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The Life, Death, and Resurrection of Spuds MacKenzie, The Original Party Animal

There's a moment in Spuds MacKenzie's interview with Dick Clark when Clark shifts gears and, as if by obligation, brings up the recent bad press the bull terrier has been the subject of. "There are these vicious rumors," he begins, addressing not the tuxedo-wearing Spuds, but one of the beautiful spokesmodels—or "Spudettes"—who accompany him. "Is there any truth to the fact that he is female?" The Spudette, clearly trained for this type of question, asserts, "He's got three women around him, and I don't think we'd be following him..." Clark, thrusting his fist forward, interrupts, "He's a full-out macho guy?" A few men in the audience let out ferocious whoos! and yeahs! They are relieved to hear that their hero is, like them, a cool dude.

Spuds MacKenzie was, in fact, a female dog. Her real name was Honey Tree Evil Eye, and Jackie and Stanley Oles, the humans who owned her, called her "Evie." This was all revealed in a 1987 People Magazine article that set out to debunk rumors that the bull terrier had died in a limo accident, or while surfing, or in a plane crash. In a stunning breach of privacy, the article also published the Oles' home address. Soon after the People piece came out, Jackie Oles was sitting with Evie on the stoop of her suburban Chicago house when a reporter confronted her, unannounced. "I don't talk to reporters," she said before hurrying inside. Oles was wearing a Spuds MacKenzie sweatshirt at the time.

If, by chance, you don't know who Spuds MacKenzie is, it's probably because Budweiser retired him in 1989. Spuds sold beer and—this may be hard to believe—he was one of the most famous living things on the planet. Though he hasn't been seen in a while, he's about to make his way back into the spotlight. In honor of his 30th anniversary, Spuds will make an appearance during Super Bowl LI—albeit as a ghost (voiced by Carl Weathers) who is on a mission to teach a man about the spirit of Bud Light. 

(NOTE: I will be using male pronouns for Spuds the character and female pronouns for Honey Tree Evil Eye from this point forward.)

Honey Tree Evil Eye was bred to be a show dog, and the Oles joined Chicago's Fort Dearborn Bull Terrier Club and coached her for competition. Evie performed relatively well within her breed, but never placed at Silverwood, America's premier bull terrier event.

At a show in Chicago, Evie caught the attention of DDB Needham. The ad agency was scouting for a dog-centered campaign, and the splotch over Evie's left eye made her stand out. She was invited for a photo shoot, and soon posters of her as Spuds MacKenzie sitting behind a goblet of Bud Light while wearing a "Delta Omicron Gamma" fraternity sweatshirt began to pop up at college campuses. The premise—cool dog is cool—proved so popular that wholesalers demanded Anheuser-Busch put Spuds on television.

Evie's demeanor was unusually calm for her breed and she behaved more like a lap cat than a rough-and-tumble terrier. Her breeder told the Bull Terrier Club of Dallas that “she was very mellow and low key. The owners sometimes used a yo-yo in the ring to get her to spark up and show." She was known to lounge about and munch on Raisin Chex, which was hand-fed to her. Relaxed and undemanding, Evie was a perfect candidate for TV work.

Spuds' first prime-time TV appearance came during Super Bowl XXI in 1987.

The spot features a narrative arch that would become the go-to formula in the Spuds MacKenzie oeuvre: 1. Spuds shows up at a party. 2. Everyone is thrilled to see Spuds—especially the women.

Robin Leach provides the voiceover, which hammers home the fact that not only is Spuds a cool party dude, but he also is obscenely wealthy. This stolid, fat, rich dog surrounded by adoring models and sycophantic buddies begs to be seen as both a result of and response to the late 1980s—but then you might be missing the gag.

The reaction to the original 1987 ad was enthusiastic, and what followed was a full-on marketing assault and nationwide in-joke that acknowledged, dismissed, winked at, and embraced nearly every advertising cliche.

