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11 Mellow Artists Who Sold Millions Through Commercials

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They’ve sold millions of records! They are responsible for heart-touching music that no human should be without! There aren’t enough superlatives to describe these recording artists who were apparently huge in Europe but didn’t sell that many records in the U.S.—until the insomniac crowd started buying up their greatest hits collections from the relentless TV commercials that peppered the Late, Late Show. How many of these mellow million-sellers do you own?

1. Slim Whitman

Let’s face it … in a business where looks count for just about everything, Slim Whitman would’ve been Central Casting’s first choice when an oily, slick used-car salesman was needed, not a country yodeler. But although Ottis Dewey Whitman—as he was born in Florida—may have been an unfamiliar face to his fellow Americans until his All My Best collection hit late-night television in the 1980s, his legend has loomed large in the UK for several decades. Heck, no less of a music icon than George Harrison listed Whitman as an early influence—he’d seen a photograph of Slim in all his rhinestone-studded glory with his guitar slung around his neck in the 1950s and decided that playing the guitar was “cool.” Michael Jackson also often cited Slim as one of his Top 10 favorite vocalists. Whitman’s 1955 recording of “Rose Marie” stayed at number one on the British charts for an amazing 11 weeks, a record that held for 37 years until Bryan Adams’ “Everything I Do (I Do for You)” snagged the top spot for 16 weeks.

2. Nana Mouskouri

Nana Mouskouri was born and raised in Greece, where she studied opera as a child. But her true love was American jazz—Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday were two of her favorite singers. In between placing 8th at the 1963 Eurovision Song Contest, touring with Harry Belafonte, and giving fashion tips to Lisa Loeb, Nana (short for “Iōánna”) managed to sell some 350 million albums in Europe and Asia. She was relatively unknown in the U.S. until a romantic treasury of heart-touching favorites that was Not Available In Stores! was advertised every five minutes during the wee hours of the morning.

3. Ace Cannon

“Don’t forget to invite Ace Cannon to your next party!” was the tag line for this collection of saxophonic ditties. Unfortunately, we can't find the original commercial, but Ace had the same “life of the party” expression on his face that he displays on this album cover. Cannon recorded his first single in 1961 (using the Bill Black Combo as his backing group) and built up a solid fan base via continuous touring. The fun never stops when Ace is on deck—slap one of his songs on the turntable and keep your guests from shuffling off early!

4. Zamfir

If you’ve got a hankering for some pan flute music, don’t waste time with  amateurs—turn to the master, Zamfir. Gheorghe Zamfir specializes in a monster-sized 30-pipe version of the traditional Romanian pan flute. Even though he has sold 30 million albums, the master has his critics. Some pan flute purists actually dismiss Zamfir’s two-record treasury of easy listening classics as “kitsch.” The horror.

5. Boxcar Willie

He earned 14 gold albums and made people from Hee Haw to the Grand Ole Opry happy. That impressive resumé could only belong to Boxcar Willie. Box, as he was known, wasn’t really a hobo, nor was his name Willie. Born Lecil Martin, he served as an Air Force pilot during the Korean War and then tried his hand at songwriting when he returned home. One of his first songs was called “Boxcar Willie,” about a man he saw in a train car at a railroad crossing, and the song title eventually became a stage name. Box actually appeared on The Gong Show before TV advertising made him a household name.

6. Cristy Lane

Cristy Lane is the voice behind the Number One Inspirational Album in the World (according to the commercial), which of course has sold millions of copies. Lane, born Eleanor Johnston (she took her stage name from a local disc jockey), has had her own faith tested in the past. Her husband, Lee Stoller, served as her manager, record producer, tour bus driver, and promoter. But in 1979, he was convicted of bribing a public official and sentenced to three years in prison. The couple actually managed to keep his incarceration hush-hush for a while (even from Stoller’s parents) lest a criminal charge upset her Christian fan base. Cristy is still performing today and releasing various versions of greatest hits packages.

