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What with Wally and Maxine involved in commercial production, casting and deal making, Toni decided to create a TV series tailor made to show off their hair products. It was called “So This Is Hollywood”. The show was a half-hour situation comedy filmed, of course, in black and white. It ran Saturday nights for 24 weeks on NBC at 8:30 pm against tough competition, Jackie Gleason in “The Honeymooners” on CBS. Toni’s show starred Mitzi Green and Virginia Gibson. The story line involved an attractive blonde B movie actress played by Mitzi, looking for her big chance and a young couple, a boy and a red-head in their early 20s trying to break their way into the business. Both Mitzi and Virginia Gibson, the ingénue, had great hair so they got a lot of camera time. Wally and Max had their hands full with casting and hairstyling so Toni hired Burt Harris to look after the business end.
An old-time movie producer named Eddie Beloin was hired, and he brought in writers and directors to try and make it look like something other than a 30 minute Toni commercial. Apart from running errands, I had very little to do with the show which was also shot at the Hal Roach studios. On the other hand I must say I enjoyed the action. There were a half dozen other TV shows in production on the lot at the time, and pretty little starlets in various costumes running all over the place.
Sure, this wasn’t MGM, and everything being filmed on the Roach lot was for television, but it sure felt like I was in the middle of the movie business. The producer of “S.T.I.H.” had been around the industry for a long time, so he managed to cast at least one old character actor for each episode. John Caradine did a cameo, as did Victor Moore, Jackie Coogan and Alan Mabray. Boxers Max Baer and Art Aragon appeared in one as themselves.
This might be a good time to mention that Toni was owned by the Gillette Company, the people who make the razors and the blades, etc. Though most of the “So This is Hollywood” episodes were shot in a sound stage on the lot, one script called for a scene in a drug store, the director had selected Schwab’s, a famous Drug Store on the corner of Sunset and Crescent Heights owned by one of his buddies. I knew exactly what they wanted me to do.
I went to the office, picked up a collection of empty Toni and Gillette product packages and some window display stuff. By the next day when they went to shoot the scene you’d swear that store sold nothing but Toni and Gillette products. Home permanents, creme rinses, razors, shaving cream and aftershave products were in the windows and inside on banners all over the place. Unfortunately, most of that scene wound up on the cutting room floor. Somebody must have forgotten to “take care of” the NBC continuity guy.
What with only twenty-four episodes, “So This is Hollywood” never made it into syndication. Mitzi Green did a little summer stock and went into retirement. Virginia Gibson, on the other hand, had a featured role in several movies, one of which, “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”, was a big hit. She was nominated for a Tony for her supporting role in the Broadway musical, “Happy Hunting”. Virginia was also a regular guest on the Johnny Carson TV show.
TV Commercials and the Magic of Film
The Red Skelton blooper was a perfect example of the perils of live TV. What the camera saw in the studio was what you saw on the TV set in your living room.
The folks who were paying for the right to advertise their products on TV didn’t want to take any chances, so they often preferred to film their commercials in a studio for later insertion in their sponsored TV shows. This eliminated the blooper possibility and also gave them certain creative liberties unavailable on live TV.
It’s amazing what you can accomplish in the film editing department. As mentioned, Toni was owned by the Gillette Safety Razor Company. One of Gillette’s most effective TV commercials was being shot in a production house where we were working on a Toni Ad. The objective of the Gillette commercial was to convince the viewer that with a Gillette razor a customer was assured of a really smooth shave. To demonstrate this claim, the actor spread Gillette shave cream on an inflated balloon. He then proceeded to start to shave the cream off the balloon with the Gillette razor. “Cut!” said the director, signaling the prop man who had substituted what looked like a pre-lathered flesh colored bowling ball for the balloon. Next in a tight close-up the camera sees the actor’s hand shaving off the cream on what the viewer thinks is the balloon. In the final shot, the actor is standing in front of a mirror shaving the last bit of lather off his face. He then turns to the camera and rubbing his hand across his cheek lifts up a tube of Gilette shaving cream, and mouths something like “Amazing!”
The Toni Home Permanent ads featured two identical twins with the slogan “Which twin has the Toni?” The assumption was and the copy reads that one of the girls had curled her own hair at home with a Toni Home Permanent whereas the other sister had her hair done in a beauty salon. The public was being asked to try and tell the difference. Which twin spent $25 in a beauty salon and which twin spent $2.00 in a drug store and gave herself a home permanent, every bit as lovely as her sister’s professional job.
There was no such a thing as a truth in advertising oversight body in those days. One 60 second commercial we filmed opened with a split screen showing a pair of twins: one doing her own hair and the other in a beauty salon. Cut to a scene with the twins jumping into a swimming pool together. In the next scene both girls emerge with wet but beautifully curled hair. “Which twin had the Toni?”