The key to the campaign's success, Bill Stolberg tells me, was the fact that they never acknowledged that Spuds was a dog—they would insist he was a man. Stolberg's name comes up a lot in old press clippings about Spuds' meteoric rise to fame. He worked for Fleishman Hillard, the PR firm Anheuser-Busch used for the campaign, and Stolberg traveled with Spuds and acted as his brand manager and voice. He recalls, "The first question we'd always get would be, 'What kind of dog is Spuds?' To which I replied, 'He's not a dog, he's an executive.'"

As Spuds grew in popularity, so did the beer. According to the New York Times, Spuds helped increase Bud Light's sales by 20 percent between 1987 and 1988. Serious business journalists began contacting Stolberg for insight on the campaign and its star dog, but he wouldn't break character. Stolberg would insist that Spuds was a human man—a Senior Party Consultant, to be specific—and that he was so cool he didn't have to speak verbally. "It would drive them crazy," he says.

The hallmark of late-'80s advertising was overt self-awareness. Audiences were wise to BS—or at least marketers decided audiences should be hip to it—so commercials and spokespeople were done as parody. It's why Coca-Cola used Max Headroom, a satirical version of a super-slick television host doomed to live inside a computer, and why Isuzu had Joe Isuzu, a pathological liar of a spokesman whose audacious claims would be corrected by on-screen text overlaid during his ads. The pervading idea was that you're in on the joke too, friend. We know you're smart—doesn't that feel good?

Spuds MacKenzie fits into this category, but the joke was twisted and pushed far beyond the restrictions of TV. When he went on tour, whether to appear on Good Morning America or to throw out the first pitch at a National League playoff game, his marketing team would go to extremes to perpetuate the Spuds MacKenzie mythos. "We'd put him in limos and rent him his own hotel rooms," says Stolberg. "He would be dressed in a tuxedo and walk through the airport with the Spudettes. People would see him, and that's how it would grow."

The death rumors were a sign that Spuds had truly made it. Stolberg recalls showing up at his office to find a stack of missed-call slips an inch thick, all from people who were trying to get in touch to see if the spokesdog really did die in that limo crash or via hot tub electrocution while soaking with the Spudettes.

The Spudettes were key to this success, and the troupe made up of models and aspiring actresses became a cultural phenomenon in their own right. In fact, Sir Mix-A-Lot says he wrote "Baby Got Back" as a response to "the Spuds MacKenzie girls, little skinny chicks looking like stop signs, with big hair and skinny bodies."

If Spuds was a gag on the cliched spokesman, then the Spudettes riffed on the idea that "sex sells." The benefit of presenting the latter as a joke is that it still does the job as well as its more sincere analog. Posters of Spuds and the Spudettes were the most popular pin-ups in the country, "easily outdistanc[ing] TV's 'Alf,' No. 2 in the poster market," reported the Los Angeles Times, which also called Spuds "the Nation's Most Unlikely Sex Symbol."

Pretending that a dog was a human man who loved—and was loved—by women seems like it would present some problems, and when I asked Stolberg if he was ever worried about this, he insisted that the idea was ridiculous. “You’d have to be pretty bizarre to think anything like that.” 

While everything about Spuds MacKenzie was a joke, the dichotomy of people who wanted to get it and those who didn't defined and caused much of Spuds' success. While Morning Zoo DJs and targeted consumers laughed at and championed the idea of an expressionless lump of a dog who drove women wild, reporters saw him as the origins of a market-driven phenomenon that, given the time period, must have been of great importance. It's why People magazine talked to both a Chicago account executive and a UC Berkeley "urban humor expert" in that scoop about the party dog's real gender that featured the Oles' full home address.

"It was kind of nuts," Stolberg says. "[The Oles] were totally unprepared for all that silliness, but they were good sports about it." Jackie Oles would travel with Spuds wherever he went, and one can only imagine what she thought as she sat in the green room and watched David Letterman interview her dog.

