CLOSE

Catching Up With 9 Advertising Icons

There's a lot of buzz around this year's slate of Super Bowl ads. But will you even remember these commercials next year? Let's catch up with nine advertising icons who've managed to stick around for at least a generation—in our memories, at least.

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 appeared in commercials for 6th Avenue Electronics and Neil's Auto Group, a Long Island car dealership. 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 former 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 was not successful.

2. The Gerber Baby

babyjpg1.jpgMystery author Ann Turner Cook found fame early in life, as the model for the Gerber logo. As a four-month-old, 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.

While we're on the subject, Snopes has debunked the sub-Saharan legend that Africans believed jars of Gerber actually contained liquefied Caucasian baby.

3. Wendy

wendy.jpg

Founded in 1969, Wendy's was named for Dave Thomas' 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 2007, in addition to her frequent dining, she was operating 32 Wendy's restaurants with her siblings.

4. Little Miss Coppertone

coppertone.jpg 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.

5. Dutch Boy

dutchboy.jpgThe 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.

Dave Yates has written about Dutch Boy, explaining 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.

6. Sailor Jack

crackerjack.jpg
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. The image of Sailor Jack is etched into his tombstone at St. Henry's Cemetery in Chicago.

7. The FedEx Fast Talker/The MicroMachines Guy

fedex.gifJohn 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). More recently, he parodied his fast-talking self on Robot Chicken.

8. Little Debbie

LittleDebbie.jpg"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. According to a 2007 press release: "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."

9. Mikey

mikey.jpgContrary 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 involved at all. He found work as an advertising salesman for WKTU, a New York radio station.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Paramount Pictures
arrow
entertainment
25 Wonderful Facts About It’s a Wonderful Life
Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

Mary Owen wasn’t welcomed into the world until more than a decade after Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life made its premiere in 1946. But she grew up cherishing the film and getting the inside scoop on its making from its star, Donna Reed—who just so happens to be her mom. Though Reed passed away in 1986, Owen has stood as one of the film’s most dedicated historians, regularly introducing screenings of the ultimate holiday classic, including during its annual run at New York City’s IFC Center. She shared some of her mom’s memories with us to help reveal 25 things you might not have known about It’s a Wonderful Life.

1. IT ALL BEGAN WITH A CHRISTMAS CARD.

After years of unsuccessfully trying to shop his short story, The Greatest Gift, to publishers, Philip Van Doren Stern decided to give the gift of words to his closest friends for the holidays when he printed up 200 copies of the story and sent them out as a 21-page Christmas card. David Hempstead, a producer at RKO Pictures, ended up getting a hold of it, and purchased the movie rights for $10,000.

2. CARY GRANT WAS SET TO STAR IN THE ADAPTATION.

When RKO purchased the rights, they did so with the plan of having Cary Grant in the lead. But, as happens so often in Hollywood, the project went through some ups and downs in the development process. In 1945, after a number of rewrites, RKO sold the movie rights to Frank Capra, who quickly recruited Jimmy Stewart to play George Bailey.

3. DOROTHY PARKER WORKED ON THE SCRIPT.


Getty Images

By the time It’s a Wonderful Life made it into theaters, the story was much different from Stern’s original tale. That’s because more than a half-dozen people contributed to the screenplay, including some of the most acclaimed writers of the time—Dorothy Parker, Dalton Trumbo, Marc Connelly, and Clifford Odets among them.

4. SCREENWRITERS FRANCES GOODRICH AND ALBERT HACKETT WALKED OUT.

Though they’re credited as the film’s screenwriters with Capra, the husband and wife writing duo were not pleased with the treatment they received from Capra. “Frank Capra could be condescending,” Hackett said in an interview, “and you just didn't address Frances as ‘my dear woman.’ When we were pretty far along in the script but not done, our agent called and said, ‘Capra wants to know how soon you'll be finished.’ Frances said, ‘We're finished right now.’ We put our pens down and never went back to it.”

5. CAPRA DIDN’T DO THE BEST JOB OF SELLING THE FILM TO STEWART.

After laying out the plot line of the film for Stewart in a meeting, Capra realized that, “This really doesn’t sound so good, does it?” Stewart recalled in an interview. Stewart’s reply? “Frank: If you want me to be in a picture about a guy that wants to kill himself and an angel comes down named Clarence who can’t swim and I save him, when do we start?”

