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Where Are You Burton Holmes?

Ralph Franklin Posted by Ralph Franklin in Exhibitors January 25th, 2013

There are 2,408 stars on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame and I’m interested in only one.

 That star is located at 6600 Hollywood Blvd., and possibly you have never heard of the person whose name is inscribed on that star. He is an American traveler, photographer, filmmaker and entrepreneur. His name is Burton Holmes.
 
 Hollywood Walk of Fame     
Star of Burton Holmes
Holmes' accomplishments during his lifetime are amazing. As one of his fans, I was impressed that he not only was a cameraman, but an outstanding performing artist. Burton Holmes brought the world to millions of sojourners in the US during his lifetime. And, in some ways, Holmes is the reason there’s a Travel-Adventure Documentary (TAD) magazine.
 
An autographed copy of one of Burton Holmes flier is now in my hands thanks to filmmakers Buddy Hatton and Larry Wong. They found it in a Hollywood pawnshop and graciously passed it on to me.
 
Autographed flyer of Holmes Des Moines
Iowa for Friday April 12th
Being a producer of travel-adventure documentary (TAD) films the flier is a real trophy. I have poured over it hoping to gain some insight into Homes modus operandi—why he did this, why he did that.
 
There has been much talk within the Travel-Adventure film industry for the past 30 years on the decline in attendance and venues. At many of the past industry's conventions discussions focused on how to reverse this deterioration, but to little avail. I wondered if the flier might hold some secret message, something between the lines that would give some insight to Holmes' success, something that would reverse the industry's decline.
 
I have googled his name so many times he’s now part of my family. Interestingly enough, the research has revealed a great deal about his life and success. Example: Burton Holmes always received top billing, his film second.
 
Except for the early years, he presented his films in prime locations, the best theaters. Holmes always put on a Show, that's with a capital S rather than showing a film.
 
Burton Holmes filled auditoriums wherever he appeared. Los Angeles based Filmmaker-historian Stan Walsh ran the projector for Holmes when Holmes appeared at the Wilshire Ebel Theater and has spoken about those sell-out crowds.
 
The trophy flier I was studying says Holmes was promoting his appearance in the Shrine Auditorium in Des Moines, Iowa, a prize location. He is promoting a Show, a real Show and he was the star and he had “Sell-out crowds.”
 
How did he do it? What was his secret? Then one item caught my eye and it shook me. it was his ticket prices—they seemed really cheap, but were they? 
 
I decided to compare Holmes’ ticket prices with today’s, but in order to do that I needed to know when the Des Moines performances happened. I poured over the flier reading the who, what, why and where. But the "when," the year—was missing.
 
The flier reads, Friday, April 12th and that’s it. I search the flier for the year and found nothing. However there were two clues to work with, a small insert on the flier read: A new 1939 motor tour in Queen Wilhelmina’s Kingdom of the Netherlands.
 
The words New and 1939 were those clues. I now had to find out how many Friday, April 12ths there were from Holmes' birth in 1870 till his death in 1958. And the answer was 13. The one that came closest was Friday, April 12, 1940. This is the date I used to base my research in comparing ticket pricing, then and now.
 
He set up a three-tiered ticket price as follows: $1.12, 85 and 56 cents. It sounded cheap, real cheap, but to my surprise not so.
 

 
The average single admission price for a Hollywood movie in 1940 was 24 cents. Twenty-four cents compared with $1.22, 85 and 56 cents ticket price to see and hear Burton Holmes.
 
Holmes was charging twice to four times as much for his "Travelogues" over what Hollywood was charging to see their films. Reevaluated those ticket prices into today’s dollar, Holmes would be charging $16 to $32 for a single admission ticket.
 
Showman & Entrepreneur
Dick Walter, still going strong

 

 
This really rang a bell, it was déjà vu. Several months earlier Dick Walter, former owner and entrepreneur of the highly successful Omaha travel film series, said, "Today, the single admission price for the personal appearance of artist and film should be $28, no less!"
 
Two highly successful showmen, who never met, one dead and one alive, literally saying the same thing... uncanny, insanity, hard to believe...Yes!
 
Today’s exhibitor of personal appearance TAD filmmakers, with their films are charging an average of $7 for a single admission ticket.
 
Could ticket pricing be playing a big part on the industry's decline?
 
Holmes appears to be waiting for an
answer from the TAD entertainment
industry, "Well?"
Seven dollars for a single admission ticket to a show where the filmmaker will personally appear “live,” on stage, speak to that audience about the country of his film, about the people, about travel to that country, then show his film. Then after the show, meet patrons and answer questions, and that show is being sold for seven dollars? I paid $8 for a bag of popcorn last week at the movies.
 

 
Where are you Burton Holmes?
 
Something has gone awry within the TAD entertainment industry at a time in US history when those patrons who love this type of travel is burgeoning. The travel-adventure—documentary film industry should be booming, instead it struggles.
 
It is was now quite clear that Holmes' success is due to the fact he knew how to promote, stage and price his product. Today, that once great form of entertainment, the travel-adventure documentary film show, has slipped to the bottom rung of the entertainment ladder. If it is to continue the industry should seriously look at Holmes' way of marketing his product.
 
Reading between the lines on that flier I think Holmes is saying:
  "Wake up! I gave you a great form of entertainment, please Present, Price and Stage it as such."

 

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