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Easter with... the Duracell Bunny?

The Energizer Bunny was ripped off from a Duracell commercial? The outfits worn by Playboy Bunnies were the first patented work outfits?  No, you're not hallucinating due to a sugar high from all those chocolate eggs and jellybeans. Those facts are true! Here are more details, along with some other information about famous bunnies of the non-Easter variety.

Hef's Bunnies

The Playboy Bunnies who served as waitresses, hostesses, and photographers at the famous chain of gentlemen's clubs were Hugh Hefner's vision of the Perfect Woman, 1960s-style. She was sexy, yet exuded innocence; she had perfectly sculpted hair, healthy glowing skin, and cantilevered cleavage. The Bunny Suit (the first service uniform to be registered with the U.S. Patent Office) was constructed on a Merry Widow corset. Each club employed a full-time seamstress who custom-crafted the wardrobe of each and every Bunny. In order to assure an optimum costume adherence-to-curves ratio, Bunnies were forbidden to gain or lose more than one pound after being hired. The club manager would conduct a weigh-in before each work shift.

Recognize the Bunny above? It's future Blondie lead singer Deborah Harry!

Killer Bunnies

April 1979: Jimmy Carter's presidency had already been beleaguered by setbacks like the Energy Crisis and his admission that he'd committed adultery in his heart (but not with a cigar). So no one could fault the president for seeking solace in a solitary fishing trip near his hometown of Plains, Georgia. Of course, no matter how much privacy he craves, no sitting president is ever truly alone. In this case, several Secret Service agents and a White House photographer were keeping tabs on Carter in a nearby boat. Quite suddenly, what appeared to be an angry rabbit began swimming purposefully toward the President's boat. According to Carter, the bunny hissed loudly, with nostrils flared and teeth gnashing. Carter smacked his oar upon the water in an attempt to frighten the amphibious rabbit, and the bunny switched direction and paddled to shore. The photographer in tow had the presence of mind to snap a few pictures of the incident.

The whole thing might have remained a personal "fish story" for the few who witnessed the event, but Press Secretary Jody Powell unwisely recounted the tale while having lunch with an Associated Press reporter that August. In fact, Carter had barely recovered from the media onslaught of his "killer rabbit" story when 53 Americans were taken hostage in Iran. Ever the optimist, Carter still gamely ran for re-election in 1980.

Cereal Bunnies

General Mills launched Trix, the first fruit-flavored cereal on the market, in 1954. Five years later, Battle Creek's other cereal makers had come up with their own similar cereals in direct competition with Trix. The company turned to ad agency Dancer Fitzgerald Sample to give the brand an "identity," which arrived in the form of the Trix Rabbit.

Joe Harris, a member of the agency's creative staff, came up with the entire concept over a weekend "“ the character, the catch-phrase ("Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids!") and story boards for several commercials. The original voice of the Trix Rabbit was provided by Delo States, who also voiced Stanley Livingston in the Tennessee Tuxedo cartoon series. By the way, the Rabbit did finally get to eat a bowl of Trix in 1976, some 17 years after he first longed for the cereal that originally had just three flavors: raspberry red, lemon yellow and orange orange.

Perpetual Bunnies

Who knew that the Energizer Bunny was actually a knock-off? Such is the power of good ol' American advertising. Way back in 1973, Duracell launched an advertising campaign that compared its batteries to other brands by placing them inside a group of plush pink toy bunnies that played the snare drum. Of course, the bunny that beat his drum the longest was the one with the Duracell battery. That particular advertising campaign was launched worldwide and is still the de facto bunny in Europe and Australia.

In 1989, the Chicago office of the DDB Advertising Agency came up with a parody ad - featuring a "cool" sunglass-wearing pink bunny beating on a bass drum - to promote the long life of Energizer batteries. The Energizer Bunny took on a life of its own and was mentioned in everything from presidential campaigns (Seventy-two year old candidate Bob Dole compared himself to the Energizer Bunny) to TV theme songs (the lyrics to the theme for the final season of Roseanne mentioned "that rabbit with a drum"). Thanks to copyright laws and those execs who were too late to employ them, the Energizer Bunny is basically a North American icon, while Europe and Australia still associate drum-beating rabbits with "copper-top" Duracell.

Smart-Aleck Bunnies

Bugs Bunny was a product of the Warner Brothers Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies series of animated films. The 1939 animated short Hare-Em Scare-Em was technically the third appearance of the leporine character, but the first to depict him as a grey hare, rather than white, and also the first to mention his name "Bugs" (in honor of animator Ben "Bugs" Hardaway). Director Tex Avery came up with Bugs' catch-phrase "What's up, Doc?", which had been a popular slang greeting at the North Dallas high school he attended. Avery described his vision of Bugs to veteran voice actor Mel Blanc, who decided on a "Flatbush" accent for Bugs "“ a combination of Bronx and Brooklyn dialects. Blanc's characterization gave Bugs' "Ain't I a stinker?" and "Of course you know this means war!" remarks a certain cutting-edge snarkiness that made him an underdog hero to the masses who were feeling the weight of the world on their shoulders as the U.S. struggled to recover from the Great Depression.