7. Jim Nabors

He was loved by countless millions as beloved TV character Gomer Pyle, but little did viewers suspect that he was soon to also be cherished as America’s Romantic Recording Star. Don’t let Gomer’s hayseed accent fool you; Jim Nabors can truly belt out a tune. Carol Burnett considered him her “good luck charm” and had him as a guest on every season premiere episode of her variety show. He also officially launched the Indianapolis 500 race for over 30 years with his version of “Back Home Again in Indiana.”

8. Roger Whittaker

The Kenyan native has sold 24 million albums worldwide, even though 1975’s “The Last Farewell” was the only single he ever managed to land on the Billboard Hot 100. Besides being a balladeer, guitarist and songwriter, Whittaker is also an accomplished whistler. That’s right, his catalog includes three albums of him whistling to a musical accompaniment.

9. Red Sovine

Unless you drove an 18-wheeler, chances are you never heard of Red Sovine until Cindy Lou Music started hawking his music on television. Red specialized in truck drivin’ songs, and sad ones at that: lonely handicapped kids talking to drivers on the CB, widows who’d lost their husbands in highway wrecks, and loyal dogs who kept their trucking masters company on the road. Real cry-in-your-beer type stuff that touched a chord with the millions of lonely late night viewers who ended up buying his Best Of collection.

10. Floyd Cramer

Even though world-famous pianist Floyd Cramer had over 50 RCA records of his music released, the folks at Suffolk Marketing managed to dig up a collection of Floyd songs Never Before Released! Cramer had been a very popular session pianist in Nashville for many years before he started releasing albums under his own name. Even though this particular collection is Not Available In Stores! you might want to check out some vintage shops for some of his hard-to-find releases, such as 1967’s Floyd Cramer Plays the Monkees.

11. Frank Fontaine

Frank’s schtick was a bug-eyed character with a goofy speaking voice (think Pete Puma from the Warner Brothers’ cartoons) who then surprised the audience by bursting into song with a smooth baritone. He was a regular on The Jackie Gleason Show as Crazy Guggenheim in the 1960s, and 20 years later Suffolk Marketing reminded viewers of the melodic voice behind the wacky persona.

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15 Festive Facts About Jingle All the Way
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

In all of Arnold Schwarzenegger's film oeuvre, Jingle All the Way might just be the one that most exhibits the ugliness of humanity. Set on a fevered Christmas Eve brimming with desperate last-minute shoppers, Schwarzenegger's Howard Langston and Sinbad's postal worker character Myron Larabee find themselves battling one another to make themselves look good to their sons by getting their hands on the elusive Turbo Man action figure. The comedic genius Phil Hartman; Rita Wilson; future young Anakin Skywalker, Jake Lloyd; Laraine Newman; Harvey Korman; Martin Mull; Curtis Armstrong; and Chris Parnell were the other willing participants in this cult comedy, directed by Brian Levant. Here are some things you might not have known about the contemporary holiday classic.

1. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER WAS ABLE TO PLAY THE LEAD BECAUSE OF A DELAY ON A PLANET OF THE APES REMAKE.

Arnold Schwarzenegger signed up to star in the Apes remake in March of 1994, but 20th Century Fox rejected multiple scripts for the movie, including one co-written by Chris Columbus (Gremlins, The Goonies). Columbus left the project in late 1995, and Schwarzenegger followed him soon after, freeing him to sign up for Jingle All the Way, produced by Columbus, in February 1996. Fox's Planet of the Apes reboot found its way into theaters in 2001, starring Mark Wahlberg and directed by Tim Burton.

2. SINBAD THOUGHT HE SCREWED UP THE AUDITION.

Sinbad in 'Jingle All the Way' (1996)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Filming was delayed so that Sinbad could follow through on his commitment to travel to Bosnia with Hillary Clinton. Even though Columbus agreed to wait for him, the comedian still thought he "messed up" his audition and told his manager-brother he was going to quit show business.

