American Flyer Displays

Gilbert Goes Hollywood

Return to Promotional Layouts

Roadblock - 1951 Oklahoma Annie - 1952 George Burns & Gracie Allen - 1955
The Big Hollywood Layout Date with the Angels - 1957 Leave it to Beaver - 1958
Zane Grey Theater - 1959 Bob Cummings Show - 1959 Perry Mason - 1959
The Price is Right - 1959 It Could Be You - 1959 Arthur Murray Dance Party - 1959
Engineer Bill - 1956 to 1966

 

George Burns-Gracie Allen Publicity shot

Today we are quite aware of product placements in our movies and television shows and sometimes get concerned about it.  This isn't really anything new.  In the 1950's, both Lionel and Gilbert made extensive efforts to get their products placed in TV shows and movies.  There wasn't much controversy about it in those days and as kids we loved seeing our favorite toy trains on television and in movies.  While Lionel had the "Lion's" share of such product placements, there are several examples of these Gilbert product placements available on the internet and this section will provide some links to video clips and other source information.

In line with the focus of this website on layouts, I have limited the coverage here to product placements involving layouts.  There were many more examples of product placements that involved the full line of Gilbert products, many times as prizes on quiz shows. 

Below are some links to just some of the product placements that are available for us to see today.  Many of them are from the RFGCO YouTube channel, in particular one promotional film made by Gilbert in 1959.  That promotional film was previously available on VHS tape under the title of "1959 Gilbert Film Spectacular."  It is hosted by veteran actor and announcer Dick Fishell.  If you view the whole film on YouTube, you can see that Gilbert really promoted the heck out of the Franklin sets.  Franklin sets were given as prizes on numerous quiz shows and as presents to children suffering illnesses or hardship.  The policy seemed to be that if one set was good, two were better, as there was more than one occasion when a package of two sets was given away to one individual.

 Most of the links are to the relevant sections of the videos so you can conveniently see the layouts as featured in specific shows.

 

Roadblock - September 17, 1951 View Video Clip 

Roadblock movie stillAmerican Flyer trains make a brief appearance in this 1951 Film Noir classic.  The story line involves an insurance company detective who uses inside information to plan a train robbery to give him the money he needs to impress his luxury loving girlfriend.  The American Flyer scene comes in the general store of the small town where he is hiding out after the robbery.   In it he appears to be ruminating about the robbery. 

Interesting details of the scene are a Lionel ZW transformer powering the simple loop which appears to have a reverse loop connecting one side of the layout with the other side.  The ZW is probably an indication that this layout wasn't designed by Gilbert, but rather by the studio.  The train is an Atlantic pulling two baggage cars and two coaches.  The baggage cars appear in one shot which shows the side of the cars and reveals that they are operating mail cars.  This is the earliest appearance of American Flyer in movies or TV that I have found.

 

Oklahoma Annie - Staring Judy Canova - 1952 View Video Clip 

oklahoma annie stillThis video clip was the only one I found from a color theatrical release film, albeit a B grade western.   From the clip, it appears to be the start of the film, but that may not be the case.  It features Judy Canova playing a shopkeeper who gets involved in cleaning up corruption in her town.  

She sings the song, "Blow the Whistle" while an American Flyer K-5 Pacific pulls a train of red passenger cars, which appear to be a New Haven style baggage car, a New Haven style coach, and a heavyweight observation.  The layout was very simple, consisting of an oval of track with a station, house, trestle bridge, water tank, tunnel, crossing gate, and magnetic crane.  All of this is consistent with products cataloged that year.  The general consensus is that this clip is best enjoyed with the sound muted.