6. IT WAS DONNA REED’S FIRST STARRING ROLE.


Getty Images

Though Donna Reed was hardly a newcomer when It’s a Wonderful Life rolled around, having appeared in nearly 20 projects previously, the film did mark her first starring role. It’s difficult to imagine anyone else in the role today, but Reed had some serious competition from Jean Arthur. “[Frank Capra] had seen mom in They Were Expendable and liked her,” Mary Owen told Mental Floss. “When Capra met my mother at MGM, he knew she'd be just right for Mary Bailey.”

7. MARY OWEN IS NOT NAMED AFTER MARY BAILEY.

Before you ask whether Owen was named after her mom’s much beloved It’s a Wonderful Life character, “The answer is no,” says Owen. “I was named after my great grandmother, Mary Mullenger.”

8. BEULAH BONDI WAS A PRO AT PLAYING STEWART’S MOM.

Beulah Bondi, who plays Mrs. Bailey, didn’t need a lot of rehearsal to play Jimmy Stewart’s mom. She had done it three times previously—in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Of Human Hearts, and Vivacious Lady—and once later on The Jimmy Stewart Show: The Identity Crisis.

9. CAPRA, REED, AND STEWART HAVE ALL CALLED IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE THEIR FAVORITE MOVIE.


Liberty Films

Though their collective filmographies consist of a couple hundred movies, Capra, Reed, and Stewart have all cited It’s a Wonderful Life as their favorite movie. In his autobiography, The Name Above the Title, Capra took that praise even one step further, writing: “I thought it was the greatest film I ever made. Better yet, I thought it was the greatest film anybody ever made.”

10. THE MOVIE BOMBED AT THE BOX OFFICE.

Though it has become a quintessential American classic, It’s a Wonderful Life was not an immediate hit with audiences. In fact, it put Capra $525,000 in the hole, which left him scrambling to finance his production company’s next picture, State of the Union.

11. A COPYRIGHT LAPSE AIDED THE FILM’S POPULARITY.

Though it didn’t make much of a dent at the box office, It’s a Wonderful Life found a whole new life on television—particularly when its copyright lapsed in 1974, making it available royalty-free to anyone who wanted to show it for the next 20 years. (Which would explain why it was on television all the time during the holiday season.) The free-for-all ended in 1994.

12. THE ROCK THAT BROKE THE WINDOW OF THE GRANVILLE HOUSE WAS ALL REAL.


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain 

Though Capra had a stuntman at the ready in order to shoot out the window of the Granville House in a scene that required Donna Reed to throw a rock through it, it was all a waste of money. “Mom threw the rock herself that broke the window in the Granville House,” Owen says. “On the first try.”

13. IT TOOK TWO MONTHS TO BUILD BEDFORD FALLS.

Shot on a budget of $3.7 million (which was a lot by mid-1940s standards), Bedford Falls—which covered a full four acres of RKO’s Encino Ranch—was one of the most elaborate movie sets ever built up to that time, with 75 stores and buildings, 20 fully-grown oak trees, factories, residential areas, and a 300-yard-long Main Street.

14. SENECA FALLS, NEW YORK IS “THE REAL BEDFORD FALLS.”

Though Bedford Falls is a fictitious place, the town of Seneca Falls, New York swears that it's the real-life inspiration for George Bailey’s charming hometown. And each year they program a full lineup of holiday-themed events to put locals (and yuletide visitors) into the holiday spirit.

15. THE GYM FLOOR-TURNED-SWIMMING POOL WAS REAL.

Though the bulk of the film was filmed on pre-built sets, the dance at the gym was filmed on location at Beverly Hills High School. And the retractable floor was no set piece. Better known as the Swim Gym, the school is currently in the process of restoring the landmark filming location.

16. ALFALFA IS THE TEENAGER BEHIND THAT SWIMMING POOL PRANK.

Though he’s uncredited in the part, if Freddie Othello—the little prankster who pushes the button that opens the pool that swallows George and Mary up—looks familiar, that’s because he is played by Carl Switzer, a.k.a. Alfalfa of The Little Rascals.

17. DONNA REED WON $50 FROM LIONEL BARRYMORE ... FOR MILKING A COW.

Though she was a Hollywood icon, Donna Reed—born Donnabelle Mullenger—was a farm girl at heart who came to Los Angeles by way of Denison, Iowa. Lionel Barrymore (a.k.a. Mr. Potter) didn’t believe it. “So he bet $50 that she couldn't milk a cow,” recalls Owen. “She said it was the easiest $50 she ever made.”

