Working for the Michael Todd Corporation
and a little bit of Cinemiracle too
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The 70mm Newsletter
|Written by: Glenda Jensen, New Mexico, USA||Date: 15 March 2005|
|Glenda Jensen photographed 18 January 2005.|
I arrived in New York City aboard the Cunard liner Queen Mary on January 4 1957. Went to work for lace company. Left that position in about 3 months and went to work at United Artists for Guy Biondi, Mike [Todd’s] Advertising Manager.
UA was the distribution company for "Around the World in 80 Days". The office was very small and crowded. Two desks were placed nose-to-nose. There were no windows and it was isolated from the main Todd office which was a few floors down in the building at 729 7th Avenue NYC at 49th Street. My memory is that there was no 13th floor. We might have been on the 10th floor. I know that NBC and the Steve Allen Tonight Show had 12th floor. The actual floor for Todd offices sticks with me as 7th.
We moved downstairs within a few weeks where the main change was that the office was much much larger and it had an outside window. The two desks were again head to head (Guy and I faced each other) up against one wall of the office. The other wall was lined with 4 drawer file cabinets containing the stills from the production and the correspondence with the U.S. theatre owners. At this time [May 1957] about 5 cities were operating the hard ticket showings. My task was as Secretary to Guy Biondi to answer his phone calls and then inform him of the caller plus type and file his correspondence. No one answered their own phones in those days. On a weekly basis I also typed out forms and mailed them out to each of the theatres confirming the amounts that had been agreed to be split by Todd and the theatre owner for the showings in those cities. When the theatre wished to be reimbursed for the advertising expenditure he would send in the billing from the newspaper, etc. as well as the tear sheets showing the ads that had been placed. I don’t remember where they went and what happened to them after they had been reviewed. My experiences of my later life prompts the question as to whether the theatres were approved to deduct these costs from the percentage of the gross to be received by Todd. It’s a guess.
|Further in 70mm reading:|
Todd-AO Home Page
"Around the World in 80 Days" DVD
"Around the World in 80 Days" premiere dates
Mike Todd Jr. Interview
Oliver Michael Todd in Conversation
Ycca Art Gallery
Pastel Society of New Mexico
|This is me with Guy Biondi behind me. It was taken looking from Guy's desk near the exterior window toward the door to the rest of the offices.|
During my first months "Around the World in 80 Days" was opening in theatres across the country. Very slowly. Each opening was a big event since it was being promoted as the first hard ticket movie and was marketed as a theatrical presentation. As many openings as possible featured a tethered gas balloon handled by the Balloon Club of America. The pilot Francis Shields lived in Pennsylvania and would contact us regularly to set up his schedule for openings. Whatever the gas was, hydrogen or helium, I know it was very difficult to get one of them. Guy spent many hours locating sources convenient to the cities of the opening. Also one was very expensive to acquire. Field men/women were out setting up the press coverage and promotions for each grand opening. They were given their budgets and were required to send in their expense account reimbursement requests each week. We had a couple who were very recalcitrant and rarely sent them in weekly….generally in a bunch. Thus frustrating Guy. The field men/women called regularly…often daily…to report progress and get any further instructions. Due to the hard ticket feature of this movie showing Group Sales were very important. Mary Michael Pollock was the Group Sales Representative for the Todd Company and she traveled throughout the states setting up groups…she was very successful. Guy had a brilliant idea of promoting the use of a white Cadillac which would pull a small booth to be used to sell tickets to the Rivoli Theatre in NYC where "Around the World in 80 Days" was showing. Guy got an aspiring actor to drive the car into New Jersey on specific days but it was very difficult to keep track of the driver. His name was Seymour Cassell (now a well known motion picture actor) and often I was asked by Guy to, ‘Find Seymour Cassell that son-of-a-bitch’. I got to hear the last name as one whole word. SOB was one of Guy’s favourite phrases.
|This was a meal to say "goodbye" to Ruth Blasko (center front) who was leaving to go to Florida (I think).|
Press to see enlargement
Rear l. to r. Harold Roth, Bill Boettcher; Jordan Ramin; Hal Williamson; Vinnie Liccardi; Guy Biondi; Sidney Levine.