3. OFFICER HUMMELL WAS INITIALLY WRITTEN AS A WOMAN.

Though the role of Officer Hummell was written for a woman, the part went to Robert Conrad. Conrad's explanation was that the producers "wanted someone who could pull up next to Arnold and tell him to pull over and he pulls over."

4. IT WAS CHRIS PARNELL'S FIRST MOVIE.

The future SNL star played the toy store clerk. "Well, it was my first movie role, and I didn't know how they typically shot scenes," Parnell admitted in a Reddit AMA. "So I had to laugh a lot, and I sort of spent all of my laughing energy in the wider takes, so by the time we got to the close-up shots, it was a real struggle to keep that going."

5. MARTIN MULL STAYED ON SET FOR OVER TWO WEEKS LONGER THAN HE WAS SUPPOSED TO.

Mull (KQRS D.J. a.k.a. Mr. Ponytail Man) was told it would just be a one- to two-day shoot for him. Unfortunately, his part had to be shot on a rainy day, and it didn't rain in Minneapolis for two and a half weeks.

6. PHIL HARTMAN MADE UP A BACKSTORY FOR HIS CHARACTER.


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Hartman (Ted Maltin) was probably joking for the film's official production notes, but you never know. "Ted is a guy who sued his employer for headaches caused by toner fumes and now hangs around the neighborhood and helps all the housewives," Hartman said. He also offered a take on how he was kind of being pigeonholed in Hollywood when he added, "Ted's another weasel to add my list of weasels."

7. HARTMAN ENTERTAINED HIS BORED YOUNG CO-STARS.

To keep young E.J. De la Pena (Johnny Maltin) and Jake Lloyd (Jamie Langston) from getting bored shooting a car scene all day, Hartman improvised songs designed to bring kids to hysterics. One tune contained the lyrics “You make my butt shine, the more you kiss it, the more it shines! The clock is ticking, so keep on licking, oh how you make my buttocks shine!”

"When you’re an 8 year old hearing that kind of potty humor, it was hilarious!" De la Pena remembered. "And we had a lot of fun."

8. JAMES BELUSHI HAD EXPERIENCE PLAYING SANTA BEFORE.

Belushi sort of trained to portray the Mall of America Santa in the movie by playing Kris Kringle for four years in "about 20" different homes, according to his estimation.

9. SHOOTING BEGAN IN MID-APRIL.

The Minneapolis/St.Paul areas were chosen because the producers figured they had the longest winter. But they also filmed in Los Angeles' Universal Studios for the big parade over a three week span, where it was typical hot California weather on the verge of summer. Sinbad remembered it was 100 degrees on the days when he wore the Dementor costume, and the water in his helmet had started to boil.

10. THE REAL TURBO MAN DIDN'T SWEAT.

Daniel Riordan's Turbo Man suit ensured he wouldn't have trouble with the scorching heat. He was wearing a vest underneath used by race car drivers. "They're very thin membrane vests that are filled with small, plastic tubing that's tightly coiled, back and forth, and they run cold water through it," Riordan explained. "So when they run it, it's like this cold water right up against your body and it was amazing. The sensation was fantastic."

11. TURBO MAN FIGURES WERE SOLD AT WAL-MART.

200,000 were originally produced and sold at 2,300 Wal-Mart shops for $25. They would have made more but, as Fox’s president of licensing and merchandising explained to Entertainment Weekly, there were only six and a half months to produce and promote Turbo Man toys, and it usually takes "well over a year."

12. THEY ALMOST SOLD DEMENTOR DOLLS TOO.

Sinbad recalled that the studio didn't sell Dementor action figures even though they tested high during research. "I had a prototype of the doll but they said 'give it back, we'll get you the real one when it comes out,'" Sinbad said." ...And dude, it NEVER came out!" Sinbad told Redditers his theory: "I think that they didn't want the competition between Turbo Man and my doll."

