Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Cigareets and Whiskey

Been a topsy-turvey holiday period (we got the tree up barely a week or so before, Mom fixed cookies just yesterday, we didn't even have a meal together), plus stress and such (though I finally submitted my chapter for the upcoming Kermit Culture anthology of Muppt essays to the editors). Anyway, we'll see if I can blog more in the coming year (certainly stockpiled plenty of subjects and images), maybe even take a stab at this here "daily blogging" fad.

For now, no cigareets, but have some whiskey:

I'm often fascinated by vintage advertising, especially pertaining to products where public perception has changed considerably in the intervening years. In this ad, which appeared in newspapers in November 1936, the first element that stood out, thanks to the text on the coin, is a very clear "Hey, prohibition ended three years ago! Yay for legal booze!" statement. Secondly, I don't trust "Silver Dollar" Brady in his pilgrim outfit and that unnerving grin, carving the turkey with a little too much zeal. He might be trustworthy sober, but no possible good can come from adding quantities of bourbon whiskey to the equation.

I did some further digging on this artifact. "Silver Dollar" Brady, real name Tom Brady, is not actually a pitchman created for the brand. He was a wealthy and reasonably high-profile (and colorful) Dallas racehorse owner and rodeo organizer. He earned his nickname through his passion for silver dollars, amassing a collection of same and, according to newspaper accounts, paying in same (and urging others to do likewise to increase their circulation over all that cumbersome paper money). Clearly Seagram's (the owner of the brand) saw a good thing and hired him as their public face (supposedly there was "79 years of whiskey making experience" behind the product, but I can't find anything on it prior to 1936, shortly before Brady came on board). In the whiskey ads, supposedly penned by Brady, he comes across as a low-rent, thirsty Will Rogers, dispensing homespun wisdom, dropped d's and g's, and of course liquor with equal equanimity.

As for the product, David Shea, an expert on such matters, tells me 90 proof provides "a pretty good kick in the pants."
In 1936 ads in this series, Brady compared Silver Dollar Whiskey to prize-fighters like "Gentleman" Jim Corbett: starts out nice and polite but then doles out a powerful punch. By the fall of 1937, the tactic had changed, focusing on affordability, history, and how it suits everybody." They were also tied to Rogers-esque subjects such as politicians and Congress. Don't worry your head about parties and elections and all that high-falutin' stuff, just get yerself a nice shot of Silver Dollar Whiskey! (Does that thing come in its own glass flask? Certainly what the bottle looks like to me.)

Silver Dollar Whiskey appears to be long gone, though Seagram's is still around.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Little Crib of Horace

One of the saddest fates that can befall a cartoon or comics character is when, in an attempt to revive a "franchise" or push merchandise or follow a trend, they are fundamentally altered, most often by just switching their ages. Juvenilization is seldom pretty, and it's often seen as a 1980s thing (Muppet Babies was quite the hit). As far as I'm aware, however, the earliest example, discounting one-shot cartoons where Bugs or Woody Woodpecker become babies or flashback, is Little Archie. The main reason Little Archie, at its best, holds up is because it had a kind of logical basis (even if it had to skip continuity issues and assume that Veronica has always lived in Riverdale), it added new characters, and frankly it was more open about the often harsh nature of childhood than the wholesome scrubbed teen Archie stories were (in particular, Archie and Jughead, the "good" guys, routinely joining Reggie to humiliate, exploit, or pummel picked-on classmate Ambrose).

These approaches generally homogenize characters and simplify their personalities. It hasn't died out, alas, as Baby Looney Tunes attests. It can become even weirder, however, when the characters in question have already been stripped of most or all of their gumption, as with Mickey Mouse in the 1980s, when the "Disney Babies" first surfaced. They still appear on and off, and serve only to fulfill a "Look how cute" function, in a world where the Disney Babies (actually called that in one book) have no discernible personalities whatsoever outside of being cute and nice and emotionally fragile.

And this was worse when they went beyond Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, et., in search of more characters. To wit, gaze at the image below:

At least Baby Horace retained his collar (this book, picked up for sixty cents, has Horace missing his blanket, but he's quickly comforted when his newfound daycare pals let him use the daycare's teddy bear. The end.) While revivals of Horace and Clarabelle are generally a good thing, this is just sad.

Moments ago, I took a closer look at the endpapers, however, and found this, which is even worse:

No doubt somewhere out there, they also have an infant Phantom Blot (the shy Blotty, who feels self-conscious because he looks different) or a Baby Scrooge (Booge?) who likes money only because it's shiny. Sheesh. (This is still less disturbing than that Baby Popeye image that circulated awhile back, though, with a teeny tiny Baby Baby Swea'pea hung around Baby Olive's neck).