” Citizen News, February 8, 1963Hollywood Reporter

(51) Warner Bros. Studio press release, undated, The Music Man

(52) “For Phil Scheuer,” Carl Combs, Warner Bros.

(53) “The Music Man,” Hollywood Reporter, April 12, 1962

(54) “Melodies from American’s Middle West,” Herald Examiners, August 9, 1962

(55) “With 76 Trombones,” New York Mirror Magazine, July 15, 1962.

(p.155)

(56) George Bourke, “Family Will Enjoy Weekend Film Bill,” Miami Herald, July 28, 1962.

(57) Allen M. Widem, “Coast-to-Coast: ‘The Music Man’ Bright Screen Entertainment,” Hartford Examiner, June 23, 1962.

(58) The classroom showdown between Hill and the townspeople of River City occurs at night, but when the boys’ band leaves the school, followed by the rest of the town, it is a bright, sunny day.

(59) Although Hill claims Gary, Indiana, as his hometown, Paroo’s discovery that the town was founded only in 1906 suggests that this claim of small-town roots is part of his confidence scheme.

(60) Oates, Meredith Willson, 135.

(61) Ibid.

(62) Ibid.

(63) Luvern J. Hansen, “Official Proposes Tourist Attraction,” Globe-Gazette (Mason City), June 15, 1962.

(64) Ibid.

(65) The Conservatory of 1905, devoted to music education, houses the River City Barbershop Chorus, the Music City Chorus, and a summer band camp; it also includes a recording studio, a music library, and a number of practice rooms.

(66) Reunion Hall is an events venue available for occasions such as weddings and parties.

(67) As might be expected, Mrs. Paroo’s Gift Shop sells Music Man, Meredith Willson, and Mason City memorabilia such as “Trombone” T-shirts, baseball caps, and baby clothes.

(68) Whether deliberately or coincidentally, the River City Streetscape, although constructed inside the Music Man Square building rather than as a row of buildings on an actual city block, is otherwise nearly identical to that imagined in Hansen’s original plan.

(69) Music Man Square, Mason City, Iowa, http://www.themusicmansquare.org/streetscape.htm.

(70) Roger Riley, Dwayne Baker, and Carlton S. Van Doren, “Movie Induced Tourism,” Annals of Tourism Research 25 (1998): 919.

(71) Ibid.

(72) Ibid.

(73) Ibid.

(74) Mira Engler, “Drive-Thru History: Theme Towns in Iowa,” Landscape 32 (1993): 8.

(75) Ibid.

(76) Ibid.

(77) Ibid.

(78) Ibid.

(p.156)

(79) “The Music Man,” Hollywood Reporter, April 12, 1962.

(80) Fred Davis, Yearning for Yesterday: A Sociology of Nostalgia (New York: Free Press, 1979), 121.

(81) The 1920 census recorded that, for the first time in the nation’s history, the majority of Americans lived in urban rather than rural areas.

(82) Paul Monaco, Ribbons in Time: Movies and Society since 1945 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988).

(83) Oates, Meredith Willson, 129.

(89) The West Wing (NBC, 1999–2006).

(90) “Marge vs. the Monorail,” The Simpsons (Fox), Fourth Season, Episode 71 (aired January 14, 1993).

(91) ABC aired the made-for-TV version of The Music Man, an episode of The Wonderful World of Disney, on February 16, 2003. Oates, Meredith Willson, 134.

(92) “The Music Man Square History and Information,” Mason City Foundation, undated.

(93) When visiting Disneyland in summer 2005, I was accompanied by a thirtysomething fellow graduate student. In her capacity as a resident advisor for an undergraduate dormitory, she had visited Disneyland often during the five years she had spent at the University of Southern California pursuing her doctorate. As I pointed out the various period-inspired details in Main Street, she told me I was educating her about both turn-of-the-century culture and Disney’s exploitation and idealization of that culture. When we stopped to listen to a live barbershop quartet, she had never heard of the song they sang and did not know it was a period song, dating back to the turn of the century; furthermore, she had never consciously thought about the fact that the quartet was intended to represent any particular period in time. In fact, she had never paid any attention to how Main Street looked or what it contained; for her, it had always been “just that part of Disneyland you walk through to get to the rides.”

Notes:

(1) “Seventy-six Trombones,” from The Music Man, by Meredith Willson.

(2) Roderick Turnbull, Maple Hill Stories (Kansas City: Roderick Turnbull, 1961).

(3) Richard Dyer, “Entertainment and Utopia,” in The Cultural Studies Reader (London: Routledge, 1993), 277–78.

(4) John C. Skipper, Meredith Willson: The Unsinkable Music Man (El Dorado Hills, Calif.: Savas, 2000), 1.

(5) Ibid.

(6) Ibid.