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12 Things You Might Not Know About MAD Magazine
Mad Magazine
Mad Magazine

As fast as popular culture could erect wholesome depictions of American life in comics, television, or movies, MAD Magazine was there to tear them all down. A near-instant success for EC Comics upon its debut in 1952, the magazine has inspired generations of comedians for its pioneering satirical attitude and tasteful booger jokes. This month, DC Entertainment is relaunching an "all new" MAD, skewering pop culture on a bimonthly basis and in full color. To fill the gaps in your knowledge, take a look at these facts about the Usual Gang of Idiots.

1. NO ONE KNOWS WHO CAME UP WITH ALFRED E. NEUMAN.


Jamie, Flickr (L) // Boston Public Library, Flickr (R) // CC BY 2.0

MAD creator Harvey Kurtzman was in the offices of a Ballantine Books editor discussing reprints for the fledging publication when he noticed a grinning, gap-toothed imbecile staring back at him from a bulletin board. The unnamed figure was ubiquitous in the early 20th century, appearing in everything from dentistry ads to depictions of diseases. A charmed Kurtzman adopted him as MAD’s mascot beginning in 1954. Neuman later become so recognizable that a letter was delivered from New Zealand to MAD’s New York offices without an address: the envelope simply had a drawing of Alfred.  

2. THEY HAD TO APOLOGIZE ALMOST IMMEDIATELY.

MAD was conceived during a particularly sensitive time for the comics industry, with parents and watchdog groups concerned over content. (It didn't switch to a magazine format until issue #24.) Kurtzman usually knew where the line was, but when he was laid up with acute hepatitis in 1952, publisher William Gaines and others had to step in for him. Gaines thought it would be funny to offer a fictional biography of himself that detailed his father’s Communist leanings, his past as a dope dealer “near nursery schools,” and bouts of pyromania. When wholesalers were shocked at the content and threatened to boycott all of his titles, Gaines was forced to write a letter of apology.  

3. THEY PREDICTED JOHN F. KENNEDY'S ELECTION IN 1960.

But it was a cheat. In the run-up to the 1960 Presidential election, MAD printed a cover that featured Neuman congratulating Kennedy on his victory with a caption that read, “We were with you all the way, Jack!” But the issue was shipped long before votes had been tabulated. The secret? It was a dual cover. Flip it over and Neuman is celebrating Richard Nixon’s appointment to office. Stores were told to display the “right” side of the magazine depending on the outcome.

4. ALFRED BRIEFLY HAD A GIRLFRIEND.


MAD Magazine

A character named Moxie Cowznofski was introduced in the late 1950s as a female companion for Alfred. She made only a handful of cover appearances, possibly due to the fact she looked alarmingly like her significant other.

5. THEY DIDN'T RUN ANY (REAL) ADS FOR 44 YEARS.

From the beginning, Gaines felt that printing actual advertisements next to the products they were lampooning would not only dilute their edge but seem more than a little hypocritical. After some back-and-forth, MAD cut ads starting in 1957. The decision was a costly one—most print publications survive on such revenue—but led to the magazine’s keeping a sharp knife against the throat of seductive advertising, including cigarettes. Faced with dwindling circulation in 2001, Mad finally relented and began taking ads to help pay for a switch to color printing.

6. "SPY VS. SPY" WAS CREATED BY A SUSPECTED SPY.

Cuban cartoonist Antonio Prohias was disenchanted with the regime under Fidel Castro when he began working on what would become “Spy vs. Spy.” Because Prohias’ other newspaper illustrations were critical of Castro, the Cuban government suspected him of working for the CIA. He wasn’t, but the perception had him worried harm might come to his co-workers. To get out of the situation, Prohias came to America in 1960. With his daughter helping translate, he stopped by Mad’s New York offices and submitted his work: his sneaky, triangle-headed spies became regulars.

7. THERE WAS ONE FOLD-IN THEY WOULDN'T RUN.

Artist Al Jaffee, now 94, has been with Mad almost from the beginning. He created the famous Fold-In—the back cover that reveals a new picture when doubled over—in 1964 after seeing the fold-outs in magazines like National Geographic, Playboy, and Life. Jaffee has rarely missed an issue since—but editors backtracked on one of Jaffee’s works that referenced a mass shooting in 2013. Citing poor taste, they destroyed over 600,000 copies.  

