Place Branding: How The Movie 42'nd Street Defined NYC in 1930'S

Place Branding and Pop Culture

❝ Come and meet those dancing feet. On the avenue, I'm taking you to Forty-Second Street ❞

Times Square, much like New York City, has had its ups and downs. In its heyday, the heart of the city’s theater district was a place to see and be seen. When the seedy burlesque shows drew anger from proper New Yorkers, Mayor Laguardia ushered in a crackdown. In the 1970s and ‘80s, Times Square’s seedy side was on full display, known more for crime and peep shows than glitz and glamor. In the 1990s, Times Square got a make-over and today is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the city, seeing more than 37 million visitors each year. Whether it’s the Broadway lights and showgirls or its edgier side that come to mind when you think of Times Square, the associations Americans have with the place are rooted in a film made 80 years ago.

❝ Hear the beat of dancing feet. It's the song I love the melody of Forty-Second Street ❞

The movie-musical “42nd Street” was released in 1933 and has largely been credited with reviving the Hollywood musical genre. Directed by Lloyd Bacon and starring Warner Baxter, Bebe Daniels, and George Brent, the film also helped shape America's perception of New York City and it's theater scene. It later saw a new fan base when Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble produced an original Broadway production of “42nd Street” in 1980 and continued to run through Times Square’s renaissance.

❝ Little nifties from the fifties Innocent and sweet. Sexy ladies from the eighties Who are indiscreet

The film about aspiring starlets and a down-on-his-luck producer has proved timeless because it transports the audience to the heart of Times Square with its music, creative dance numbers and innovative directing that show both the glitz and grime of New York City’s most famous intersection.

Director Bacon is credited with presenting Broadway musicals in a different - and since much imitated - perspective, but his vision, in part, was simply to recreate the experience of being in the heart of New York. In the opening scene, a dozen street signs show the intersection of 42nd Street and Broadway. The audience later sees Bebe Daniels reading a 1932 issue of The New Yorker magazine with its trademark top-hatted Manhattanite on the cover. The film’s highlight, a Busby Berkeley dance production, conveys the excitement of being in the city by putting the dancer amongst street scenes and skyscrapers while the music plays around her.

❝ Side by side, they're glorified Where the underworld can meet the elite Forty-Second Street ❞

Creating a sense of place and taking the audience there is what successful marketing companies aim to do. With any product, be it a film or soap or wine, the goal is to tie strong associations to them so the product is no longer just a film or soap or wine, but a trigger of memories. The movie “42nd Street” was so effective in creating these associations, it had almost a reverse effect, helping define the Times Square theater district as a place where stylish chorus girls were around every corner, even during times when they weren’t.

❝ Forty-Second Street Naughty, bawdy gaudy, sporty Forty Forty-Second Street ❞

Though critics say “42nd Street” wasn’t the best musical of its era, most agree that it helped define not only the genre but American’s perception of a Broadway musical for a generation. By giving Depression-era audiences a taste of both the glamorous life they dreamed of and the hard-knock struggles of Broadway starlets, “42nd Street” brought a little bit of New York to the heartland and left a deep imprint on the Big Apple as well.

42nd Street would not be considered a classic without the choices made by Busby Berkeley. His visual acumen carries the movie. Using high-quality photography as part of an inbound marketing initiative is the best way of defining a location and branding a sense of place.

About Michael Conway

I'm the owner and strategist at Means-of-Production. My firm builds Squarespace websites, Houzz profiles, and content marketing and advertising solutions for architects, interior designers, design-build contractors and landscape design firms. Our all-in-one marketing tactics attract the right clients with exceptional architectural photography and brand messaging that sets you apart from the competition.