Middle l. to r. ? ; Charlie Kappas; Glenda J; Irma? ; Steve Figueroa.
Front l. to r. ?; Midori Tsuji; Ruth Blasko; Doris Kruse; ?.
The meal was at the Canton Village Restaurant just across 49th Street where a lot of us ate lunch each day.
Names of field men that I can remember are Seymour Freedman in Baltimore/ Washington, DC area; Marshall Migatz in Canada; Leo Zabelin in Chicago; Hanns Kolmar in Los Angeles; Van Wolf elsewhere.
Working out of the main office was Seymour Krawitz the Publicity person who worked directly for Bill Doll who was Mike’s longtime friend and part time p/r representative.
Bill Doll had a desk outside my office and one day during a particularly hectic period his phone rang. Mike happened to be passing by. He grabbed the phone and responded “Bill Doll’s phone…this is his assistant Mike Todd”. I remember how much I loved it. The phone caller must have gotten very flustered because I remember Mike saying… “Hello, hello, hello.” I wonder who it was.
|Complete Mike Todd Company Staff. Press to see enlargement.|
Bill and Mike used to have disagreements because Mike wanted Bill to concentrate on his, Mike’s, business but Bill didn’t want to give up another account he had and David Merrick the famous Broadway theatrical producer wanted him to handle Merrick’s p/r exclusively. I wasn’t privy to the resolution of this but I know that Bill never did get to spend any greater amount of time in the Todd office.
Midori Tsuji was a fascinating and beautiful woman. I was in awe of her. She was a person very much in command of herself. She took care of everything for Mike and, occasionally, for Elizabeth. I wanted to be like her. She was funny but yet efficient. She worked closely with Doris Kruse who was Michael Jr.’s secretary. Sadly, when I stopped by the Todd office on a visit to Manhattan in 1966, I learned that Doris had died of a domestic accident. I was quite friendly with Doris and often, after work, we would stop in the restaurant downstairs for a bite to eat before we made our way home for the day. I know she had been in Hollywood as a very young woman. She had gone there from somewhere in the Midwest after being named ‘Miss something or other’ hoping to make it big in the movies. She was always rather bitter that she wasn’t able to make it.
|Todd Clan greeting card. Press to see enlargement.|
Employees in the main office were about 15. Most of the others worked either on the West Coast or in the field. There was a lot of coming and going by the employees and very few had a desk. They just checked in regularly. For instance: Ira Mangel who also fascinated me but whose job I never really knew. I think he was in charge of group sales for NYC. He did eventually work for Louis Armstrong as his publicity representative until Armstrong died so I assume he was affiliated with Bill Doll. Herman Odell was Mike’s righthand man and seemed to be a legal advisor. He seemed to always be in Mike’s office when Mike was in town. Morris Lefko was the chief accountant.
Jordan Ramin worked off site in a shipping office in charge of shipping the one-sheets up to 24-sheets and advertising cards for each theatre showing "Around the World in 80 Days". The 24 sheets also were used for major promotional events and the one-sheets were often donated to schools for their fundraising. In his department was Steve Figueroa a young Puerto Rican, I think, who often came by Guy’s office to pick up instructions for shipments to the theatres. Also working in the shipping department was Raymond St. Jacques who became quite famous in the motion picture business with many major roles. When Steve didn’t come, Raymond did.
