“Eenie Meanie Chili Beanie, the spirits are about to speak”

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‘The time Rocky starred in a Hershey commercial’

I was all set to write about the origins of the Henry HooHah when, oh no, I saw in the Times that June Foray had died.

I’ll be back. Tune in next week for the origins of the HooHah

Now the name “June Foray”, no doubt, does not ring a bell. But for those of you, like me, who grew up watching the ‘Rocky and Bullwinkle Show’, you’ll know her as the voice of Rocket J. Squirrel, AKA ‘Rocky’. (Yup, Rocky was a girl.)

Now, it may be hard for those of you who did not grow up watching this show to understand not only how hilarious it was, but also how, um, culturally pervasive. Well, at least at my house. We kids would torture each other — and our parents — by endlessly repeating the show’s catch phrases, “Eenie meanie chili beanie” being just one example. And the puns? Ouch. Here’s the Times, from that juicy June obit:  Continue reading

Radio Days

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‘Did I just hear somebody say “sushi”?’

The Dude and I grabbed some sushi last night. (Why is it that one ‘grabs’ sushi, I wonder?) And, as I deftly dipped a chunk of inside-out California Roll into a little dish of sodium-reduced soy sauce, I was transported back, in a rather Proustian tasting-the-madeleine-like way, to one of the very first times I ever had sushi.

It was in Chicago, back in those golden years of traveling around the country on somebody else’s dime. I was working in advertising, natch. On this radio project that involved interviewing people who had lost their money because they were silly enough to be carrying actual money instead of American Express Travelers’ Cheques.

We were using this interviewer named Alan Kalter (he got to be pretty famous as an announcer on Letterman, but, trust me, this was way before that). Anyway, Alan was in a glass-fronted room talking to a group of losers (er, people who’d lost their money) while the producer and I watched and listened and prompted him (via a tiny wireless earpiece mic) to ask certain questions, or to get the interviewee to repeat a phrase more clearly or loudly.

See, we were recording the interviews so we could piece together some ‘it-could-happen-to-you’ radio commercials. So we needed certain phrases, like ‘I lost my money’, ‘My vacation was ruined’, and, of course, ‘I wish I’d been carrying American Express Travelers’ Cheques’ to come out nice and crisp and clear. Continue reading

Pantene, Queen of the Desert

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‘The Mojave was hot; the Best Western was not’

Every time I’ve considered whining about the heat this particularly-hot Northeastern Summer, I remind myself of the August I spent shooting a Pantene commercial smack-dab in the middle of the Mojave Desert.

I can hear you now: ‘Deserts aren’t so bad; after all, it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity‘. Well, let me tell you — and this is coming from a girl who grew up near St. Louis, where hapless souls from the British Foreign Service got hazardous duty pay on account of the steamy summers — ‘Uh-uh, in the desert, my friends, it most definitely is the heat.’

Okay, you’re probably wondering Why On Earth anyone would shoot a shampoo commercial in the middle of the Mojave Desert at all, much less in August.

Well, let me digress a moment to tell you that shooting hair is notoriously tricky. You get your flyaways, your frizz, your fluffy nimbus (nimbi?) When it comes to hair, it truly is a case of ‘it’s the humidity‘. So, if you don’t want humidity (and if you have the good sense the creative gods gave you) you shoot the darned stuff in a studio. Or you drag everyone — director, cameramen, gaffers, PAs, craft services, creatives, models, and even the clients — to the Mojave Desert. Continue reading

General Foods, we salute you

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‘Drinking the Kool-Aid (and Country Time) in the 80s’

Those of us who worked on the General Foods account at Ogilvy used to kid around a lot (big surprise; see ‘Short Men and Flat-Chested Women’ for evidence). We used to say that nothing General Foods made was really a ‘food’. You know, something that could actually sustain life. If you were stranded on a desert island with only GF products to eat, you would, basically, starve.

Because everything that General Foods (or GF as it was fondly known around the shop) was actually a powder. A powder that you stirred into water (Kool-Aid, Tang, Country Time Lemonade-Flavor Drink Mix), brewed with water (Maxwell House Coffee), shook up with meat (Shake ‘n Bake), or mixed with other assorted stuff (Good Seasons Salad Dressing Mix). I don’t mention Jello here, even though it was in fact made by GF, because it (and Bill Cosby) were Y&R’s problem, er product.