13. SOME PARENTS HAD ALCOHOL-RELATED COMPLAINTS AFTER TEST SCREENINGS.


20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Schwarzenegger and Sinbad talking at a bar over some alcohol, and the fact that reindeer also imbibed in beer, were among some of the problems mothers and other early viewers took issue with.

14. THE FILMMAKERS WERE SUED FOR PLAGIARISM, AND LOST.

Randy Kornfield penned the official script, but high school teacher Brian Alan Webster alleged his Could This Be Christmas? script was very similar. The publishing firm that had the rights to Webster's script won a $19 million lawsuit from 20th Century Fox, but the ruling was overturned in 2004. Webster's screenplay was about “the quest of a Caucasian mother attempting to obtain a hard-to-get action figure toy as a Christmas gift for her son. In the course of this pursuit, she competes with an African-American woman, similarly seeking to give the action figure doll as a Christmas gift.”

15. THERE WAS A SEQUEL STARRING LARRY THE CABLE GUY.

None of the original cast members nor characters returned in the straight-to-DVD Jingle All the Way 2 (2014). It was produced by 20th Century Fox and WWE Studios and featured wrestler Santino Marella. Sinbad expressed incredulity when a Redditer inquired if he was asked to return for it. "What they are doing a new version without me! Ain't gonna work!"

Additional Sources:

Schaefer, Stephen: "Sinbad leaps at the chance to go postal in Jingle All the Way," December 6, 1996; Des Moines Register

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10 Rich Facts About Wall Street
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Twentieth Century Fox

It’s often said that the love of money is the root of all evil. Wall Street could have easily turned this sentiment into a tagline. A gripping financial thriller, the Oliver Stone classic is a cautionary tale whose message is every bit as relevant today as it was when it was released 30 years ago today.

1. OLIVER STONE WOULD DELIBERATELY TICK OFF MICHAEL DOUGLAS BETWEEN TAKES.

“As a director, he really tests you,” Douglas said of Stone. Around two weeks after shooting had started, Stone showed up at the actor’s trailer and asked “Are you on drugs? Because you look like you’ve never acted before in your life.” Mortified, Douglas took a look at some footage they’d already shot. Yet, after diligently reviewing it, he could find nothing wrong with his performance. “I came back to Oliver and said … ‘I think it’s okay,” Douglas remembers. “Yeah, it is, isn’t it?” Stone replied.

Eventually, Douglas wised up to his boss’s overly critical act. “Basically, what he wanted was to ratchet up that much more nastiness in Gordon Gekko,” Douglas explained. “And he was willing … for me to hate him for the rest of that movie just to bring it up a little more.” 

2. WALL STREET WON BOTH AN OSCAR AND A RAZZIE.


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Douglas’s cold portrayal of the unscrupulous Gekko netted him an Academy Award for Best Actor in 1988. On the other hand, critics were thoroughly unimpressed by leading lady Daryl Hannah, who took home a Worst Supporting Actress Razzie.

3. GORDON GEKKO’S FAMOUS PHONE WEIGHED TWO POUNDS.

In one pivotal scene, Gekko rings Bud with a state-of-the-art mobile communication device. Specifically, it’s a Motorola DynaTac 8000X. Released in 1983, this brick-shaped cell phone was 13 inches long, weighed two pounds, and cost the equivalent of $8,806 in modern dollars. During the 2010 sequel Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, the anachronistic gadget returned for a quick sight gag.

4. CHARLIE SHEEN CHOSE TO HAVE HIS REAL FATHER PORTRAY HIS FICTIONAL ONE.

“It was interesting having my dad play my dad,” Sheen said on the DVD's “making of” documentary. Wall Street’s most dramatic arc revolves around Bud and Carl Fox, who were played by Charlie and Martin Sheen, respectively. Stone had built a strong working relationship with the former on the set of 1986’s Platoon. So when the time came to cast Carl, he had the younger Sheen make the call, asking “Do you want Jack Lemmon or do you want your father?” “Oh, Jack Lemmon’s a genius,” the actor said, “but my dad’s my dad and he’s kind of a genius, too.”

