Literary and Real-Life Salesmen and the Performance of Class

  • Jon Dietrick


Early in the 1962, film adaptation of Meredith Willson’s 1957 play The Music Man, “Professor” Harold Hill (Robert Preston), having just arrived in River City, Iowa, runs into a retired con man and former associate named Marcellus Washburn (Buddy Hackett). As the two catch up, Washburn asks Hill what his current line is, noting, “Last I heard you were in steam automobiles.” “I was,” replies Hill. “Well, what happened?” asks Washburn, to which Hill replies, “Somebody actually invented one.”1 Here, in case we missed the point of anvil salesman Charlie Cowell’s (Harry Hickox’s) thundering denunciation of Hill in the film’s opening scene, we are introduced to Hill’s modus operandi: he capitalizes on ordinary, middle-class Americans’ hope and wonder—and greed—by selling them an advance interest in something that does not exist: yesterday it was steam automobiles, today boys’ bands.


River City Safety Closure English Major Performative Aspect Opening Scene 
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  1. 4.
    Spears, Timothy, 100 Years on the Road: The Traveling Salesman in American Culture (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1995), 1.Google Scholar

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© Ron Scapp and Brian Seitz 2013

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  • Jon Dietrick

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