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Movie publicity stunts started long before Sacha Baron Cohen's 'Borat' and 'Bruno' antics

Sacha Baron Cohen makes movies by punking people, and sells them the same way. • For Borat in 2006, Cohen arrived in daffy character at the White House inviting "Premier George Walter Bush" to a screening. Security guards weren't amused. • Recently Cohen, promoting his new movie Bruno, flew on wires over the MTV Movie Awards, awkwardly landing with rapper Eminem's head between his butt cheeks. It was later revealed as a staged prank (although Eminem often manages that maneuver alone). • Funny stuff, and it got the media attention for Bruno that Cohen sought. • Publicity stunts have been key to marketing movies since the silent era when Florence Lawrence was falsely reported dead in 1910, becoming the first "named" movie star. It's a long way and a lot of ballyhoo from there to the online selling of Cloverfield. Some stunts work, others don't, and either way, some are just plain stupid. • Here are five favorites through the years:

Shock insurance

Schlock moviemaker William Castle was the ballyhoo king of the 1950s and '60s, rigging theater seats to deliver electric jolts during The Tingler, and creating "Illusion-O" glasses to better see 13 Ghosts. Castle's bravest stunt was taking an insurance policy with Lloyds of London, promising $1,000 to anyone who died of fright during his 1958 thriller, Macabre. Crowds came, nobody collected.

What is up with that?

Jerry Seinfeld appeared as embarrassed as fans felt in 2007 when he donned a bumblebee costume, got hitched to a zip line and "flew" from the roof of the eight-story Carlton Hotel at the Cannes Film Festival. To be fair, the animated Bee Movie was Seinfeld's first starring role in a feature film — albeit only his voice — and he probably thought every movie star performs such silly stunts.

Click the 'gullible' icon

In 1998, a year before The Blair Witch Project was released, its creators built a bogus Web site based on the film's plot about three missing documentary filmmakers and their found footage. Visitors fell for it hook, line and sinker, creating an urban legend and, unintentionally, the first viral marketing campaign. Ever since the low-budget film became a megahit, one of the first steps in producing movies is securing an appropriate Web address.

Dewey, Cheatem & Howe

When the Marx Brothers prepared to film A Night in Casablanca, Warner Bros. threatened legal action over the title that was considered infringing upon the studio's Oscar winner, Casablanca. Groucho Marx leaked a lengthy, sarcastic response to the press ("I am sure that the average movie fan could learn in time to distinguish between Ingrid Bergman and Harpo. I don't know whether I could, but I certainly would like to try.") Warner backed off, but the ruckus made the movie an event.

It's a bad, bad, bad, bad idea

Million Dollar Mystery was a 1987 ripoff of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, with four hidden bags containing $1 million each and only three discovered in the movie. Viewers could gather clues from the movie to locate the fourth and keep the million bucks. A woman from California identified the hiding place — inside the Statue of Liberty's nose — winning $10,967 more than the flop grossed at the box office.

Movie publicity stunts started long before Sacha Baron Cohen's 'Borat' and 'Bruno' antics 07/08/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 8, 2009 7:54am]
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