It’s pretty easy to hoax people. We all want to be deceived, but only up to a point. Some hoaxes are fun and pleasant, others malicious and unpleasant. We’d like a way to tell the difference (Robert Carroll).

Nov 5, 2008

Trilby's Trance Publicity Hoax

Older readers might still remember Warners Brother’s classical horror movie Svengali. To understand the nature of the hoax related to the movie, let me briefly give the movie synopsis.


John Barrymore is Svengali, the teacher and virtuoso who seduces and destroys young women with his hypnotic powers. He sets his evil gaze upon the beautiful young artist’s model, Trilby. Powerless to resist the wicked maestro’s control, Trilby abandons her noble young lover and flees with her new master who forces her to become his bride. Svengali transforms her into an international singing star, first bringing the couple acclaim and wealth, but leading to a rapid descent into depravity, horror and damnation.


That might look funny on the background of the today Hollywood horror movies, but back in 20th it was a remarkable masterpiece. But, in this post, we will address just the moment of the season opening in New York, 1933.

The hoax was developed and executed by one of the press agents affiliated to the movie promotion - Harry Reichenbach. The inspired agent planted a young actress to sit in the audience and feign a trance after the movie premiere. When the lights went up, Reichnbach just happened to be nearby and noticed that the young woman was sitting in a strange state. Two physicians were summoned, and they were baffled by the woman’s conditions, her pulse and respiration gone amok. The doctors spoke to the press and said they had no explanation for what appeared to be a bizarre case of woman in a trance. The good doctors and newspapers were unaware that Reichenbach had had the woman race around the theater block several times and drop into seat just as the film was ending.

For days the press published interviews with learned psychologists on the possibility of a person in an audience being hypnotized by a film character such as the movie’s Svengali. Needless to say, curious thrill seekers flocked to the theater to determine if Svengali could hypnotize them as well. The movie did enormous box office thereafter all around the country.

Review a small video clip from the original movie. May be, you will be hypnotized, and that was not a hoax after all.....


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