Bill Boettcher was the wizard who seemed to be in charge of any of the mechanical problems, or film problems, connected with the showing of "Around the World in 80 Days" anywhere in the US. Harold Roth was, I understand, the contact between the theatres and the Todd Office.
|There was bookkeeping; advertising; publicity; legal; group sales; general office. The receptionist answered the phone. She had one of those plug-in telephone boards. Mike had a tie-line direct to his apartment in Manhattan (before he moved to Westport after the birth of Liza) making him very much a part of the office operation.|
Madison Square Garden
|The opening of "Around the World in 80 Days" in London and the use of Battersea Amusement Park was such a fabulous success that Mike decided he would host the movie’s First Birthday Party which would be held at Madison Square Garden on October 17 1957. Guy was responsible for arranging the advertising and promotion of the selection of a couple of people from each of the cities then showing the movie and having them come to NY for the party. By this time the number of theatres had increased. They would be selected (I don’t remember how) and flown to NYC, taken to a hotel and then taken to the Birthday Party at the Garden. I was mostly on the edges of the promotion and advertising but on the day before the party I was asked if I would be willing to deliver the necessary tickets to each of the hotels at which the couples were staying. The day was very long and it was dark by the time I went on my deliveries. I felt very proud to be entrusted with the task.|
The next day was a usual day at the office…very busy indeed… Midori had suggested we each take a room at the Taft Hotel ($12 I believe), which was almost next door, in which to get washed and changed into our fancy outfits because we, too, were guests at the party.
What an evening it was. I was star struck and overwhelmed with the glitter and glamour of the people and events going on. A young woman, daughter of a coal miner, from Eastwood, Nottingham, England mingling with the greats and not-so-greats of Hollywood and Broadway. The office had been swamped by phone calls from ‘stars’ who wanted to be a part of the affair. One major British actor had begged to get a ticket but for some reason Mike adamantly said, ‘No’. The actor got one from somewhere and did attend. Dancing was to the music (live) of Duke Ellington; in the Pageant from India Sir Cedric Hardwicke clung on for dear life in the howdah on the elephant; Emmett Kelly sweeping up the spotlight; Fernandel; and lots lots more. Phew. I left the Garden late, went to the Taft Hotel and checked out…I have no idea of why I did that…and took the subway back to my home in Forest Hills. Exhausted I slept like a top and didn’t wake until 9am. Grabbing my work clothes from the day before I scurried off to work and ran into the reception area. Everyone there said…’Get down to the pier the boat is waiting for you’. I didn’t know there was to be a trip around Manhattan Island. Mike had chartered the tour boat for the day to entertain the world press who had attended the party. I took a cab to the pier and sure enough they were holding the gangplank for me!!! On board the boat was a fully catered brunch and the people were the greats. However, I spent most of my time wandering around looking at the scenery, nibbling the scrambled eggs, watching the papparazzi of those days taking pictures of Liz, Michael, Mike, Fernandel etc. etc.. What a great promotion it was. When the boat returned to the pier there were crates and crates of large bottles of Dom Perignon champagne, one bottle for each of the invited guests.
The day of the boat tour was cloudy but dry. I believe it was a great success in emphasizing the mythic images of Liz and Mike. To this day I have no idea why they held the boat for me…many employees remained back in the office. Sadly I didn’t get my picture taken on that trip. I looked at all the contact prints of the pictures taken by Dick Williams but I didn’t appear. However, I have my memories.
|Rear l. to r. Ann Robertson, Guy Biondi; Andree; Sid Cooper (printer); Ira Mangel; ?; foreground l. to r. Mr. Biondi Sr., ?|
Press image to see enlargement
Life returned to normal…if you can call life at the Todd Company normal. The party was in October  and "Around the World in 80 Days" was opening across the country more quickly as the time passed but still as a hard ticket operation. Still ‘no popcorn’ sold during the showing. Mike thought food was distracting from the film as well as the fact that he hated the smell of the butter sauce.
Every day telegrams would arrive from each of the theatres. They would be in code which, when transcribed, gave the gross of the previous day’s showings. The advertising department kept track of the daily grosses and they were compared to the grosses of "Gone With the Wind". After the figures were recorded I don’t know where they went to be reviewed, etc..
We had many visitors to the office usually theatre owners from around the country would come in to negotiate some financial deals. I particularly remember Ted Mann from Minneapolis who eventually owned the Graumann’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. He was a jovial person with a florid face and was very personable…to me the lowly office worker. Also an owner from Montreal, Canada whose last name was Berlin. He too was a very pleasing person.
