In A Nutshell
James Moran was quite a crazy character. The man was a publicity agent who specialized in wild stunts and goofy pranks. Whether he was searching for a literal needle in a haystack or incubating an ostrich egg, Moran knew how to get people’s attention.
The Whole Bushel
Ever seen The Egg and I? It’s a 1947 screwball comedy starring Claudette Colbert as a city slicker housewife whose overzealous husband (Fred MacMurray) buys a chicken farm out in the country. The film was pretty popular in its day, grossing over $5 million and spawning a number of sequels.
So why was the film so successful? Perhaps it was thanks to its two stars, or maybe it was because of its comedic side characters, Ma and Pa Kettle. Or perhaps it had something to do with a guy wearing an ostrich-plumed headband while sitting on an ostrich egg for 19 days straight.
The man on the egg was Jim Moran, known across the country as “America’s No. 1 Prankster.” As you might have guessed, he was quite a kook. Born in 1907, Moran worked as a tour guide, an airline executive, and a radio station operator before finding fame as a publicity agent. Thanks to his quick wit and outrageous schemes, Moran was constantly in demand by movie studios, politicians, and anybody who wanted people to remember their product.
Some of Moran’s greatest stunts were twists on famous expressions. Once, he led a bull into a New York china shop, and much to everyone’s relief, the bovine didn’t break a single cup. On another occasion, the madman spent 10 days searching for a needle in a haystack, and while he was crawling around in all that straw, a couple of guys tried to set the hay on fire.
Fortunately, Moran made it out alive and kept entertaining the public with incredibly zany stunts. Like the time he tried to convince Howard Hughes to build a rocket ship to the Moon so he could harvest the cheese. Or the time he tricked the Los Angeles Art Association into buying the most horrible piece of abstract art he could possibly create.
On one occasion, he proved that the famous war cry “don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes” was the reason Americans lost the Battle of Bunker Hill. And how did he do that? Well, by hiring a bunch of near-sighted actors, of course. Another time, he rigged up a special kite to carry a dwarf above Central Park. If all went according to plan, he could pay a bunch of little people to float above New York City while holding signs promoting local businesses.
Sadly for Moran, the police force shut him down.
Perhaps his craziest stunt was the time he was hired to promote the Peter Sellers comedy The Mouse That Roared. Since this 1959 satire featured a fictional country called Grand Fenwick, Moran posed as the nation’s ambassador, complete with a regal uniform and diplomatic plates for his limousine. The man even invited actual ambassadors to a party in D.C. Obviously, quite a few politicians weren’t paying attention in history class.
But let’s return to 1947 when James Moran was sporting ostrich feathers and sitting on an oversize egg. After 19 days of incubating that baby, Moran gave birth to a brand new bird. After naming the ostrich “Ossip Moran,” he passed out cigars, declared he was “eggs-hausted,” and gave the critter to a nearby zoo.
Without a doubt, James Moran had the greatest job ever.
Show Me The Proof
Marjorie Main: The Life and Films of Hollywood’s “Ma Kettle”, by Michelle Vogel
The Museum of Hoaxes: Hoaxes & Stunts of Jim Moran
NY Times: James S. Moran Dies at 91; Master of the Publicity Stunt
Reading Eagle: Jim Moran ‘Eggs-Hausted’ After Hatching Ostrich Egg