Our fabulous research editor Kara Kovalchik has been catching up with the previous generation of advertising icons. Here's what she learned.
1. Crazy Eddie
Crazy Eddie dominated the New York airwaves from the mid-seventies until bankruptcy in 1989. Not until Eddie Antar fled to Israel to escape fraud charges did I realize the TV spokesnut and CEO were not the same person. (I was 10, and in my defense probably hadn't given this much thought.)
Crazy Eddie (the actor) was played by Jerry Carroll, a DJ for WPIX-FM in New York. Since 1989, Carroll has done commercials for 6th Avenue Electronics and Neil's Auto Group, a Long Island car dealership, among others. He started an advertising agency with his wife called East Coast Media. And he reprised his role during the unsuccessful Crazy Eddie relaunch.
After his extradition in 1992, Crazy Eddie (the CEO) was sentenced to 12.5 years in jail. One of the U.S. Attorneys prosecuting him was Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff. The verdict was thrown out, and Eddie later accepted a plea agreement that put him behind bars for nearly seven years. An attempt to revive Crazy Eddie (the store) as an online retailer failed. Eddie recently appeared on CNBC to discuss his downfall.
You can see some classic Crazy Eddie commercials at YesButNoButYes.
2. The Gerber Baby
Mystery author Ann Turner Cook found fame early in life, as the model for the Gerber logo. As a four-month-old baby, she was the subject of a simple charcoal sketch by her Westport, CT, neighbor, Dorothy Hope Smith "“ an artist who specialized in drawing children.
After a lifetime of teaching literature, Cook wrote three novels: Trace Their Shadows, Shadow Over Cedar Key, and Homosassa Shadows.
And Snopes has debunked the sub-Saharan legend that Africans believed jars of Gerber actually contained liquefied Caucasian baby.
Founded in 1969, Wendy's was named for Dave Thomas' second daughter, Melinda Lou (nicknamed Wendy by her siblings). She went on to attend the University of Florida. And now Wendy takes her kids to the restaurant that bears her name every day. Just like her father.
As of this past May, in addition to her frequent dining, she was operating 32 Wendy's restaurants with her siblings.
4. Bob's Big Boy
Founder Bob Wian's inspiration for the Big Boy icon came from Richard Woodruff. "Woodruff was a rotund young boy who had a curious pompadour hairstyle and would help Wian out with chores in exchange for free food," recalled an article in Nation's Restaurant News. "The plump Woodruff, nicknamed 'Fat Boy' by the hourly gentry at Bob's, often showed up for work in a pair of baggy jeans giving the little endomorph an almost cartoonish appearance. By chance a Hollywood artist and a regular at the restaurant happened to sketch the boy on a napkin. Since that afternoon the image of the chubby lad in checkered coveralls with a hamburger in one hand has become one of the most highly recognized and lasting trademarks in the foodservice industry."
Woodruff, who grew to be a massive 6-foot-6, 300-pound local legend in Glendale, California, passed away in 1986. He was 54.
5. Little Miss Coppertone
Joyce Ballantyne Brand used her 3-year-old daughter, Cheri, as the model for Little Miss Coppertone in 1959. Today Cheri works as a personal trainer at a YMCA in Florida. According to the St. Petersburg Times, her mother has lived a fascinating life. "She spent two years at the University of Nebraska and two years at the American Academy of Art in Chicago. She met and married her first husband, artist Eddie Augustiny. She said she drew pictures for dictionaries, did maps for Rand McNally, painted murals for movie theaters and learned to fly a plane. She was barely 25."
Ms. Ballantyne Brand went on to create memorable work for Pampers, Ovaltine and Schlitz. In the mid-1970s, she and her husband moved from Chicago to Ocala, Florida. She passed away in 2006.
6. Dutch Boy
The Dutch Boy was, in fact, an Irish kid from Montclair, New Jersey. The Dutch boy idea came from a series of sketches by Rudolph Yook, which were to be refined by portrait artist Lawrence Earle in 1907. He spotted Michael Brady and offered him a $2/day cash windfall for posing duties.
Contractor Dave Yates has written about Dutch Boy. He explained what Brady did with his paycheck: "Arrangements were made: wooden shoes, blue coveralls and the cap were purchased, and Michael was asked to wear them for a few days so they'd look natural on him. His playmates had great fun at his expense until they discovered he was being paid the princely sum of $2 per day, which in 1907 bought great gobs of candy and soda pop for him and his friends. He consumed so much himself that, by the third day, he became ill and the family doctor was summoned to diagnose a mysterious stomach ailment!"
Brady grew up to become a political cartoonist, whose work was published by the Brooklyn Eagle. His Dutch Boy roots were the subject of this autobiographical cartoon from 1931.
7. Sailor Jack
Boxes of Cracker Jack featured Sailor Jack and his faithful dog, Bingo. Jack was inspired by Robert Rueckheim, the grandson of the company's founder. Robert tragically died of pneumonia when he was only eight. And since we've talked a lot about Strange Gravestones lately, here's another, courtesy of Kal's Pals: The image of Sailor Jack is etched into his tombstone at St. Henry's Cemetery in Chicago.
8. The FedEx Fast Talker/The MicroMachines Guy
John Moschitta, Jr., has talked his way into commercials for both Federal Express and Micro Machines. He's done a stint on Sesame Street, served as the announcer on the new Hollywood Squares, and lent his voice to Transformers: The Movie. Moschitta has also rapidly summarized our greatest literature in Ten Classics in Ten Minutes.
He was #6 on a recent list of the Ten Creepiest Advertising Icons (Crazy Eddie also made the list, at #10). Most recently, he parodied his fast-talking self on Robot Chicken.
9. Little Debbie
"Little Debbie" is Debbie McKee, granddaughter of founder O.D. McKee. She's parlayed her child modeling into a career with McKee Foods, where she's currently on the Board of Directors.
Little Debbie now sponsors NASCAR, but on her terms. "The McKee family wanted an association with a NASCAR team, but on terms that upheld its convictions. Typical sponsors want maximum exposure. That's what they pay for. Little Debbie may seem to be everywhere, but come Saturday, you won't find her at a NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series track. The McKee family observes its Sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. They are Seventh day Adventists and while their products may be sold on their Sabbath, the business of promoting sales stops for one day each week."
Contrary to popular belief, Mikey did not die in a tragic Pop Rocks/soda accident. I enjoyed how Wikipedia put it: "The myth — long since disproved as both nonfactual (as John Gilchrist is still alive) and scientifically improbable (as the chemicals in both Pop Rocks and soda are not capable of exploding a human stomach) — still resurfaces every few years, usually surrounding an identifiable child actor."
Gilchrist went on to appear in over 250 commercials in his teenage years. As of 2000, John Gilchrist had found a home on the other side of the camera. Or more accurately, in a different room entirely, with cameras not at all involved. He's an advertising salesman for WTKU, a New York radio station.