Georgie Jessell was a very close friend of Mike’s and he would often stop by to visit when Mike was in town. Also Eddie Fisher could be bumped into in the corridors when he was visiting. Needless to say that we had large numbers of individuals coming by during the planning of the Birthday party most of whom were very well known in the theatrical world…I wasn’t aware of who ‘they’ were. I just knew they were important.
…and I remember it clearly today.
|On the day of Mike’s death [22 March 1958] I had gone to the beauty salon to get ‘done’ ready for the event the following day. When I returned home my roommate took me to a couch and told me to sit down. She then broke the news that Mike had been killed in the plane crash. It was as if a giant hole had occurred in my life…and I remember it clearly today. |
As an aside…I worked for 14 years for a man who was very similar both in stature, personality and outlook to Mike. His name was Ben Abruzzo. He was a residential developer here in Albuquerque who also flew hot air balloons for recreation. He won lots of balloon races and decided to take it to the next level. I was then the Corporate Secretary and he included me in a lot of his planning. He and 2 crew became the first team to fly a gas balloon across the Atlantic from Massachusetts to France. He and his team then became the first to fly a gas balloon across the Pacific from Japan to Northern California. Ben was killed in the mid-80’s in a plane crash here in Albuquerque. This brought back lots of memories of Mike and his death. Balloons appeared in the lives of both of these men and, of course, in mine.
Showing how small this world is, a couple of years ago I received a call from the co-op gallery of which I am a member. The artist was new in the gallery and was reading the bios of the other members. He asked about the fact that my bio mentioned Mike Todd and that I had worked for him. George Hight, the artist, had spent his life as a photographer in Gallup, New Mexico and being a stringer for the local newspaper received a call about a plane crash near Grants. He was told to get out there as fast as possible because the snow was causing problems and the police needed a photographer. He got there and was the first person to see Mike after his death. George moved a piece of the aircraft and it revealed Mike. He took the accident photos. It gives me goosebumps. George is still a member of our gallery and is known for his miniature oil paintings of the churches of New Mexico.
During the weeks before his death Mike had been looking at scripts for his next production. He came up with one about a real life bus driver who had taken a bus and, hijacked? it to Florida. It had the working title “Busman’s Holiday”. The script was airmailed to California for work. It never arrived in California and several months later, a box arrived at the Todd office containing a package of script pages, burned around the edges and water stained. The script had been on a flight that had gone down and burned outside Chicago. Michael Jr. had continued looking for a new script and nothing was further done on "Busman´s Holiday".
“Scent of Mystery”
|Ticket for the New York premiere of "Scent of Mystery". Press to see enlargement.|
Michael Jr. had continued Mike’s fascination with smells and films. Hans Laube who was Swiss, began showing up in the office for meetings with Michael and eventually we found out that a new movie was in the works. It was to feature smells and since Scent-O-Vision was taken Michael took the leap and named the new process Smell-O-Vision! The scriptwriters Bill and Kelly Roos became regulars for meetings. “Scent of Mystery” came into being. The locations were to be in Southern Spain. Ira Mangel went on the location as well as the rest of the head staff. I tried to get my favorite actor Tony Britton the lead role but Denholm Elliott won out.
In the search for the female lead, Guy Biondi came into the office one day to tell us how he’d followed this gorgeous young woman who was walking down Broadway. She went into a building and he followed her into the elevator. Asked her if she was an actress, she said ‘yes’, he gave her his card and asked her to call him. Well, she called and came in to audition for Michael. She didn’t make it but later on she became famous as Elly Mae on "The Beverly Hillbillies". Her name was Donna Douglas.
|Mike Todd, Jr. greeting card. Press to see enlargement.|
Our office became quiet and sparsely populated when the film began shooting. We kept in touch, hearing from them regularly. One particular event I was involved in was looking for a match to the tie worn by Denholm Elliott in the earlier shots in the film. It seems, that there was no duplicate tie on the set and they needed to reshoot some scene. My task was to take a clipped piece of the tie around all the men’s clothiers in Manhattan…Brookes Brothers, etc… hoping for a match. No luck. It seems that ties were made from ends of fabrics and it was rare to be able to match a tie of the quality Elliott was wearing. I pounded a lot of the NY pavements on that one.
