Patti Page: Riding the Oldsmobile Publicity Machine
I had wanted to do a podcast with her to ask her about all of her TV shows that Oldsmobile sponsored in the 1950s. (There were quite a few different ones.)
And just to score some automobilia points, I wanted to ask her about one rare piece in my collection. It’s a lavish publicity kit that Olds sent out to dealers in 1955 to promote Ms. Page’s first show with her name at the top: The Patti Page Show. Since I can no longer ask her, I’ll share this kit with you.
By the time Oldsmobile decided to sponsor her, The Singin’ Rage had become the poster girl for safe pop music during the pre-rock-and-roll Eisenhower years. She scored huge hits with Tennessee Waltz, (How Much Is) That Doggie in the Window, and I Went to Your Wedding.
She had an all-American face and image. She was perfect for suburban America, and that was perfect for midsize, middle-of-the-market Oldsmobile.
Page had already fronted one show on TV: the Scott Music Hall program on NBC (1952-53). Then Oldsmobile drove by with a deal (and, presumably, the Starfire 98 convertible shown above) that she couldn’t refuse.
After Oldsmobile and her agents at General Artists Corporation inked the deal for the show, Patti headed into the recording studio to cut a customized record for Olds dealers. (You can listen to Side 1 here or click on the record label.)
The man you hear on the record is announcer Bob LeMond. He was all over the radio and TV dials in the 1950s.
Patti Page’s show would not be his only Oldsmobile gig. He also announced for the Academy Awards program, which was sponsored by Olds. Plus, he voiced many Oldsmobile commercials.
It was common in the 1950s to pair up the star with a smooth announcer like LeMond, who pitched for the sponsor and kept the trains running on time.
It was cleverly constructed like a 78-rpm record album but with paper publicity material in each of the record sleeves.
In the Patti’s Profile sleeve, you’d find a nice 8x10 glossy photo inscribed “To an Olds friend” plus a bio sheet. (Perfect for your secret Patti shrine at home, Mr. Dealer.)
The next record sleeve contained the Publicity Package. This series of single sheets was filled with a treasure trove of hand-holding instructions for dealers about how to publicize The Patti Page Show in their local markets.
On one sheet, Oldmobile wrote copy that dealers could ask their local newspapers to publish. Another sheet contained sample newspaper mats that dealers could custom order to run near the TV listings in their local papers.
(Ever seen a vintage newspaper mat? It’s like a cardboard mold that was used to print newspaper ads with a short shelf life. The cardboard didn’t last long, but then again, neither did the information.)
(This was 1950s TV, folks. You could project slides onto TV in those days and call it commercial advertising. Today we’d call it “3rd Grade Book Report.”)
The Oldsmobile promotion juggernaut didn’t stop there. After all, Mr. Dealer, what do you do if Patti Page makes an appearance in your town? No problem. Just turn to the Promotion Patterns section at the back of the kit.
Second, do something modest like…throw a parade! Don’t let America’s singing sensation slink into town in the back of a Checker cab. Let her practice the Queen’s wave while riding down Main Street among a procession of Oldsmobiles. And Olds offered special car cards that could be mounted on top of the dealer’s parade fleet.
And no dealer’s showroom is complete without life-size cardboard cutouts.
They came in two sizes. Put the full-size cutouts next to the showroom cars. Then put the tabletop cutouts on your Parts Department counters. (Parts Department managers loved those feminine splashes of fuchsia and turquoise!)
Lastly, Oldsmobile peppered dealers with Local Promotion Ideas. Contact disc jockeys and fan clubs. Hold a beauty contest. Offer Patti Page records as dealer giveaways. (The most nostalgic one for me was the suggestion to “call on record dealers!” Record dealers are quickly becoming nostalgic trivia questions much like famous automotive brands beginning with O.)
This kit shows just how much Oldsmobile valued its nascent relationship with Patti Page. But how well did the actual show do once it hit the air? Truth is, not so well.
As Patti stated on the recording, the show hit the airwaves in July 1955. It was 15 minutes long, which was a standard program length in the 1950s. It ran twice a week. It was a syndicated show, so it was shot on film and then distributed to various local television stations. (It did not appear exclusively on any particular broadcast network.) The show lasted one season.
Here’s a clip of Patti from one of those 1955 shows:
Despite the show’s failure, Oldsmobile didn’t throw in the towel on Miss Page. They sponsored another program called The Patti Page Oldsmobile Show. It ran one year: 1958-1959.
By then, Patti’s star was growing dimmer. She only had one or two hits by the end of the 1950s. Rock and roll seriously wrecked singing careers like hers. And let’s face it: the phrases “long term career” and “popular music” do not often duet.
Oldsmobile was still investing a ton of money in popular entertainment programs, but Page’s career was no longer pegging 6,000 rpm. That meant no more Starfire convertibles for her. No more parades. No more life-size cutouts. And as you read this here today, there’s no more Oldsmobile or Patti Page.
What did she think of her partnership with Oldsmobile? I wish I could tell you. Better yet, I wish she could tell you. But that’s one podcast I won’t be able to produce.