Friday, November 22, 2013

Big Stars and Baby Boomer Ads

Stars and celebrities have endorsed products for years. In the late 1920s, movie star Louise Brooks modeled for Maybelline, and--a few years later--so did Paulette Goddard and Joan Crawford, Al Jolson, Gary Cooper, Claudette Colbert and many other stars--in fact, two-thirds of Hollywood's top fifty stars--hawked cigarettes in print and on the radio before World War II.
Heck, Bette Davis showed off her General Electric appliances in 1933 in a three-minute long commercial that you can watch on YouTube.  That's her--very blonde--on the right.
But it was television that created the celebrity endorsements Boomers remember.
Like Dinah Shore singing "See the USA in your Chevrolet." (You can watch a full 90-second commercial from 1952 on YouTube.)
In fact, Dinah was so closely associated with Chevrolet that when her 15-minute TV show expanded to an hour in 1956 and stayed that way for seven years, it was called The Dinah Shore Chevy Show.
Those old commercials may look and sound a bit cheesy now, but in the mid-1950s they were state-of-the-art. The jingles and slogans stand out in our memories . . . and they worked! With or without celebrities, when products appeared on television--any products, from PlayDoh to convertibles--sales took off into the stratosphere.
Of course, fifty or sixty years later, the glimpses of very young or very old stars makes the vintage ads all the more interesting. Vaudeville comedians, glamorous sex symbols, sitcom stars back before "sitcom" was a word, and serious actors all took a turn selling shampoo, cars, food, and more on TV.
Back then, the host of a TV show didn't always cut to a commercial--they often held up the sponsor's product and told viewers how great it was. Or, like Jack Benny and Arthur Godfrey, they'd work a mention of the sponsor into their opening monologue or sign-off.
Here are links to some nearly-forgotten classic commercials;
  • Lucy and Desi lit up their Philip Morris cigarettes at the end of their show, right in their TV living room. "The finest king-sized cigarette in America today: smooth, mild, and mellow, and easy on your throat."
  • Lucy and Desi also filmed a 1957 Ford Skyline commercial for their I Love Lucy sponsor.
  • Roy Rogers shilled for Jello, "the swellest dessert in the world." He even invited the viewers into his house to see all the neighborhood kids making Jello for him and Dale Evans. You can see that ad--which ends in a sing along with Roy, Dale, and the kids--by scrolling to "Jello" at the Internet Archive
  • At the same site, you can watch Buster Keaton in a beer commercial (scroll to "Keaton"); Chico and Harpo Marx yuck it up for Prom Home Perms ("Prom"); or the Three Stooges clown for Simoniz ("Stoogies")
  • Eddie Fisher's TV show, Coke Time with Eddie Fisher, left no doubt who his sponsor was. Fisher enjoyed a glass of Coke while rhapsodizing about how good it tasted. And by today's standards, it was a very small glass. In this 1954 complete show at the Internet Archive, Eddie's add comes about 10 minutes in, and he seems to be at Sardi's.
  • Marilyn Monroe--yes, Marilyn!--and Jack Paar did an ad for Coca Cola too. 
  • A 24-year-old Angie Dickinson sings while sitting in a Christmas sleigh for a Halo Shampoo Commercial.
  • Mattel hired a young, pre-Brady Bunch Maureen McCormick for their 1964 Chatty Cathy ad. McCormick also filmed a Twist 'n' Turn Barbie commercial (pictured below). WHen Chatty Cathy was rereleased six years later, guess who got to be Chatty's voice, recording all the new phrases the doll would say? Marcia, Marcia, Marcia.
Remember when Art Linkletter's picture appeared on the money that came with your Life game? Now that was a unique gimmick! Linkletter advertised the game on his two shows (People Are Funny and House Party) on two different networks (NBC and CBS, respectively), so his name and picture went on the game's $100,000 bills. And he got some real cash as well.
We might share more in another post someday but first, here's a word from our sponsor:
Vickey Kall, who blogs over at Boomer Book of Christmas and other spots, loves writing about bygone days and pop culture. Her latest book,The Boomer Book of Christmas Memories , tells the hidden histories behind Baby Boomer traditions like aluminum trees, Green Bean Casseroles, the TV specials and songs of the 50s and 60s, and of course, all those wonderful toys--including Life games and Chatty Cathys.
The Boomer Book of Christmas Memories is available as both a print or eBook--both in full color.