The rest of the time of the shoot was quite uneventful. No more panic shopping trips just regular everyday work. "Around the World in 80 Days" was still out in the hinterlands and still hard ticket.
“Scent of Mystery” opened on Thursday February 18, 1960 at the Warner Theatre, Broadway and 47th Street with black tie optional. Dick Williams decided to do a press event by getting the car taking Elizabeth Taylor to the opening, to ‘break down’ on Broadway about 1½ blocks from the front of the theatre thus causing a traffic jam and Elizabeth would have to walk the remaining distance to the theatre giving photographers and reporters lots of opportunities for shots and stories. It didn’t quite work out that way even though the photographers were prepared to take lots of pictures. I seem to have a memory of the car stopping but then making it the rest of the way. I have a vague memory that it may have been raining lightly. Dick was disappointed. The premiere of "Scent of Mystery" garnered mixed reviews. It had been eclipsed by a Walter Reade production that had premiered a month or so earlier and I believe that process was called ScentaVision.
The smells became a bit of a problem. It seemed to be that the theatrical ventilating systems didn’t clear out one smell before the next one came up. It wasn’t a tremendous problem but it did cause a lot of furious work by Laube and others. When the premiere took place in Chicago I was able to go along to carry some things and help when there. The opening was in the Cinestage which had been renamed Todd Cinestage. "Around the World in 80 Days" was no longer showing there. Herman Odell, Michael Jr. and Hans Laube stood at the back of the auditorium intercepting the employees as they left after the show (or during intermission) to get their feedback. I too had noticed the carryover effect and, not realizing that they were aware of it, gave them that tidbit.
My memory of the rest of the "Scent of Mystery" story is very vague. I don’t believe there was a lot of notice taken of it by the press and it slowly slid from sight.
After this, the company began to release some of the staff. Because of the advertising for "Around the World in 80 Days" still running, Guy and I remained there for longer than others. But the time arrived and I left.
"Windjammer" in CineMiracle
|Guy got me a job with Van Wolf, who had previously been a field man for us, working on the distribution of "Windjammer" which was in Cinemiracle.|
Van Wolf needed a secretary/girl friday to work with him on the release of "Windjammer". He contacted Guy Biondi who very graciously recommended me to him. Due to the lack of business for "Scent of Mystery" my time with the Michael Todd Company was coming to an end and I would very soon be looking for new employment.
Van and I visited (we knew each other from Van’s time as an advance man for the Todd Company) and we came to an agreement. I had one requirement…that I didn’t have to punch in on a time clock as did the other employees at the distribution company. I hated having to be there by a certain time and it was my belief that if I was arriving at almost 9 o’clock and leaving whenever my work was done after 5pm then both of us were fair with each other. It worked and it was a very satisfactory arrangement.
The office, at that time, was in a 100 story office building at Columbus Circle which is at 59th and Broadway. Later on Van and I moved to an office in the CBS building at 53rd and 5th.
The distribution company for “Windjammer” had a name that I’m afraid I can’t remember. I know it ran a television station in New York City and by presenting a lot of live plays was considered more highbrow than the usual commercial tv stations.
Being the fan of actors and movies that I was, I thoroughly enjoyed the fact that Marian Dougherty’s office was a few doors away from us so there was a constant parade of ‘known’ actors coming through the offices. Marian Dougherty is/was the famed casting agent for both tv and movies.
Again, I was working after the production had been completed and it was being shown in limited release across the US. The three-projector process was very complicated and the press agents were able to generate a lot of newspaper space in explaining how it worked. I never did see the movie…I think the film had not yet opened in New York ["Windjammer" opened 9 April 1958 at the Roxy, ed] …but I can’t be sure.
