Under the Influence

One New York hotel manager discovered a 450-pound lion roaming a suite

Lions and waiters and police officers - oh my! The Hollywood PR stunt that pioneered the motion picture publicity spectacle.
Lions and waiters and police officers - oh my! This Hollywood PR stunt pioneered the motion picture publicity spectacle. (Clement Rossignol/Reuters)

The Hollywood publicity stunt has been around for a long time.

Many film historians point to Harry Reichenbach as the pioneer of motion picture publicity spectacles.

Born in 1882, Reichenbach was just 13 years old when he ran away with a circus. It was while working with carnival barkers, magicians and travelling acts that he learned how to draw a crowd. Many years later, he brought his brazen circus smarts to Hollywood.

When asked to generate press for a 1920 film, The Revenge of Tarzan, Reichenbach pulled off one of his best-known stunts. He checked into New York's Hotel Belleclaire under the name T. R. Zann. He said he was a musician and wanted to install his Steinway piano in his suite.

When the wooden crate arrived, bellhops helped carry the heavy box to Reichenbach's room.

Later, Reichenbach called room service to order 15 pounds of raw steak. The hotel manager immediately called him back to make sure the strange request was correct. Reichenbach confirmed.

When the manager raced to accompany the waiter to Reichenbach's suite, they knocked on the door. When it was opened, they were greeted with a full-grown lion prowling the room.

The house detective was called, then the police were summoned. Next thing you know, the press was crawling all over the hotel. What the hotel didn't catch on check-in was that T.R. Zann really meant Tarzan, and with the lion stunt, the premiere of The Revenge of Tarzan was splashed across all the front pages.

When it came to Hollywood stunts, Harry Reichenbach was king of the jungle.

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