From its beginnings, the motion picture industry developed adept advertising and promotional concepts to spread the word of its film products and stars. Quick to develop cross-promotions and partnerships with magazines and newspapers, the film industry grew new fans and box office receipts with practical but novel concepts like employing sheet music to sell its films. The Essanay Film Company followed the same playbook with sheet music titled “The Moving Picture Hero of My Heart” as a special giveaway at the 1916 Motion Picture Exhibitors League of America’s national convention, which later became popular across the country.
The Selig Film Company perhaps pioneered the practice of cross-promotion when they developed a partnership with the Chicago Tribune in 1913 to collaterally sell the serial “The Adventures of Kathlyn,” with the newspaper running serialized installments of each episode after it played in theatres, thus whetting the appetites of readers to see how the next episodes would play out. The serial set attendance records for those coming to see it, and the Tribune saw subscriptions and sales increase. As their book, “The WGN” stated in 1922, “The first step was to capitalize the soaring motion picture craze for Tribune benefit.”
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Essanay used “Moving Picture Hero of My Heart” in its publicity campaign at the 1916 Exposition of the Moving Picture Industry in Chicago.
Each company promoted the other, with film and slides noting the story could be found in each city’s Sunday paper, and the fellow newspapers promoting the film in theatres. The January 14 Motion Picture News reported, “It is the first time a similar co-operation has ever been enjoyed in the motion picture business.”
Selig perhaps introduced other forms of synergy in late 1914, when the company began producing products or taking advantage of items associated with the film or its star to increase receipts. The January 21, 1915, Daybook listed such items as a cocktail, face powder, perfume, slippers, shirtwaist, cigar, hair-dress, a watch charm for men and two pieces of sheet music, “Kathlyn, Dear Kathlyn” and “The Kathlyn Hesitation Waltz.” These were some of the first pieces of sheet music created to play off the widely popular film craze.
The Essanay Company possibly remembered this wildly successful campaign when the National Exhibitors Convention hit town in 1916. Based in Chicago with a branch out in Niles, California, Essanay stood as a top echelon corporation producing a wide variety of films. G. M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson created popular westerns starring himself and rural stories like the Snakeville Comedies out in California, while the Chicago branch produced film adaptations of important novels or moving melodramas. Rising comedian Charlie Chaplin also turned out films for the company. Their male stars ranked as some of the most popular in the business: Broncho Billy, Chaplin, Henry Walthall, and Francis X. Bushman.
With the Exhibitors League holding its sixth annual convention in Chicago that year from July 12-18, 1916, the company, teaming up with the Chicago Morning Telegraph, decided to pull out the stops in reminding exhibitors and distributors of its successful lineup guaranteed to bring big box office receipts. Taking advantage of popular composers/performers Ernie Erdman and Roger Lewis’s already popular song, “The Moving Picture Hero of My Heart,” which the New York Clipper reported May 20, 1916, as a top Chicago hit, the companies decided to employ the song’s sheet music as a giveaway at the convention.
Erdman, who later wrote “Toot Toot Tootsie,” was a successful composer, working since the early 1900s for various music companies writing music, conducting, and performing on stage. In 1910, his song “I’m Lonesome for You All the Time” stood in Billboard’s top 10 music chart. He composed “A Hunting I Will Go” in 1913, the same year he joined up with Roger Lewis. Lewis, who wrote novelty songs, composed “Nobody’s Sweetheart” in 1890 and In the Good Old Summertime” in 1906. In 1916 he also created “My Moving Picture Man.”
Guests at the 1916 Exposition of the Moving Picture Industry in Chicago.
Their song, with Erdman’s music and Lewis’ words, was called “The Moving Picture Hero of My Heart,” revolving around movie-mad waitress Mamie Riley who sang of big strong film heroes to her boyfriend. The chorus saluted Essanay heroes and some Sennett Keystone Cops:
You’ve got a look like Henry Walthall in your eyes,
You’re so romantic, you make me think of Francis. X. Bushman by your size,
You’re so gigantic,
You’ve got a Charlie Chaplin smile, that keeps me happy all the while;
So honey I don’t care if you’re not wealthy;
You’re big and healthy,
You’ve got the strength of Broncho Billy in your arm, when you embrace me,
And like a Keystone Cop you’ll save me from all harm when villains chase me;
You’re a feature film attraction, six big reels of satisfaction,
You’re the moving picture hero of my heart.
The July 29, 1916 Motography reported that the Chicago Morning Telegraph distributed the music from its booth, a perfect tie-in to promote Chicago’s own Essanay Film Company. Movie-mad audiences must have enjoyed the song, as the the Vancouver Daily Herald reporting in late November 1917 that schoolchildren performed it as part of a show for the Duke of Devonshire, and the December 29, 1917, Waterloo, Iowa, Courier reporting that it was part of Jack Trainor’s vaudeville act as he passed through town.
While forgotten for decades, “The Moving Picture Hero of My Heart” shows the popularity and selling power of the movies in a variety of ancillary products helping increase profits. Early silent film and media companies employed popular songs and sheet music such as “The Moving Picture Hero of My Heart” as commercial tie-ins and promotional tools to sell their wares to general audiences, a pre-cursor to today’s advertising and promotional heavy campaigns to sell film/TV sequels, prequels, and comic book adaptations through toys, comic and coloring books, games, clothing, and gifts.