My work consisted of dealing with the media who would call for clarification of the releases as well as asking for clips of the movie to use at the tv stations etc. Regarding the clips I would contact the Los Angeles office by twix machine and have them send the clips to the station. Twix machines were like giant manual typewriters that communicated via the telephone line. The keyboard was laid down in alphabetical order causing typing letters or requests to take longer than would be the case by regular typewriter. I liked the idea that I was in ’touch’ with the West Coast while typing. I expect it’s the feeling that people got when the first cell phones came out using text messaging.
The Windjammers. Top: Harald Tusberg. Left: Kaare Terland. Right: Sven Erik Libæk
I also did the correspondence dictated to me by Van Wolf…I had training in Gregg shorthand…and I remember it was a very busy office but I’m afraid I don’t recall all the details of my job. I did have one task that was thoroughly enjoyable. I had to escort the three young Norwegian [Harald Tusberg, Sven Erik Libæk & Kaare Terland, ed] men from the movie to perform in a show copied from “American Bandstand”.
“American Bandstand” was a groundbreaker in the US. It was broadcast from Philadelphia and featured the up and coming rock and roll singers of the day…along with some well known singers…and was created by Dick Clark. The teenagers were part of the show and would show off their dancing skills while the singers were performing. It was a phenomenal success becoming the biggest teen tv show in the US. Due to its success, a local New York TV station decided to make their own show which was broadcast from Palisades Park in New Jersey. Palisades Park was an amusement park with the dubious distinction of being the location of the popular music program for teenagers. The young men were to perform their rock and roll music. Later on I heard that one of the young men [Sven Erik Libæk] had become a very popular music host in Australia. I remember taking the boys (young men) to New Jersey but I remember practically nothing about the trip.
There weren’t many people working on “Windjammer” in the NY office. The field men didn’t come into town. However there was one individual who visited regularly…Steve Kesten who seemed to be the press agent for NY area. I believe he became a motion picture producer but I have no additional knowledge of him.
I got married in September of 1960 and I’m afraid I must have been very distracted from my job. I continued to work there through, I think, April of 1961 when I left because I was pregnant delivering my baby in late June of that year. I remember that NYC experienced a huge snowfall that winter but as I lived closed to the subway station in Forest Hills it wasn’t difficult to get from Queens to Manhattan and I showed up at the office when none else did. I think I made Van feel guilty because when the same thing happened the next week I decided not to try to get to work…the sidewalks were very icy and I was pregnant…but, of course, Van arrived and wondered where I was! Sadly, Van died in the late 1960’s of a long illness.
I worked there for about 18 months until I married. Then the rest of my life began.
Born in Eastwood, Nottingham, England, the daughter of a coalminer, Glenda Jensen fulfilled a lifelong wish when in 1956, aboard the Queen Mary, she emigrated to the United States to spread her wings and be whatever she wanted to be.
In New York City she worked for Mike Todd and Elizabeth Taylor during the release of "Around the World in 80 Days" and then for Michael Todd Jr.
during the making of his film "Scent of Mystery" in Smell-0-Vision.
After marriage she lived in New York City, Texas, Connecticut and now New Mexico. Her work beginning in 1973 with Alvarado Realty and the Sandia Peak Companies before, during and after the fabulous ballooning adventures of Ben Abruzzo, gave her a broad education in the business world.
Arrived USA 04.01.1957
United Artists April 1957
Mike Todd office May 1957
Married Sept. 1960
Left April 1961
After retirement in 1989 the accidental discovery of 'making art', as well as her interest in it, led her to participate in the co-operative of the Yucca Gallery in Old Town, becoming heavily involved in the Pastel Society of New Mexico and acting as Albuquerque coordinator for the 1999 Albuquerque Convention of the International Association of Pastel Societies.
Pastel has become her chosen medium due to the capability of drawing with a dry medium and the glorious selection of pure colors available.
The strange coincidence of her attraction to the New Mexico landscape and the connection of her birthplace to author D.H. Lawrence -- (he too was born in Eastwood) -- continues to amaze and fascinate her. The contrast between the grey, sooty, damp and gloomy countryside of the British Midlands in the 40's and 50's and the bright, clean, sunny and glorious vistas of New Mexico, are a constant delight for her.
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