My first Ogilvy commercial was one for Shake ‘n Bake. This was in the early 80s, so it actually did not use the famous ‘and I helped’ line. Nope, I got to do commercials with this spokesperson called Pete the Butcher. The 80s were replete with spokespersons: Cora (Margaret Hamilton, who was the Bad Witch in the Wizard of Oz) for Maxwell House, Grandpa for Country Time. And those were just some of the Ogilvy GF spokespeople. (Don’t forget Bill Cosby for Jello; as if you could.)

Here’s a typical example of a Shake ‘n Bake Pete the Butcher spot that I found. I’m not sure if I did this one or not. That tells you something right there, I’m afraid. Continue reading

Around the World in 80 Shoots

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‘Part One: Have script, will travel’

Remember ‘Rosemary’s Baby?’ Of course you do. Remember that scene where Roman and Minnie Castevet, Rosemary’s creepy-nice Dakota neighbors who are really (spoiler alert!) witches, invite Rosemary and Guy over for cocktails?

Well, Roman (nice naming job there, Roman Polanski) gets to talking about his travels: ‘Name a place! Go ahead, any place.’

So Guy gamely goes, ‘Dubrovnik (or someplace like that)’ To which Roman says ‘Ah, Dubrovnik! Wonderful place. I’ve been there.’

Roman bragging about his travels to poor ole gullible Rosemary and Guy

Hey, Roman. I’ve been where you’ve been. But on Somebody Else’s nickel

Well, hah! Name a place, and chances are not only have I been there, I didn’t spend a dime of my own money to go. In fact, I was paid to go there!

Welcome to yet another wonderful thing about the wonderful world of advertising. At least, when I was in it. We used to travel all over the darned world shooting commercials. Everywhere!

Continue reading

Karl Malden’s nose

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‘Don’t leave home without it.’

Fair warning: if you are related to Karl Malden, or are the president of his Fan Club or anything like that, you may wish to stop reading this post. Switch to the one about the silo. Or the one about Bruce Dern and the sweepstakes.

Because this is an Ad Story in which Karl is the butt (as opposed to the nose) of the joke. But he deserved it. As you will see. To mangle a phrase, ‘Hell hath no fury like a bunch of creative women dissed’.

First, a little (probably necessary) background. Karl Malden was a movie star once upon a time (terrific as Mitch in ‘Streetcar Named Desire’; good in ‘On the Waterfront’ too). But it was his run as a police detective on a TV show called ‘The Streets of San Francisco’ (with a youngster named Michael Douglas as his sidekick) that got him his looooong lucrative run as the Spokesguy for American Express Travelers’ Cheques (‘Don’t leave home without them’).

Karl Malden and his nose (and Michael Douglas too) in ‘The Streets of San Francisco’

It grieves me to realize that I just explained who the hell Karl Malden was and now I have to explain ‘travelers’ cheques’. (Do they even make travelers’ cheques anymore?) Anyway, travelers’ cheques were these things you’d get before going on a trip to use instead of cash because, if you lost them or (gasp) if a bad guy stole them, you didn’t lose out. American Express would replace them, and you’d be fine.

In order to get people to use their travelers’ cheques instead of dangerous old cash, AmEx (as we who worked on their business affectionately called them) ran these commercials where pathetic travelers who used cash were duped and/or robbed and lost their money. Then Karl, wearing his trademark tough-guy hat, Continue reading

Proof that Swedes are geniuses

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As if we needed any more evidence of superior Nordic brainpower, watch this:

Heh heh heh. The BookBook. I can just hear Grandpa Peterson chuckling over that one. Right after he finished his raspberry pie and very-weak-but-constantly-present coffee.

Speaking of food, I’m glad to see that my fellow Swedes are concentrating their brains on what they are good at (witty commercials, impossible-to-construct furniture) because they are certainly no great shakes in the culinary department.

My Grandma Peterson used to serve a traditional dish called lutefisk every year at Christmas. It’s made from a fish that’s been Continue reading