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George Gallup in Hollywood

George Gallup in Hollywood

Susan Ohmer
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    George Gallup in Hollywood
    Book Description:

    George Gallup in Hollywood is a fascinating look at the film industry's use of opinion polling in the 1930s and '40s. George Gallup's polling techniques first achieved fame when he accurately predicted that Franklin D. Roosevelt would be reelected president in 1936. Gallup had devised an extremely effective sampling method that took households from all income brackets into account, and Hollywood studio executives quickly pounced on the value of Gallup's research. Soon he was gauging reactions to stars and scripts for RKO Pictures, David O. Selznick, and Walt Disney and taking the public's temperature on Orson Welles and Desi Arnaz, couples such as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and films like Gone with the Wind, Dumbo, and Fantasia.

    Through interviews and extensive research, Susan Ohmer traces Gallup's groundbreaking intellectual and methodological developments, examining his comprehensive approach to market research from his early education in the advertising industry to his later work in Hollywood. The results of his opinion polls offer a fascinating glimpse at the class and gender differences of the time as well as popular sentiment toward social and political issues.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51128-5
    Subjects: Film Studies, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. 1 What Do Audiences Want?
    (pp. 1-12)

    Early in the twentieth century, Adolph Zukor operated a luxury motion picture theater in New York City. Named the Crystal Hall for the glass staircase at its entrance, the theater was located at Broadway and 14th Street, a busy shopping and theater district. Zukor, a Hungarian immigrant who had worked as a furrier on the Lower East Side before he became a film exhibitor, wanted to know more about what his customers enjoyed in this new form of entertainment. In his autobiography The Public Is Never Wrong, he described how he went about studying audiences’ reactions:

    In the Crystal Hall...

  6. 2 Guesswork Eliminated
    (pp. 13-30)

    In American popular culture, Iowa has attained an almost metaphorical significance as a place that exemplifies traditional values that are rooted in the farm and the prairie. Hollywood, too, has recognized the state’s symbolic possibilities and has used it as the setting or inspiration for such diverse films as State Fair (1933 and 1945), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), The Music Man (1962), and The Bridges of Madison County (1995).¹ For Gallup, Iowa served as a touchstone against which to measure many later experiences. Born and raised in Jefferson, he displayed an entrepreneurial spirit that later enabled him...

  7. 3 The Laws That Determine Interest
    (pp. 31-50)

    In the summer of 1931, as the Grape-Nuts comic-strip campaign was gathering steam, Gallup left Iowa to teach journalism and advertising at Northwestern University. The success of that campaign, along with the publication of a number of articles about his work, led to several new projects in which he applied the method from his dissertation to study magazines and then advertisements. As the Depression wore on, businesses clamored for evidence that the money they spent on advertising was being put to good use. Gallup’s proven success at uncovering the public’s interests attracted attention from several advertising agencies.

    In spring 1932...

  8. 4 America Speaks
    (pp. 51-76)

    The year 1936 marks a watershed in election polling. In addition to the work being done in advertising, the Psychological Corporation, the organization founded after World War I to explore commercial applications for psychology, was conducting a continuous series of nationwide surveys to assess American attitudes toward the New Deal, the first ongoing, systematic study of public opinion.¹ Paul Cherington and Elmo Roper initiated a quarterly poll in Fortune magazine that included questions about the candidates during the months before the election. Archibald Crossley, the head of radio’s Cooperative Analysis of Broadcasting (CAB), moved beyond radio research to measure people’s...

  9. 5 Piggybacking on the Past
    (pp. 77-90)

    At the time of his successful election forecast, Gallup was working as the director of the American Institute of Public Opinion while holding a demanding position as director of research at Young & Rubicam. How did a top advertising executive who had established a suddenly famous polling service find time to carry out research in film? And how did he pay for the cost of interviewers, data processing, and research analysts during the Depression? Archival records from the late 1930s and interviews with Gallup and his associates reveal that it was Gallup’s advertising work and his political polls that supported his...

  10. 6 Singles and Doubles
    (pp. 91-120)

    By the end of the 1930s, when Gallup began working out methods to study films and film audiences, the Gallup Poll was flourishing. Since its debut in 1935, AIPO had sampled public opinion on more than nine hundred topics, ranging from sit-down strikes, the minimum wage, and capital punishment, to daylight savings time and the Prince of Wales.¹ The list of newspapers that subscribed to its syndicated column had increased by nearly 400 percent since the 1936 election and ranged from major metropolitan dailies such as the New York Times, Atlanta Constitution, and the Boston Globe, to local papers in...

  11. 7 Boy Meets Facts at RKO
    (pp. 121-162)

    The double-feature poll that Gallup conducted during the summer of 1940 launched his career in Hollywood. His analysis of the survey appeared in the Los Angeles Times and other newspapers at the same time as Gallup’s forecasts for the November presidential election. Gallup’s film work, and his new Audience Research Institute (ARI), gained fame and credibility from being associated with his political firm, the American Institute of Public Opinion (AIPO). By tackling double features at the same time that the federal government was examining exhibition practices in general, Gallup ensured that his findings would receive wide press coverage and become...

  12. 8 David O. Selznick Presents: Audience Research and the Independent Producer
    (pp. 163-192)

    The responses to Gallup’s work within RKO illustrate how a vertically integrated Hollywood studio reacted to empirical audience research. From Schaefer’s decision to commission research in order to improve the studio’s profitability, to other executives’ reluctance to cede the power of interpreting audiences that they had so carefully amassed, RKO’s experience with survey research reveals how this data could become caught up in the internal power struggles of a corporation. For the most part, however, major Hollywood studios were not interested in commissioning Gallup’s studies at this time because their chief executives felt confident they understood what the public wanted....

  13. 9 Gallup Meets Goofy: Audience Research at the Walt Disney Studio
    (pp. 193-214)

    Using scientific techniques to study animation might seem to be taking audience research to an extreme. After all, what could be more natural than the pleasure we take in cartoons? Whether we’re enjoying the inventive play of abstract shapes in Robert Breer’s films, or the never-ending struggle between Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, cartoons seem to exist in a world beyond reason and logic. Yet in the 1940s one cartoon producer saw the value of audience research. Walt Disney became aware of Gallup’s work, first through his distributor RKO, and then through his association with David Selznick in the...

  14. 10 Like, Dislike, Like Very Much
    (pp. 215-230)

    World War II brought many changes to the Audience Research Institute. Most of its key staff members had left by the end of 1942. Don Cahalan, who joined ARI in November 1938, fresh out of graduate school at Iowa, moved to Washington in June 1941 to conduct survey research for the government. He went on to earn a doctorate in psychology and carried out studies on alcoholism before retiring from the faculty at Berkeley. Paul Sheatsley, the head of ARI’s interviewing staff, left the institute in January 1942 to join the recently established National Opinion Research Center at the University...

  15. Abbreviations Used and Collections Consulted
    (pp. 231-232)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 233-276)
  17. Index
    (pp. 277-282)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 283-284)