This has been driving me crazy. I will state right now that I haven’t researched this… I suppose the trick would be to find a book cover from 1960 of Exodus, or even some other best seller from the period that was re-issued while the movie based on it was in production. For my purposes, to find several books. Or print ads for those books.Because in Babylon, when Lily Meyer slides Exodus across the conference room table and over to Don, she tells him that it is “soon to be a major motion picture”. And she says it with the quotation marks as part of her inflection; she is lifting a popular phrase.

My gut, and my gut alone, tells me that turning this kind of phrase was not commonplace. That even if the industry was using it, people were not. People just didn’t lift catch-phrases the way they do today. Especially people to whom English is a second language. I really don’t think that started until the 70’s; I believe it to be a post-modern phenomenon, and in 1960 we were just broaching modern.

Now, Deborah suggests that perhaps she was directly quoting, and not being ironic. Maybe that’s it. But I don’t see why she would be inclined to directly quote rather than rephrase. 

By contrast, in Red in the Face, Ken, in response to being teased, says “Har-dee-har-har”. I think this was appropriate for the time… this was a proper catch-phrase (well, hardly a phrase, but you get it), that Jackie Gleason repeated week after week. It didn’t require the clever self-consciousness that “major motion picture” required. It didn’t have a twist. It simply mimicked.

I can identify the first ‘joke’ of this nature that I saw on TV. It was on One Day at a Time, and someone announces something. (Okay, I don’t remember it that well.) And Barbie, our beloved Valerie Bertinelli (well, beloved until this Jenny Craig nonsense, but you shouldn’t get me started on that), responded by saying, “…film at 11“. And it got a huge laugh. Because it was new and fresh, to lift a phrase that had become so common, but not acknowledged.

Today it’s entirely different. The innocence of a line like “…film at 11” is gone, and on its own it has no humor. Today’s humor is so media-self-referential that it’s hard to even trace the joke back to its roots. Friends and Shrek and Will & Grace are great examples of that. Will untangles Grace from her electric blanket cord, and says into the cord, “Ladies and gentlemen, Grace: Unplugged”. That is several steps further than “Film at 11”. Even when Letterman introduces anyone as “the lovely and talented”, there is a subtle sarcasm that we have all so fully absorbed we no longer identify it. But once upon a time, that, coming from Letterman’s mouth, was really funny, because it was making fun of the oh-so standard and overdone and perhaps insincere introduction that talk show hosts routinely delivered. We used to notice. Now it’s changed. Now it’s the mocking delivery of those words that have become the standard. Sarcasm and satire have become the norm.

I have witnessed this evolution in my lifetime. Today, anyone can lower their voice real deep and say “In a world…” and it’s an instance movie trailer reference. But how many years of hearing that in trailers did it take for us to pick up on it? And as a culture, now, picking up on it is what we do.

In 1960 I don’t believe that kind of shtick was part of our culture. And I don’t believe Ms. (I know, I know, I’m early. But I can call her Ms. if I want to!) Meyer would have said it.