King Tut’s First Tour and Its Influence on Culture
How did the Tutankhamen tour of the 70s influence pop culture?
More than 3,000 years after his death King Tutankhamun’s second reign would begin, this time over America. Opening day of the King Tut exhibit in 1976 more than 830K visitors flocked to museums to catch a glimpse of the Boy King’s treasures and “Tutmania” ensued. In the initial weeks of opening, the museum was merely crowded but as word of its magnificence got out museum-goers were in for long waits. “Tutmania” swept across the nation captivating everything from the toilets which were called “tutlets” and the ladies room called “mummies room” in New Orleans Museum of Art. All across America, people were wearing shirts that said “I Love My Mummy” and “Struttin’ with Tut” to show their admiration. Also headlining Saturday Night Live with Steve Martin’s Martin’s song “King Tut”, which then also became a hit record.
Among the civilians that came to the museum there were also VIP’s that pulled strings to catch a glimpse of the phenomenon. Ranging from President Jimmy Carter, who visited with his mother, Miss Lillian Carter who according to the National Gallery’s current director, Earl A. Powell III said “When Mrs. Carter came into the gold-mask room,” Powell says, “she held form to my arm and said, ‘You can feel the spirit!’” Other VIP visitors spotted inside the exhibit included future senator John Warner and his then wife Elizabeth Taylor; First Daughter Amy Carter; former First Lady Bird Johnson; future First Lady Nancy Reagan; and such arts-and-letters figures as Andy Warhol, Robert Redford, Mike Nichols, and Lillian Hellman.
As the tour made its way across America, museums geared up for unprecedented foot traffic. It was the Tut show that compelled the museums for the first time to issue show tickets separate from the lapel pins that came with general admission. (source) Demand got so high that some ticketed visitors faced all-day waits. In other cities such as Los Angeles, New York and Seattle the tickets were put on sale in advance and their respective four-month runs sold out in a matter of hours.
There was no doubt that the Boy King was the hot ticket of the 70s with newspapers claiming “The Boy King Necrobilia Collection is the hottest ticket since Elvis!” quoted from the Doonesbury’s Garry Trudeau (source). Tut phenomena wasn’t exclusively for museum-goers, it was so all-encompassing that it influenced buildings, art, fashion, incidentally birthing the art deco movement.