18. THE FILM WAS SHOT DURING A HEAT WAVE.

It may be an iconic Christmas movie, but It’s a Wonderful Life was actually shot in the summer of 1946—in the midst of a heat wave, no less. At one point, Capra had to shut filming down for a day because of the sky-high temperatures—which also explains why Stewart is clearly sweating in key moments of the film.

19. CAPRA ENGINEERED A NEW KIND OF MOVIE SNOW.

Capra—who trained as an engineer—and special effects supervisor Russell Shearman engineered a new type of artificial snow for the film. At the time, painted cornflakes were the most common form of fake snow, but they posed a bit of an audio problem for Capra. So he and Shearman opted to mix foamite (the stuff you find in fire extinguishers) with sugar and water to create a less noisy option.

20. THE MOVIE WASN’T REQUIRED VIEWING IN REED’S HOUSEHOLD.

Though It’s a Wonderful Life is a staple of many family holiday movie marathons, that wasn’t the case in Reed’s home. In fact, Owen herself didn’t see the film until three decades after its release. “I saw it in the late 1970s at the Nuart Theatre in L.A. and loved it,” she says.

21. ZUZU DIDN’T SEE THE FILM UNTIL 1980.

Karolyn Grimes, who played Zuzu in the film, didn’t see the film until 1980. “I never took the time to see the movie,” she told Detroit’s WWJ in 2013. “I never just sat down and watched the film.”

22. THE FBI SAW THE FILM. THEY DIDN’T LIKE IT.

In 1947, the FBI issued a memo noting the film as a potential “Communist infiltration of the motion picture industry,” citing its “rather obvious attempts to discredit bankers by casting Lionel Barrymore as a ‘Scrooge-type’ so that he would be the most hated man in the picture. This, according to these sources, is a common trick used by Communists.”

23. THE MOVIE’S BERT AND ERNIE HAVE NO RELATION TO SESAME STREET.

Yes, the cop and cab driver in It’s a Wonderful Life are named Bert and Ernie, respectively. But Jim Henson’s longtime writing partner, Jerry Juhl, insists that it’s by coincidence only that they share their names with Sesame Street’s stripe-shirted buds. “I was the head writer for the Muppets for 36 years and one of the original writers on Sesame Street,” Juhl told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2000. “The rumor about It's a Wonderful Life has persisted over the years. I was not present at the naming, but I was always positive [the rumor] was incorrect. Despite his many talents, Jim had no memory for details like this. He knew the movie, of course, but would not have remembered the cop and the cab driver. I was not able to confirm this with Jim before he died, but shortly thereafter I spoke to Jon Stone, Sesame Street's first producer and head writer and a man largely responsible for the show's format … He assured me that Ernie and Bert were named one day when he and Jim were studying the prototype puppets. They decided that one of them looked like an Ernie, and the other one looked like a Bert. The movie character names are purely coincidental.”

24. SOME PEOPLE ARE ANXIOUS FOR A SEQUEL.

Well, two people: Producers Allen J. Schwalb and Bob Farnsworth, who announced in 2013 that they would be continuing the story with a sequel, It’s a Wonderful Life: The Rest of the Story, which they planned for a 2015 release. It didn’t take long for Paramount, which owns the copyright, to step in and assure furious fans of the original film that “No project relating to It’s a Wonderful Life can proceed without a license from Paramount. To date, these individuals have not obtained any of the necessary rights, and we would take all appropriate steps to protect those rights.”

25. THE FILM’S ENDURING LEGACY WAS SURPRISING TO CAPRA.

“It’s the damnedest thing I’ve ever seen," Capra said of the film’s classic status. "The film has a life of its own now and I can look at it like I had nothing to do with it. I’m like a parent whose kid grows up to be president. I’m proud… but it’s the kid who did the work. I didn’t even think of it as a Christmas story when I first ran across it. I just liked the idea.”

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
arrow
entertainment
Listen to What Darth Vader Sounded Like On the Star Wars Set
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

The voice of Darth Vader, provided by James Earl Jones, is one of the most iconic aspects of the original Star Wars movies. But James Earl Jones wasn't the actor wearing that outfit—it was British actor David Prowse, who was cast in part because he was huge (reportedly 6'5" and a former body-building champion).

George Lucas always intended to replace Prowse's voice, but it's still a bit of a shock to hear a muffled British voice coming out of Darth Vader's helmet. Here's video showing what Darth Vader sounded like on the set before James Earl Jones re-recorded the dialogue.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios