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. Joel says:

    I also watched “Bathtubs Over Broadway” last night and was just as mesmerized as you were. I need to start adding these shows to my vinyl collection.

  2. Donna in SC says:

    WOW! That was a fascinating documentary! How wonderful that his unusual hobby has morphed into this life work. It makes me very proud to have made the decision to keep my 1958 mid century modest ranch as close to period as possible!
    I am also currently watching Fosse/Verdon and enjoying broadway and the mid-century furnishings. This combined them both!

    1. Pam Kueber says:

      Did you watch it this afternoon? Way to go! Thanks for the reminder about Fosse/Verdon — I’m a huge Michelle Williams fan!

      1. Donna in SC says:

        I did watch this afternoon when it was too hot/humid to be outside. I was teary at the end, too. And, with F/V, Sam is great as Fosse, but Michelle as Gwen is to die for! She needs an Emmy for this performance.

  3. Barb in Rochester says:

    Watched it with my grown kids yesterday, some of whom are in advertising. We all loved it. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Thanks so much, Pam, for spreading the word about BATHTUBS OVER BROADWAY! There was a big-screen preview here in Dallas a while back, and my husband Pat and I were there. We are longtime comedy writers who are friends of Steve Young. He is truly passionate on this subject, and so are we because Pat and I met while both working at a Dallas-based company founded by one of the early writers of such shows (Tom Merriman, since deceased). I worked with Tom on occasion to write live shows but by then the heyday of live industrials was over. Part of my job was writing lyrics for commercial product, but mostly syndicated jingle packages. Pat ran the vast record library and knows music from all eras and genres. (Check out his book on “unique” celebrity recordings called HOLLYWOOD HI-FI, written with our pal George Gimarc.) I’m a singer myself (retro jazz — lauraainsworth.com), and my father was a major big-band musician who played (sax and clarinet) on many, many industrials. To top it off, Pat and I live in a c.1955 house (I bought the “time capsule” house I grew up in) with two original tile bathrooms, one Mamie Pink and the other green. I love to sing “My Bathroom” in my pink bathroom, as the setting is perfect and the echo is just right! Thanks SO MUCH for writing about BATHTUBS OVER BROADWAY. Everybody check it out; you will love it!

    1. Pam Kueber says:

      Wow, your story and history and family history are amazing to hear about– thanks for sharing! I am in AWE of super creative people like you. Comedy = the most difficult of all the arts!

        1. Mine, too, obviously. Speaking of comedy, much of the advertising in the ’50s and, especially, ’60s was madly creative and funny. (Too much cigarette advertising, though!) Check out the works of Stan Freberg. Must say, though, that there is one convention of the ’50s and ’60s that I wish had never come along: the laugh track! Ugh. How I wish I could watch the Addams Family without one; it would be way funnier. In general, though, it was a LOT easier to do comedy back in Carl Reiner’s day than it is in our time, when every word is picked apart and things are so crazy it’s hard to satirize them any more! But Pat and I also write serious commentary. As Laura Petrie once said (I’m paraphrasing): “A sense of humor is important. Of course, one should also have a sense of………….serious.”

          Again, thanks for giving BATHTUBS OVER BROADWAY a…plug. Pun intended.

  5. Gretchen Fucio says:

    I watched last night and really enjoyed this documentary about something I never knew existed! It could only have happened in Midcentury America! Thanks, Pam, -without you I never would have seen this.

  6. Chris says:

    We found some VERY FUN compilations on Amazon Prime video. Classic Kitchen Films has some wonderful “educational” short films – one featuring the actor who played Darrin Stevens from Bewitched. He is the “hungry teenager!” Another selection is called Future World Films. It has a very bizarre 1950s film advertising cars. But it starts out with a woman in bed who receives an invitation while dreaming – from a man in a tuxedo, wearing a mask. There is dancing and singing and she ends up at a car show. It was a little exhausting! Your post about corporate musicals reminded me of this – I’ve been meaning to tell everyone on here. Amazon Prime also has old instructional hygiene films for kids. The bathrooms are great! Lots to look at and love for us RR folks!

    1. We watch those, too, and have seen some really strange ones but not but not what you describe. Will look for them! It’s just amazing what turns up. BTW, just watched BATHTUBS OVER BROADWAY on the small(er) screen this evening, and it seemed even funnier than the first time at the preview. The lyrics to these productions are very much like the full-sing 60-second commercial jingles I used to write about plumbing companies and retail optical chains, only they go on for an entire show!

      1. Pam Kueber says:

        Yes, and the thing about doing an entire musical, is that the songs also have to move a story along… I need to listen to the entirety of The Bathrooms are Coming again — I will report back on the narrative. 🙂

  7. 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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