In "Spuds Is A Dud As A Party Guy—He's A Girl," the Chicago Tribune's follow-up to the People piece, Illinois State Senator Judy Baar Topinka said of the Oles, "The family has tried to be really low profile." Topinka had tried to pass a resolution in the Senate honoring her district as the home of Spuds MacKenzie. Anheuser-Busch protested the resolution and it was eventually pulled, but this wouldn't be the last time lawmakers discussed Spuds MacKenzie.

Less than a year after Spuds' national TV debut, Strom Thurmond stood on the floor of the U.S. Senate chamber and waved a stuffed Spuds MacKenzie doll. He accused Anheuser-Busch of using the mascot to sell alcohol to underage drinkers, saying, ''I am not confident in the voluntary efforts of the alcohol beverage industry to increase public awareness of the hazards of alcohol abuse with 12-year-olds drinking wine coolers and wearing Spuds MacKenzie T-shirts.'' He made his case while standing in front of huge posters featuring the "Ayatollah of Partyollah" himself, Spuds MacKenzie.

A month later, Ohio stores pulled all Bud Light cartons that featured images of Spuds MacKenzie dressed up as Santa due to a law that prohibited St. Nick from being used to sell alcohol. Across the country, schools were banning students from wearing popular Spuds MacKenzie gear.

In response to all this, Anheuser-Busch eventually switched its $50 million Spuds MacKenzie campaign from Bud Light to a responsible drinking initiative. This is why Super Bowl XXIII's 15-second spot features Spuds playing guitar with no beer in sight, along with the tagline: "Know When to Say When." One year prior, Super Bowl XXII featured an ad where MacKenzie wins an Olympic Gold Medal in hockey and shares an ice cold Bud Light with a gorgeous Russian woman.

Spuds' TV appearances became fewer and fewer as the decade neared its end. "A really good campaign doesn't last much longer than 18 months," Stolberg says, "The joke gets old." Spuds lives on through the over 200 officially licensed items of Spuds merchandise (as well as the knock-off party animal gear that was once sold on street corners and at beach resorts like Phendi handbags) that you can buy on eBay

"You'll still sometimes see those plastic Spuds MacKenzie signs in bars," Bill Stolberg says, marveling at how long it has been. He left Fleishman Hillard in 1995 to start his own consulting firm, which he still runs. I ask him what Spuds MacKenzie was really like, if he was always as calm as he seemed in the commercials. "Ah ah ah," he interrupts, "Mr. MacKenzie is not a dog."

Honey Tree Evil Eye died of kidney failure at the age of 10 in 1993—she had an average lifespan for a healthy English bull terrier. Her death was reported at the time with the headline "Spuds MacKenzie Really Dead This Time." Unlike the actors who played Max Headroom and Joe Isuzu, Evie didn't need to worry about what she would do with her career once the ad work dried up. It is understood that she spent her retirement lounging with her family and eating Raisin Chex.

This article originally ran in 2014.

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Food
The History Behind Why We Eat 10 Dishes at Thanksgiving
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Halloween is for candy comas, and on Independence Day we grill, but no holiday is as completely defined by its cuisine as Thanksgiving. No matter what part of the country you're in, it's a safe bet that at least a few of the below dishes will be making an appearance on your table this week. But what makes these specific entrees and side dishes so emblematic of Thanksgiving? Read on to discover the sometimes-surprising history behind your favorite fall comfort foods.

1. TURKEY

A roasted turkey on a platter.
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Turkey has become so synonymous with Thanksgiving that most of us probably imagine the pilgrims and Wampanoag tribe of Native Americans chowing down on a roast bird in 1621. Although we don't know the exact menu of that first Plymouth Colony feast, a first-person account of the year's harvest from governor William Bradford does reference "a great store of wild turkeys," and another first-person account, from colonist Edward Winslow, confirms that the settlers "killed as much fowl as…served the company almost a week." However, culinary historian Kathleen Wall believes that, although turkeys were available, it's likely that duck, goose, or even passenger pigeons were the more prominent poultry options at the first Thanksgiving. Given their proximity to the Atlantic, local seafood like oysters and lobsters were likely on the menu as well.