8. THEIR MOVIE WAS A DISASTER.

With the exception of Fox’s successful sketch series, 1994’s MAD TV, attempts to translate the MAD brand into other media have been underwhelming: a 1974 animated special didn’t even make it on air. But a 1980 film venture, a military school spoof directed by Robert Downey, Sr. titled Mad Presents Up the Academy, was so awful William Gaines demanded to have their name taken off of it. (Renamed Up the Academy, the DVD release of the movie still features someone sporting an Alfred E. Neuman mask; Mad parodied it in a spoof titled “Throw Up the Academy.”)

9. THE APRIL 1974 COVER HAD PEOPLE FLIPPING.


MAD Magazine

MAD has never made a habit of good taste, but a depiction of a raised middle finger for one issue in the mid-’70s caused a huge stir. Many stores wouldn’t stock it for fear of offending customers, and the company ended up accepting an irregular number of returns. Gaines took to his typewriter to write a letter of apology. Again. The relaunched #1, out in April 2018, pays homage to this cover, though it's slightly more tasteful: Neuman is picking his nose with his middle finger.

10. THEY INVENTED A SPORT.

MAD writer Tom Koch was amused by the convoluted rules of sports and attempted to one-up them in 43-Man Squamish, a game he invented for the April 1965 issue. Koch and artist George Woodbridge (“MAD’s Athletic Council”) prepared a guide that was utterly incomprehensible—the field was to have five sides, positions included Deep Brooders and Dummies, “interfering with the Wicket Men” constituted a penalty—but it amused high school and college readers enough to try and mount their own games. (Short on players? Try 2-Man Squamish: “The rules are identical,” Koch wrote, “except the object of the game is to lose.”) For the less physically inclined, Mad also issued a board game in which the goal is to lose all of your money.  

11. WEIRD AL WAS A GUEST EDITOR.

In what must be some kind of fulfilled prophecy, lyrical satirist “Weird” Al Yankovic was named as a guest editor—their first—for the magazine’s May 2015 issue. Yankovic told Entertainment Weekly that MAD had put him on “the dark, twisted path to becoming who I am today … I needed to pollute my mind with that kind of stuff.” In addition to his collaborations with the staff, Yankovic enlisted Patton Oswalt, Seth Green, and Chris Hardwick to contribute.

12. FRED ASTAIRE ONCE DANCED AS ALFRED E. NEUMAN.

In a scene so surreal even MAD’s irreverent editors would have had trouble dreaming it up, Fred Astaire decided to sport an Alfred E. Neuman mask for a dance number in his 1959 television special, Another Evening with Fred Astaire. No one seems to recall why exactly Astaire would do this—he may have just wanted to include a popular cultural reference—but it was no off-the-cuff decision. Astaire hired movie make-up veteran John Chambers (Planet of the Apes) to craft a credible mask of Neuman. The result is … well, kind of disturbing. But it’s a fitting addition to a long tradition of people going completely MAD.

Additional Sources:
Harvey Kurtzman: The Man Who Created Mad and Revolutionized Humor in America.

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Can You 'Hear' These Silent GIFs?
iStock
iStock

GIFs are silent—otherwise they wouldn't be GIFs. But some people claim to hear distinct noises accompanying certain clips. Check out the GIF below as an example: Do you hear a boom every time the structure hits the ground? If so, you may belong to the 20 to 30 percent of people who experience "visual-evoked auditory response," also known as vEAR.

Researchers from City University London recently published a paper online on the phenomenon in the journal Cortex, the British Psychological Society's Research Digest reports. For their study, they recruited more than 4000 volunteers and 126 paid participants and showed them 24 five-second video clips. Each clip lacked audio, but when asked how they rated the auditory sensation for each video on a scale of 0 to 5, 20 percent of the paid participants rated at least half the videos a 3 or more. The percentage was even higher for the volunteer group.

You can try out the researchers' survey yourself. It takes about 10 minutes.

The likelihood of visual-evoked auditory response, according to the researchers, directly relates to what the subject is looking at. "Some people hear what they see: Car indicator lights, flashing neon shop signs, and people's movements as they walk may all trigger an auditory sensation," they write in the study.

Images packed with meaning, like two cars colliding, are more likely to trigger the auditory illusion. But even more abstract images can produce the effect if they have high levels of something called "motion energy." Motion energy is what you see in the video above when the structure bounces and the camera shakes. It's why a video of a race car driving straight down a road might have less of an auditory impact than a clip of a flickering abstract pattern.

The researchers categorize vEAR as a type of synesthesia, a brain condition in which people's senses are combined. Those with synesthesia might "see" patterns when music plays or "taste" certain colors. Most synesthesia is rare, affecting just 4 percent of the population, but this new study suggests that "hearing motion synesthesia" is much more prevalent.

[h/t BPS Research Digest]

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