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


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

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.

Kerry Hayes, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Legendary Pictures
10 Monster Facts About Pacific Rim
Kerry Hayes, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Legendary Pictures
Kerry Hayes, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Legendary Pictures

Legendary Pictures took a gamble on Pacific Rim, Guillermo del Toro’s 2013 monster/robot slugfest. Since it wasn’t based on a preexisting franchise, it lacked a built-in fanbase. That can be a serious drawback in our current age of blockbuster remakes and reboots. The movie underperformed domestically; in America, it grossed just over $100 million against its $180 million budget. Yet Pacific Rim was a huge hit overseas and acquired enough fans to earn itself a sequel, Pacific Rim Uprising, which arrives in theaters this week. Here are 10 things you might not have known about the movie that started it all.


Idris Elba in 'Pacific Rim' (2013)
Warner Bros.

One foggy day in 2007, Beacham—who’d recently moved to California—was walking along Santa Monica Beach. As he looked out at the Ferris wheel on the city’s eponymous pier, he pictured a looming sea monster. Then he imagined an equally large robot gearing up to fight the beast. “They just sort of materialized out of the fog, these vast godlike things,” Beacham said. He decided to pursue the concept further after coming up with the idea of human co-pilots who’d need to operate their robot as a team, which added a new thematic dimension.

“I didn’t know I had something I wanted to write until I realized these robots are driven by two pilots, and what happens when one of those people dies? What happens to the leftovers? Then it became a story about loss, moving on after loss, and dealing with survivor’s guilt," Beacham said. "That made the monsters scarier because now you care about the people who are in these robots.”


Pacific Rim was picked up by Legendary Pictures and handed over to director Guillermo del Toro. A huge fan of monster cinema, del Toro enthusiastically co-wrote the final screenplay with Beacham. Sixteen concept artists were hired to sketch original robot and creature designs for the film. “We would get together every day like kids and draw all day,” del Toro told the New York Daily News. “We designed about a hundred Kaijus and about a hundred Jaegers and every week we would do an American Idol and we would vote [some of] them out.”


In “Charlie Kelly: King of the Rats,” the tenth episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia's sixth season, Charlie Day’s character gives us a darkly comedic monologue about rodent extermination. Little did the actor know that the performance would open a big opportunity for him. Impressed by the rat speech, del Toro offered Day the part of Dr. Newton Geizler, Pacific Rim’s socially-inept kaiju expert. “He said to himself, ‘That’s my guy. That guy should be in my next movie because if he killed rats, he can kill the monster,’” Day recalled during an appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. On the movie set, del Toro often joked about how much he enjoys It’s Always Sunny. As a way of repaying his director, Day helped get del Toro a minor role in the series.


Most of the film’s special effects were computer-generated, but not everything was digital. For the robot cockpit scenes, del Toro had his team build the interior of a full-scale Jaeger head. The finished product stood four stories tall and weighed 20 tons. And like a Tilt-A-Whirl from hell, it was designed to rock around violently on its platform via a network of hydraulics. Once inside, the actors were forced to don 40-pound suits of armor. Then the crew strapped their feet into an apparatus that Charlie Hunnam has compared to a high-resistance elliptical machine.

Certain shots also required del Toro to dump gallons of water all over his exhausted, physically-strained stars. So yeah, the experience wasn’t much fun. “We saw every one of the actors break down on that set except for the female lead actress Rinko Kikuchi," del Toro said. "She’s the only actor that didn’t snap."


Del Toro wanted Gipsy Danger, his ‘bot, to have the self-confident air of a wild west gunslinger. To that end, he and concept artist Oscar Chichoni developed a swaggering gait that was based on John Wayne’s signature hip movements. The Jaeger’s Art Deco-like design was influenced by the Chrysler and Empire State Buildings.


Hailed as the “fortieth greatest guitarist of all time” by Rolling Stone, Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello rocked the MTV generation with hits like “Bulls on Parade” and “Killing in the Name.” Pacific Rim bears his mark as well. The film’s lead composer was Ramin Djawadi, whose other works include the Game of Thrones theme. Wanting to add a “rock element” to the Pacific Rim soundtrack, he and del Toro reached out to Morello. The guitarist didn’t need much persuading.

“When they asked me to put some giant robot riffs and screaming underwater monster licks on the film score, I was all in,” Morello said. Djwadi was pleased with the rocker's contributions to the project. As he told the press: “Tom’s unique style and sounds really defined our robots.”


A definite highlight of this movie is Gipsy Danger’s duel with the winged kaiju Otachi in downtown Hong Kong. Both characters were computer-generated, as were the majority of the streets, cars, and towers in this epic sequence. However, there is one moment which was at least partly realized with practical effects. Gipsy punches through the wall of an office building early in the fight. We see her fist rip through a series of cubicles and gradually decelerate until it lightly taps a chair with just enough force to set off a Newton’s Cradle desktop toy. For that shot, effects artists at 32Ten Studios constructed a miniature office building interior featuring 1/4-scale desks, cubicles, and padded chairs. The level of detail here was amazing: 32Ten’s staff adorned each individual workspace with lamps, computers, wastebaskets, and teeny, tiny Post-it notes.


Rinko Kikuchi in 'Pacific Rim' (2013)
Kerry Hayes, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Legendary Pictures

Audiences reacted strongly to Kikuchi’s character Mako Mori, who inspired an alternative to the famous Bechdel test. Some critics praised the culmination of her relationship with Raleigh Beckett (Hunnam). Although it’s common practice for the male and female leads in an action flick to end their movie with a smooch, Mori and Beckett share a platonic hug as Pacific Rim draws to a close. Del Toro revealed that he shot three different versions of that final scene. “We did one version where they kiss and it almost felt weird. They’re good friends, they’re pals, good colleagues,” del Toro said.