As the holiday grew in popularity, however, turkey became the main course for reasons more practical than symbolic. English settlers were accustomed to eating fowl on holidays, but for early Americans, chickens were more valued for their eggs than their meat, and rooster was tough and unappetizing. Meanwhile, turkeys were easy to keep, big enough to feed a whole family, and cheaper than ducks or geese. Even before Thanksgiving was recognized as a national holiday, Alexander Hamilton himself remarked that "No citizen of the U.S. shall refrain from turkey on Thanksgiving Day." The country followed his advice: according to the National Turkey Federation, 88 percent of Americans will eat turkey in some form on Thanksgiving Day—an estimated 44 million birds!

2. STUFFING

Pan of breaded stuffing.
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Stuffing would have been a familiar concept to those early settlers as well, although their version was likely quite different from what we're used to. We know that the first Plymouth colonists didn't have access to white flour or butter, so traditional bread stuffing wouldn't have been possible yet. Instead, according to Wall, they may have used chestnuts, herbs, and chunks of onion to flavor the birds, all of which were already part of the local fare. Centuries later, we're still stuffing turkeys as a way to keep the bird moist through the roasting process and add extra flavor.

3. CRANBERRIES

Dish of cranberry sauce.
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Like turkeys, cranberries were widely available in the area, but cranberry sauce almost certainly did not make an appearance at the first Thanksgiving. Why not? The sugar reserves the colonists would have had were almost completely depleted after their long sea journey, and thus they didn't have the means to sweeten the terrifically tart berries.

So how did cranberries become such an autumnal staple? For starters, they're a truly American food, as one of only a few fruits—along with Concord grapes, blueberries, and pawpaws—that originated in North America. They grow in such abundance in the northeast that colonists quickly began incorporating cranberries into various dishes, such as pemmican, which mixed mashed cranberries with lard and dried venison. By the Civil War, they were such a holiday staple that General Ulysses S. Grant famously demanded his soldiers be provided cranberries for their Thanksgiving Day meal.

4. MASHED POTATOES

Bowl of mashed potatoes.
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Potatoes weren't yet available in 17th-century Plymouth, so how did mashed potatoes become another Thanksgiving superstar? The answer lies in the history of the holiday itself. In America’s earliest years, it was common for the sitting President to declare a "national day of thanks," but these were sporadic and irregular. In 1817, New York became the first state to officially adopt the holiday, and others soon followed suit, but Thanksgiving wasn't a national day of celebration until Abraham Lincoln declared it so in 1863.

Why did Lincoln—hands full with an ongoing war—take up the cause? Largely due to a 36-year campaign from Sarah Josepha Hale, a prolific novelist, poet, and editor, who saw in Thanksgiving a moral benefit for families and communities. In addition to her frequent appeals to officials and presidents, Hale wrote compellingly about the holiday in her 1827 novel Northwood, as well as in the womens' magazine she edited, Godey's Lady's Book. Her writing included recipes and descriptions of idealized Thanksgiving meals, which often featured—you guessed it—mashed potatoes.

5. GRAVY

Plate of turkey and potatoes covered in gravy.
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Despite a dearth of potatoes, it's likely that some type of gravy accompanied the turkey or venison at the earliest Thanksgiving gatherings. The concept of cooking meat in sauce dates back hundreds of years, and the word "gravy" itself can be found in a cookbook from 1390. Because that first celebration extended over three days, historian Wall speculates: "I have no doubt whatsoever that birds that are roasted one day, the remains of them are all thrown in a pot and boiled up to make broth the next day." That broth would then be thickened with grains to created a gravy to liven day-old meat. And, if Wall's correct, that broth sounds suspiciously like the beginning of another great Thanksgiving tradition: leftovers!

