An earlier radio series, Johnny Presents (1934), was the catalyst for Philip Morris Playhouse. The name, Johnny, was given to the music and drama series because the Philip Morris midget, Johnny Roventini had become a popular icon of the times.
A memorable part of the show was the Philip Morris commercial which featured the, “Callll for Philip Morris!” line. Many cigarettes were sold because of that line of a commercial on the radio.
Roventini was a low-paid bellhop at the Hotel New Yorker when Milton Biow, head of the advertising agency handling the Philip Morris account, found him. With what has been touted as a “stroke of pure advertising genius,” Biow catapulted Roventini into show business and soon was a household voice that everyone knew.
Roventini was eventually given a lifetime contract by Philip Morris because he became a walking advertisement for the cigarettes – appearing in magazines and on billboards long after the radio show went off the air.
Also backed by the Philip Morris Company were the radio shows, Crime Doctor and It Pays to Be Ignorant. The company trained other “Johnnies” for roles in California and New York, so that all areas would be covered.
The new series drew the top stars of the day – Vincent Price, Dan Dailey, Donald O’Conner and Marlene Dietrich were just a few of the stars who appeared on the top-rated show, but the series was remembered more for the four-foot midget, Johnny Roventini and his perfect, B-Flat call for Philip Morris.
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