(7) Meredith Willson Show (ABC, 1948–49; NBC, 1949–50) and Meredith Willson Music Room (NBC, 1951–53). In addition, in 1950, Willson became cohost with Tallulah Bankhead of The Big Show. He even attempted television with a shortlived television program, The Meredith Willson Show (July 31, 1949–August 21, 1949). Ibid., 96; Bill Oates, Meredith Willson—America’s Music Man: The Whole Broadway-Symphonic-Radio-Motion Picture Story (Bloomington, Ind.: Author House, 2005), 195–98.

(8) Meredith Willson, And There I Stood with My Piccolo (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009).

(9) Meredith Willson, Eggs I Have Laid (New York: Henry Holt, 1955).

(10) Oates, Meredith Willson, 1–2.

(12) Meredith Willson, “But He Doesn’t Know the Territory” (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009), 15.

(13) At the 1957–58 twelfth annual Tony Awards, The Music Man won Best Musical, Best Actor/Musical (Robert Preston), Best Supporting or Featured Actress/Musical (Barbara Cook), Best Supporting or Featured Actor/Musical (David Burns), and Best Conductor and Musical Director (Herbert Greene).

(14) Oates, Meredith Willson, 129.

(15) Time, July 21, 1958, 42.

(16) The Music Man (p.153) Bob Thomas, “‘Music Man’ Film/Cameras Ready to Blaze Away,” New York World Telegram, January 13, 1961.

(17) Justin Wyatt, High Concept: Movies and Marketing in Hollywood (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994), 80.

(18) Jerome Delameter, “Performing Arts: The Musical,” in American Film Genres: Approaches to a Critical Theory of Popular Film, ed. Stuart M. Kaminsky (Dayton: Pflaum, 1974), 135.

(19) Wyatt, High Concept, 67.

(20) Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell, Film History: An Introduction (Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2003), 336.

(23) Warner Bros. Studio press release, undated, The Music Man files, USC-WB Collection.

(25) Warner Bros. Studio press book, The Music Man.

(27) Oates, Meredith Willson, 144.

(28) “Cary, N.C. Band Advance Arranges for Appearance,” Globe-Gazette (Mason City), [April 1962]

(29) Warner Bros. Studio press release, June 22, 1961, The Music Man files, USC-WB Collection.

(30) “City to Revamp Central Park Lighting before Festival,” Globe-Gazette (Mason City), February 13, 1962.

(31) “Expect 8000 High School Musicians for Band Festival,” Globe-Gazette (Mason City), February 17, 1962.

(32) See, e.g., “Who Will House Music Man Bandsmen until Blast Off?” Globe-Gazette (Mason City), March 28, 1962; “Need Lodging for 755 Band Guests,” Globe-Gazette (Mason City), May 11, 1962; “No Cancellation of Housing Facilities Now, PLEASE!” Globe-Gazette (Mason City), June 14, 1962.

(33) “Meredith Willson Tribute in Iowa State Rose Show,” Globe-Gazette (Mason City), June 13, 1962.

(34) “Gold Medal Struck for M. Willson,” Globe-Gazette (Mason City), June 15, 1962.

(35) Cliff Carlson, “Sculptor Gives Details for Proposed Willson Statue,” Globe-Gazette (Mason City), April 9, 1962.

(36) Resolution 4820, “A Resolution Expressing Appreciation to Meredith Willson, and Naming a Certain Footbridge in His Honor in the City of Mason City, Iowa,” June 4, 1962; “Footbridge Named for Willson,” Globe-Gazette (Mason City), June 5, 1962.

(37) “Voice of America Will Give Band Festival World Coverage,” Globe-Gazette (Mason City), June 7, 1962.

(38) (p.154) “Stores to Put on Festive Dress for Music Man Bands,” Globe-Gazette (Mason City), March 1, 1962.

(39) The Music Man Marching Band Competition Festival Program, Mason City, Iowa, June 19, 1962.

(40) The band from Rockville, Illinois, was the winner.

(41) Phil Currie, “75,000 Jam City for Band Festival/4-Hour Parade Is Led by Meredith Willson,” Globe-Gazette (Mason City), June 19, 1962.

(42) “‘Music Man’ Festival Stops Mail Delivery,” Post-Advocate, June 19, 1962; Carl Wright, “‘They Stopped the Mails’/U.S. Newspapers Laud ‘Music Man’ Festival,” Globe-Gazette (Mason City), June 25, 1962.

(43) Frances Melrose, “‘Music Man’ to Premiere in Denver,” Rocky Mountain News, June 3, 1962.

(44) “‘On the Air’ with Hank Grant,” Hollywood Reporter, July 25, 1962. Warner Records’ two-page advertisement in Billboard Music Week for National “Music Man Day” boasts of “more than 700 radio stations throughout the U.S. light[ing] a belated firecracker for Meredith Willson’s ‘The Music Man.’” “Now! Join In and Celebrate National Music Man Day July 25th,” Billboard Music Week, July 28, 1962. The two-page spread includes a “partial list” of radio stations, representing forty-five states, that were to participate in National Music Man Day.