 

George Burns & Gracie Allen Show - Anniversary Party - November 28, 1955 View Episode 

George and Gracie
Photo Courtesy of Ray Mohrlang

When I first saw this photo, I was unsure of what it represented, but thanks to Lonny Beno, who put this in context for me, I now know the full story.  This is a photo of the American Flyer layout that is featured in an episode of the Burns and Allen show titled "Anniversary Party," Season 6, Episode 9, which aired on November 28, 1955.  The shot doesn't appear in the show itself, but provides a better view of the layout than the show itself.  I would imagine that this photo was taken by the A.C. Gilbert Co. for use in advertising and to document the appearance of its trains in this show.  The train action begins immediately as the curtain opens and the scene in front of the toy store lasts about 3 and 1/2 minutes.  Aside from Gracie's conversation with a lady about the possibility of the train as a gift for the lady's son, the trains and the display play no real part in the show and are simply props.  There are only fleeting glimpses of the layout for the first few seconds, but signs identifying the brand of the trains are visible long enough to be read.  The layout doesn't appear to match any of the factory displays that I am aware of, but there are probably other displays, not documented on this site. 

It has been suggested that this shop front is in actuality the 5th Avenue side of the New York Hall of Science, but I doubt this theory.  First of all, the date of this show is definitely documented as November 28, 1955.  In 1954, the entire 5th Avenue window display area had been redone to accommodate the large display layout (The Super Layout) described elsewhere on this website.   The accommodations involved increasing the size of the window by eliminating the entry door on that side of the building.  That layout and those modifications to the building were in place at the time of this show. 

Secondly, the area housing the layout in this photo does not appear to be much wider than about 10 feet.  Previous layouts that were displayed in this window appeared to be much wider than that, most likely around 16 feet.

 

The Big Hollywood Layout 

It has been suggested by some that Gilbert created a large layout that was taken from one Hollywood soundstage to another for different product placements.  In the 1st through 3rd editions of Greenberg's Guide to American Flyer S Gauge there is a well researched article at the front of the book written by Linda Greenberg titled " Overview." 1  The article has been revised throughout the various editions, but the versions that appear in the 2nd and 3rd editions as well as a version of that same article titled "History of American Flyer Trains," which appears in Volume II of the 4th edition are of particular note. 2  

In the versions of the article noted above, a section subtitled "Department Store Layouts - As told by Frank Edgcombe" gives us some interesting information about those layouts.  Frank Edgcombe worked at the New York Hall of Science and the showroom at 200 5th Avenue that replaced the Hall of Science in 1959.  According to Frank, the layouts were fabricated in New Haven in 5 x 10 foot modules, with two creating a 10 x 10 foot layout.  In the article, Frank stated:

One large layout was used exclusively for television shows.  It could be set up and taken down in less than a half hour!  Requests for American Flyer layouts to appear on TV shows were frequent; they came from the Dave Garroway Show (now the Today Show), The Price Is Right, Top Dollar, and American Bandstand with Dick Clark.  No wonder these layout were in demand:  three trains could run simultaneously, and the layout featured the latest operating accessories.  The show's host would operate a dummy control panel while Edgcombe, by means of an umbilical cord hooked up to an identical control panel hidden behind the scenes, would press the correct button to make the accessory operate, such as the rocket launcher.  American Flyer was getting five to ten minutes of nationwide coverage at no charge for each appearance. 3

The next four layouts to be discussed may be examples of how this big layout was used and apparently modified between appearances.  It is also possible that the panel size could have been 4 x 8 or 5 x 9, judging from the appearance of the layouts and the sizes of plywood readily available for production of such a layout.  Also, while it might have been possible that these layouts were put together quickly in some cases, in others, such as the Leave It To Beaver layout, it looks like the Gilbert crew did a more careful job.

 

Date With The Angels - Santa's Helper - December 13, 1957 View Episode 

Layout Overview2nd photo of Layout

Date With the Angels was a relatively short lived television series starring Betty White and Bill Williams as a newly married couple.  It ran from May of 1957 until January of 1958 and produced only 33 episodes.  One of these, titled "Santa's Helper," featured a layout that looks very much like it could have been the "Big Hollywood Layout" spoken of by Frank Edgcombe.   It consists of three loops of track but it looks to my eye to be rectangular, rather than square.  The layout appears in fleeting glimpses throughout the entire show, so the entire video is included in the link above.

