Bathtubs Over Broadway — uncovering the fascinating world of mid century corporate musicals

What are you watching this weekend? Here’s what mesmerized me and my husband on Friday night: “Bathtubs Over Broadway“. This “comedic documentary” is a fascinating and uplifting account of one man — Steve Young’s — 20-year mission to collect — and then, to uncover the story behind — hundreds of almost-forgotten “industrial musicals” produced the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Young was a comedy writer for David Letterman for 25 years, so the documentary is chock-full of fun. Director Dava Whisenant was named Best New Documentary Director at the Tribeca Film Festival, where the film premiered. It began streaming on Netflix on May 9, or you can rent it on Amazon.

What is an “industrial musical”?

Retro Renovator-archeologists also will love the documentary because it’s another way of looking at the era we love: Industrial musicals were Broadway-quality productions financed by American manufacturers to inspire their sales forces at their big annual sales conventions. Albums were then produced as souvenirs and sent to the sales force as mementos of the event. As the prime example of this fascinating genre, “The Bathrooms are Coming” from American-Standard in 1969 is amazing — and Steve found and interviewed the original performers!!! MCM material culture history fans: You’re gonna love this! 

The Bathrooms Are Coming industrial musical album from 1969
I actually have The Bathrooms Are Coming, which I bought on ebay years ago. Now I’ll be humming “My Bathroom” — Side 2, Track 3 — all day!

Watching the documentary, I learned that there are scores — hundreds, even — of these old souvenir albums from other productions. And, Steve Young also tracked down some of the productions that were captured on film — including The Bathrooms Are Coming!

Bathtubs Over Broadway is splendiferous <<and yes, that’s a real word

From the website all about the documentary:

….while gathering material for a segment on the show, Steve stumbled onto a few vintage record albums that would change his life forever.

Bizarre cast recordings – marked “internal use only” – revealed full-throated Broadway-style musical shows about some of the most recognizable corporations in America: General Electric, McDonald’s, Ford, DuPont, Xerox. Steve didn’t know much about musical theater, but these recordings delighted him in a way that nothing ever had….

First, there was the book, Everything’s Coming Up Profits: 

Watch the Movie

Watch the movie — now streaming on Netflix, premiered May 9! — or buy it to stream via Amazon — note, you can also rent it for $5.99:

And, you can buy the Album!!!

And, you can buy the album from the book too — on the Amazon page, you also can listen to the first track for free — from a big Ford Tractor Dealer convention –“Golden Harvest (Music from Ford-I-Fy Your Future, 1959). (You know I love this, because I used to work for Ford, including when they still had Ford Tractor!):

I’d love to hear from readers: Did you watch the documentary? Isn’t it grand?!

Categoriespostwar culture
  1. Tom Clark says:

    My father wrote industrial musicals for Whirlpool, GE, Kodak, Firestone, and many more. I went to many auditions and rehearsals through the years.

    1. Just curious — what part of the country were you in? My father was in commercial music as well, in Dallas, and I grew up in that world. We both worked with people who were creating these shows. Love this project! (Steve Young is a friend.)

  2. Kelcie says:

    I was an extra in this!! Long story short they mistook me for an extra due to my vintage outfit. I’m glad to see people like it!!! It was a lot of fun to film!!!

  3. Susan says:

    I watched this last night due to your recommendation. Delightful, weird, and touching. I loved it.

  4. Ann says:

    Thanks for the recommendation. I totally enjoyed it. I would have missed it if you hadn’t posted about it.

  5. Roger Houston says:

    Finally caught this today, terrific & touching. One of the collectors is a musician friend so we’ve been following this for a while and were so pleased with the movie, umm, comedic documentary. My decades in the phone company exposed me to their in-house productions…despite ignoring it then, I’d kill to see that grainy old safety film “Old Man Winter” just one more time.

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