5. SCREENWRITER STANLEY WEISER COULDN'T FIND INSPIRATION IN EITHER CRIME AND PUNISHMENT OR THE GREAT GATSBY.

Before the writer could get started, Stone gave him a little homework. Originally, the film was conceived as “Crime and Punishment on Wall Street.” When Weiser was brought aboard one fateful Friday, Stone told him to read Dostoyevsky’s novel over the weekend. “Not having taken an Evelyn Wood Speed Reading class, I went to UCLA and purchased the Cliffs Notes,” Weiser wrote in 2008.

But the literary exercise proved futile. “On Monday, I explained to Oliver that the paradigm for that masterwork would not mesh well with the story we wanted to tell.” In a flash, Stone hit him with another assignment. “Okay,” he ordered, “read The Great Gatsby tonight, and see if we can mine something out of it.” This time, Weiser simply rented the 1974 movie adaptation. Once again, though, inspiration eluded him.

Wall Street as we know it didn’t really start to take shape until after a change in tactic: When Gatsby led him nowhere, Weiser read everything about finance that he could track down and, along with Stone, “spent three weeks visiting brokerage houses, interviewing investors and getting a feel for the Weltanschauung of Wall Street.”

6. PARTS OF THE MOVIE WERE SHOT AT THE NEW YORK STOCK EXCHANGE DURING WORKING HOURS.


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Permission was secured with the help of Kenneth Lipper, a longtime Wall Street insider who also served as New York City's deputy mayor from 1982 to 1985. For the film, Stone brought him on board as the chief technical advisor.

7. TWO MONTHS BEFORE THE FILM’S RELEASE, THERE WAS A MAJOR WALL STREET CRASH IN REAL LIFE.

Historians now call it “Black Monday.” On October 19, 1987, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped by a staggering 22.6 percent. It was the largest single-day stock market decline of all time, with $500 billion suddenly going up in smoke. Wall Street would hit theaters on December 11, leading conspiracy theorists to wonder if Stone had seen the crisis coming and made his movie to exploit it. 

“I did not foresee the crash, as some people say, because if I had, I would have made a lot of money,” Stone quipped.

8. GEKKO WAS BASED ON THREE BIG-NAME FINANCIERS. 


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“If you need a friend, get a dog,” Gekko advises his young protégé. This quote was adapted from a remark that corporate raider Carl Icahn once made (which he had cribbed from Harry Truman). In 1985, Icahn became a notorious figure by taking over TWA airlines under the pretense of making it more profitable only to sell off its assets for his own gain. Gekko, no doubt, would’ve approved.

Wall Street’s charismatic antagonist also took cues from Asher Edelman, a financier and major league art enthusiast. Another source of inspiration was arbiter Ivan Boesky, who confessed to illegal insider trading in 1986 and ended up in jail in 1988 (more about him later).

9. STONE’S FATHER WAS A STOCKBROKER.

A survivor of the Great Depression, Louis Stone had a huge influence on his cinematically-inclined son. “The main motivation to make Wall Street was my father,” the director admitted. “He always said there were no good business movies, because the businessman was always the villain.” In the end, Wall Street was dedicated to the elder Stone, who passed away two years before its release. 

10. GEKKO’S BIG LINE IS NUMBER 57 ON THE AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE’S TOP 100 MOVIE QUOTES LIST.

“Greed, for lack of a better word, is good” finished just ahead of “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer” from The Godfather: Part II. Gekko might as well have been quoting Boesky: At a 1985 commencement address given at UC Berkeley, the trader said “Greed is all right, by the way. I want you to know that. I think greed is healthy. You can be greedy and still feel good about yourself.”

Newsweek later reported on the speech—and made a telling observation. “The strangest thing, when we come to look back,” the magazine argued, “will not just be that Ivan Boesky could say that at a business school graduation, but that it was greeted with laughter and applause.”

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