 

Leave It To Beaver - My Brother's Girl - April 16, 1958  View Video Clip  

jc and bm tunnel portal

overview 1overview 2

More than any of the other possible "Big Hollywood" layouts, this one has captured the interest of many American Flyer fans.  The reason is most likely because the layout seems to be the best detailed of the layouts.  Although the layout only appears on screen about a minute, the photography is close up and shows many of the details of the layout.  In short, the productions values are far better than those demonstrated on clips of the other layouts, even though this show is essentially contemporaneous with the others.  Also, it is the only one of the four layouts where the layout itself is relevant to the plot of the story. 

 From the video, we know that this layout, like the other possible "Big Hollywood" layouts, also consists primarily of three loops of track.  The layout is nicely sceniced and well presented.   It presents one enigma though.  Over the tunnel portal the letters "J.C. & B.M. R.R. appear.   I have puzzled over this for some time, but I think I now have the answer, thanks to Mike Schmidt and Mike Nickel, who both suggested that those are the initials of Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher, the creators and producers of the series and that the railroad was named for them.   I think that pretty much answers the question.

 

Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theater - A Thread of Respect - February 12, 1959 View Video Clip 

Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theater ran from 1956 until 1961 and represented some of the best quality television programming of this era.  In this episode, titled "A Thread of Respect," Danny Thomas stars as an Italian tailor who arrives by train in Yucca City, Arizona and ends up challenging the town tough played by James Coburn.  The American Flyer layout is featured in Dick Powell's somewhat corny introduction of the story.  The layout appears to be consistent with the dimensions of the "Big Hollywood Layout" in that it is almost  completely square and appears to feature three loops of track.  It is interesting to note that one of the cutaway shots features old time locomotives on an HO display.   Also, Dick picks up what are clearly Mantua General cars from the layout.  They are not even the Gilbert versions of those cars that Mantua manufactured for Gilbert's HO line at that time.  The clip is from the 1959 Gilbert Film Spectacular video.

 

The Bob Cummings Show View Video Clip 1 View Video Clip 2  

Bob Cummings stillBob Cummings still

The Bob Cummings show ran  between 1955 and 1959, starting on NBC, then switching to CBS and finally back to NBC.  Bob Cummings starred as a playboy photographer Bob Collins who lived with his sister Margaret, played by Rosemary DeCamp and her son Chuck, played by Dwayne Hickman.

 The 1959 Gilbert Film Spectacular contains two sets of clips showing what I believe to be the last example of the "Big Hollywood Layout."  The clips may or may not be from the same show.  Since the layout was in the living room of the house where the main characters lived, I think it is likely to be from the same episode, since I doubt that the producers would want to commit to a living room train setup for more than one episode.  If they did, it would have been a real coup for Gilbert.

The layout has three loops of track, with the signature mountain in the same corner as on other possible examples of the "Big Hollywood Layout."  In the first photo below, you can see that the layout is clearly composed of two sections.  Each section is supported by two side walls, with the two inner walls against each other.   This is quite clearly what Frank Edgcombe indicated in the article referenced in the footnotes below. The action sequences involving the layout also support the umbillical control cord theory noted by Frank Edgcombe.  See if you can find the spots in the clip where Rosemary De Camp and other characters stop the train by picking up an unconnected transformer (no wires are connected to any posts) and using it like a walk around throttle.