At the end of the credits, there’s a tribute that reads: “This film is dedicated to the memories of monster masters Ray Harryhausen and Ishiro Honda.” Harryhausen passed away on May 7, 2013—two months before Pacific Rim’s release. A great stop-motion animator, he breathed life into such creatures as the towering Rhedosaurus in 1953’s The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms.

Ishiro Honda was another giant of the kaiju genre, having directed Rodan, War of the Gargantuas, and numerous Godzilla films. Del Toro has great respect for both men. When Harryhausen died, the director said, “I lost a member of my family today, a man who was as present in my childhood as any of my relatives.” He also adores the Japanese monster classics and says he’d love to see a Pacific Rim-Godzilla crossover someday. Maybe it’ll happen.


If you’re not familiar with the practice of “Sweding,” let us fill you in: The 2008 comedy Be Kind, Rewind is about two co-workers at a VHS rental store who accidentally erase every tape in stock. Hoping to save their skins, they create ultra low-budget remakes of all the films they’ve destroyed using cardboard sets and cheap costumes. It’s a process these guys call “Sweding” as a ploy to convince everyone that their (unintentionally hilarious) knockoffs were produced in Sweden. Since Be Kind, Rewind was released, Sweding has become a legitimate art form.

When Pacific Rim’s first trailer debuted in 2013, YouTubers Brian Harley and Brodie Mash created a shot-for-shot, Sweded duplicate of the preview. Instead of state-of-the-art CG effects, their version used toy helicopters, duct-tape monster masks, and an ocean of packing peanuts—and del Toro loved it. At WonderCon 2013, he praised the video, saying that it inspired the editing used in Pacific Rim’s third trailer. Harley and Mash happened to be at the same gathering. When del Toro met the comedic duo, he exclaimed “I loved it! My daughters loved it, we watched it a bunch of times!” Then he invited the Sweding duo to attend Pacific Rim’s premiere in Hollywood.

Composite by Mental Floss. Illustrations, iStock.
The DEA Crackdown on Thomas Jefferson's Poppy Plants
Composite by Mental Floss. Illustrations, iStock.
Composite by Mental Floss. Illustrations, iStock.

The bloom has come off Papaver somniferum in recent years, as the innocuous-looking plant has come under new scrutiny for its role as a building block in many pain-blunting opiates—and, by association, the opioid epidemic. That this 3-foot-tall plant harbors a pod that can be crushed and mixed with water to produce a euphoric high has resulted in a stigma regarding its growth. Not even gardens honoring our nation's Founding Fathers are exempt, which is how the estate of Thomas Jefferson once found itself in a bizarre dialogue with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) over its poppy plants and whether the gift shop clerks were becoming inadvertent drug dealers.

Jefferson, the nation's third president, was an avowed horticulturist. He spent years tending to vegetable and flower gardens, recording the fates of more than 300 varieties of 90 different plants in meticulous detail. At Monticello, his Charlottesville, Virginia plantation, Jefferson devoted much of his free time to his sprawling soil. Among the vast selection of plants were several poppies, including the much-maligned Papaver somniferum.

The front view of Thomas Jefferson's Monticello estate
Thomas Jefferson's Monticello estate.

"He was growing them for ornamental purposes,” Peggy Cornett, Monticello’s historic gardener and curator of plants, tells Mental Floss. “It was very common in early American gardens, early Colonial gardens. Poppies are annuals and come up easily.”

Following Jefferson’s death in 1826, the flower garden at Monticello was largely abandoned, and his estate was sold off to help repay the debts he had left behind. Around 115 years later, the Garden Club of Virginia began to restore the plot with the help of Jefferson’s own sketches of his flower borders and some highly resilient bulbs.

In 1987, Monticello’s caretakers opened the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants, complete with a greenhouse, garden, and retail store. The aim was to educate period-accurate gardeners and sell rare seeds to help populate their efforts. Papaver somniferum was among the offerings.

This didn’t appear to be of concern to anyone until 1991, when local reporters began to obsess over narcotics tips following a drug bust at the University of Virginia. Suddenly, the Center for Historic Plants was fielding queries about the “opium poppies” in residence at Monticello.

The Center had never tried to hide it. “We had labels on all the plants,” says Cornett, who has worked at Monticello since 1983 and remembers the ensuing political scuffle. “We didn’t grow them at the Center. We just collected and sold the seeds that came from Monticello.”

At the time, the legality of growing the poppy was frustratingly vague for the Center’s governing board, who tried repeatedly to get clarification on whether they were breaking the law. A representative for the U.S. Department of Agriculture saw no issue with it, but couldn’t cite a specific law exempting the Center. The Office of the Attorney General in Virginia had no answer. It seemed as though no authority wanted to commit to a decision.

Eventually, the board called the DEA and insisted on instructions. Despite the ubiquity of the seeds—they can spring up anywhere, anytime—the DEA felt the Jefferson estate was playing with fire. Though they were not a clandestine opium den, they elected to take action in June of 1991.

“We pulled up the plants," Cornett says. “And we stopped selling the seeds, too.”

Today, Papaver somniferum is no longer in residence at Monticello, and its legal status is still murky at best. (While seeds can be sold and planting them should not typically land gardeners in trouble, opium poppy is a Schedule II drug and growing it is actually illegal—whether or not it's for the express purpose of making heroin or other drugs.) The Center does grow other plants in the Papaver genus, all of which have varying and usually low levels of opium.

As for Jefferson himself: While he may not have crushed his poppies personally, he did benefit from the plant’s medicinal effects. His personal physician, Robley Dunglison, prescribed laudanum, a tincture of opium, for recurring gastric issues. Jefferson took it until the day prior to his death, when he rejected another dose and told Dunglison, “No, doctor, nothing more.”


More from mental floss studios