(45) Variety Anniversary Issue, January 9, 1963. The Internet Movie Database lists the film’s domestic grosses as $14,953,846. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0056262/business. Warner Bros. studio records indicate that the projected direct cost for The Music Man as of February 28, 1961, was $4.24 million. Production budget, The Music Man, February 28, 1961, The Music Man files, USC-WB Collection.

(46) Friedman, Warner Bros. Studio press release, July 30, 1962, The Music Man files, USC-WB Collection.

(47) In addition to the music scoring nomination, The Music Man was nominated for Best Picture; Best Sound; Best Art Direction-Set Direction, Color; Best Costume Design-Color; and Best Film Editing.

(48) Shirley Jones placed third for the Laurel Award for Top Female Musical Performance.

(49) “‘Music Man’ Pick of Month,” Hollywood Reporter, July 5, 1962.

(50) “‘Music Man’ Selected as Best Picture,” Citizen News, February 8, 1963Hollywood Reporter

(51) Warner Bros. Studio press release, undated, The Music Man

(52) “For Phil Scheuer,” Carl Combs, Warner Bros.

(53) “The Music Man,” Hollywood Reporter, April 12, 1962

(54) “Melodies from American’s Middle West,” Herald Examiners, August 9, 1962

(55) “With 76 Trombones,” New York Mirror Magazine, July 15, 1962.

(56) George Bourke, “Family Will Enjoy Weekend Film Bill,” Miami Herald, July 28, 1962.

(57) Allen M. Widem, “Coast-to-Coast: ‘The Music Man’ Bright Screen Entertainment,” Hartford Examiner, June 23, 1962.

(58) The classroom showdown between Hill and the townspeople of River City occurs at night, but when the boys’ band leaves the school, followed by the rest of the town, it is a bright, sunny day.

(59) Although Hill claims Gary, Indiana, as his hometown, Paroo’s discovery that the town was founded only in 1906 suggests that this claim of small-town roots is part of his confidence scheme.

(60) Oates, Meredith Willson, 135.

(63) Luvern J. Hansen, “Official Proposes Tourist Attraction,” Globe-Gazette (Mason City), June 15, 1962.

(65) The Conservatory of 1905, devoted to music education, houses the River City Barbershop Chorus, the Music City Chorus, and a summer band camp; it also includes a recording studio, a music library, and a number of practice rooms.

(66) Reunion Hall is an events venue available for occasions such as weddings and parties.

(67) As might be expected, Mrs. Paroo’s Gift Shop sells Music Man, Meredith Willson, and Mason City memorabilia such as “Trombone” T-shirts, baseball caps, and baby clothes.

(68) Whether deliberately or coincidentally, the River City Streetscape, although constructed inside the Music Man Square building rather than as a row of buildings on an actual city block, is otherwise nearly identical to that imagined in Hansen’s original plan.

(69) Music Man Square, Mason City, Iowa, http://www.themusicmansquare.org/streetscape.htm.

(70) Roger Riley, Dwayne Baker, and Carlton S. Van Doren, “Movie Induced Tourism,” Annals of Tourism Research 25 (1998): 919.

(74) Mira Engler, “Drive-Thru History: Theme Towns in Iowa,” Landscape 32 (1993): 8.

(79) “The Music Man,” Hollywood Reporter, April 12, 1962.

(80) Fred Davis, Yearning for Yesterday: A Sociology of Nostalgia (New York: Free Press, 1979), 121.

(81) The 1920 census recorded that, for the first time in the nation’s history, the majority of Americans lived in urban rather than rural areas.

(82) Paul Monaco, Ribbons in Time: Movies and Society since 1945 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988).

(83) Oates, Meredith Willson, 129.

(89) The West Wing (NBC, 1999–2006).

(90) “Marge vs. the Monorail,” The Simpsons (Fox), Fourth Season, Episode 71 (aired January 14, 1993).

(91) ABC aired the made-for-TV version of The Music Man, an episode of The Wonderful World of Disney, on February 16, 2003. Oates, Meredith Willson, 134.

(92) “The Music Man Square History and Information,” Mason City Foundation, undated.

(93) When visiting Disneyland in summer 2005, I was accompanied by a thirtysomething fellow graduate student. In her capacity as a resident advisor for an undergraduate dormitory, she had visited Disneyland often during the five years she had spent at the University of Southern California pursuing her doctorate. As I pointed out the various period-inspired details in Main Street, she told me I was educating her about both turn-of-the-century culture and Disney’s exploitation and idealization of that culture. When we stopped to listen to a live barbershop quartet, she had never heard of the song they sang and did not know it was a period song, dating back to the turn of the century; furthermore, she had never consciously thought about the fact that the quartet was intended to represent any particular period in time. In fact, she had never paid any attention to how Main Street looked or what it contained; for her, it had always been “just that part of Disneyland you walk through to get to the rides.”