 

Perry Mason - May 16, 1959 View Video Clip 

This is an extremely short clip which is from Season 2, Episode 27, "The Case of The Deadly Toy, " which aired on May 16, 1959.  The full episode was previously available at tv.com, but all Perry Mason episodes have now been removed.  There are two places in the episode, both after the first set of commercials, where American Flyer trains are shown.  This clip, which occurs at 8 minutes and 30 seconds into the show, is the second.  It last about 19 seconds and provides the better view of the layout.  The first view of the trains is 4 minutes and 30 seconds into the show and consists of a background view of a child moving items around on a layout that has been set up on saw horses in the living room.  It lasts about 30 seconds, but shows little of the layout and is no longer available online.   More information on the episode can be found on a Perry Mason fan website where the American Flyer product placement is mentioned.  Just to set your mind at ease, the American Flyer train is not the deadly toy.

 

 

The Price Is Right View Video Clip 

In this quiz show, the contestants try to guess the value of the item in question, which for this episode included an American Flyer Train layout.  In this case, they drastically underestimate the value of the layout.   From viewing the video, it appears that the layout in question is a standard 28142  factory display layout.   

 

It Could Be You View Video Clip 

it could be youIt Could Be You, like Queen for a Day, awarded prizes based on hardships suffered, but here the emphasis was said to be more on embarrassments, rather than genuine hardships.  In the case of this American Flyer layout though, it was awarded to a child whose trains and all his possessions had been burned in a fire.  Perhaps these were the forerunners of todays reality TV shows.

 

Arthur Murray Dance Party View Video Clip 

In this segment, a brief glimpse of an American Flyer train enhances the Christmas mood for Jane Harvey's rendition of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."

 

Engineer Bill - Cartoon Express on Los Angeles Television KHJ-Channel 9 - 1956-1966  
Engineer Bill - Part 1 Engineer Bill - Part 2 Engineer Bill - Corky Kemp Bill Stulla on Wikipedia Engineer Bill Reminisces

Bill Stulla, as Engineer Bill, was a legend in Southern California from 1954 until 1966.  His show appears to have ended about the same time the Gilbert Company did.  While the trains on the show layout were all American Flyer, he gave HO model kits to the children who were to be guests on his next show.  They were to complete them before their appearance and bring them in to the show when they appeared.  There was also a publicity photo done for a TT gauge train manufacturer.

This show represented a real coup for American Flyer over Lionel.  In November before the show started, Lionel had been contacted by Bill Stulla about providing a layout for the show.  They told him that it was their busy season and to call them back in February, but they couldn't do anything at the time.  After the show had been running for two weeks, Bill received a call from Ray Losi, the American Flyer representative in Southern California, who said he liked the show and asked if there was anything he could do for them.  Bill asked him for a layout and within two weeks Losi provided one, which was seen on future episodes of the show.

The show featured the Red Light/Green Light game to encourage children to drink their milk.  They were supposed to drink on the green light and stop on the red light, as "Freight Train Wayne" would shout out the instructions from the sidelines, sometimes throwing in false cues, such as "red bird."  Another feature of the show was the Get Well Board, where personalized get well messages were sent out to children who were ill. 

While the links don't show much actual layout footage, they will certainly bring back memories to those who enjoyed these shows in the 50's and 60's.

There is an excellent article in Classic Toy Trains, April 1992 edition about Bill Stulla and his years as Engineer Bill. 4

Bill Stulla died at the age of 97 on August 12, 2008

Notes

1 Greenberg's Guide to American Flyer S Gauge, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Editions, Greenberg Publishing Company, Inc., Sykesville, MD, 1980 (1st Edition), 1984 (2nd Edition), and 1988 (3rd Edition)

2 Greenberg's Guide to American Flyer S Gauge, Volume II, Greenberg Books Division of Kalmbach Publishing Company, Inc., Waukesha, WI, 1991 (accompanies 4th Edition of Volume I)

3 Greenberg's Guide to American Flyer S Gauge, 2nd and 3rd Editions, Greenberg Publishing Company, Inc., Sykesville, MD, 1984 (2nd Edition) and 1988 (3rd Edition) at page 16 in 3rd Edition.

4 Bill Stulla Recalls his Years as TV's Engineer Bill, Classic Toy Trains, April 1992, Page 110