6. CORN

Plate of corn.
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Corn is a natural symbol of harvest season—even if you're not serving it as a side dish, you might have a few colorful ears as a table centerpiece. We know that corn was a staple of the Native American diet and would have been nearly as plentiful in the 17th century as today. But according to the History Channel, their version would have been prepared quite differently: corn was either made into a cornmeal bread or mashed and boiled into a thick porridge-like consistency, and perhaps sweetened with molasses. Today, we eat corn in part to remember those Wampanoag hosts, who famously taught the newcomers how to cultivate crops in the unfamiliar American soil.

7. SWEET POTATOES

Bowl of mashed sweet potatoes.
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In the midst of so many New England traditions, the sweet potatoes on your table represent a dash of African-American culture. The tasty taters originally became popular in the south—while pumpkins grew well in the north, sweet potatoes (and the pies they could make) became a standard in southern homes and with enslaved plantation workers, who used them as a substitution for the yams they'd loved in their homeland. Sweet potato pie was also lovingly described in Hale's various Thanksgiving epistles, solidifying the regional favorite as a holiday go-to. More recently, some families further sweeten the dish by adding toasted marshmallows, a love-it-or-hate-it suggestion that dates to a 1917 recipe booklet published by the Cracker Jack company.

8. GREEN BEAN CASSEROLE

Plate of green bean casserole.
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Beans have been cultivated since ancient times, but green bean casserole is a decidedly modern contribution to the classic Thanksgiving canon. The recipe you love was whipped up in 1955 by Dorcas Reilly, a home economist working in the Campbell's Soup Company test kitchens in Camden, New Jersey. Reilly's job was to create limited-ingredient recipes that housewives could quickly replicate (using Campbell's products, of course). Her original recipe (still available at Campbells.com), contains just six ingredients: Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup, green beans, milk, soy sauce, pepper, and French's French Fried Onions. Her recipe was featured in a 1955 Associated Press feature about Thanksgiving, and the association has proven surprisingly durable—Campbell’s now estimates that 30 percent of their Cream of Mushroom soup is bought specifically for use in a green bean casserole.

9. PUMPKIN PIE

Slice of pumpkin pie.
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Like cranberries, pumpkin pie does have ties to the original Thanksgiving, albeit in a much different format. The colonists certainly knew how to make pie pastry, but couldn't have replicated it without wheat flour, and might have been a bit perplexed by pumpkins, which were bigger than the gourds they knew in Europe. According to Eating in America: A History, however, Native Americans were already using the orange treats as a dessert meal: "Both squash and pumpkin were baked, usually by being placed whole in the ashes or embers of a dying fire and they were moistened afterwards with some form of animal fat, or maple syrup, or honey." It's likely that Hale was inspired by those stories when pumpkin pie appeared in her culinary descriptions.

10. WINE

Two glasses of wine.
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Chances are good that a few glasses of wine will be clinked around your table this November, but did the pilgrims share a tipsy toast with their new friends? Kathleen Wall thinks that water was probably the beverage of choice, considering that the small amount of wine the settlers had brought with them was likely long gone. Beer was a possibility, but since barley hadn't been cultivated yet, the pilgrims had to make do with a concoction that included pumpkins and parsnips. Considering the availability of apples in what would become Massachusetts, however, other historians think it's possible that hard apple cider was on hand for the revelers to enjoy. Whether or not the original feast was a boozy affair, cider rapidly became the drink of choice for English settlers in the area, along with applejack, apple brandy, and other fruit-based spirits. New England cider thus indirectly led to a less-beloved Thanksgiving tradition: your drunk uncle's annual political rant. Bottoms up!

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Big Questions
Why Do the Lions and Cowboys Always Play on Thanksgiving?
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Because it's tradition! But how did this tradition begin?

Every year since 1934, the Detroit Lions have taken the field for a Thanksgiving game, no matter how bad their record has been. It all goes back to when the Lions were still a fairly young franchise. The team started in 1929 in Portsmouth, Ohio, as the Spartans. Portsmouth, while surely a lovely town, wasn't quite big enough to support a pro team in the young NFL. Detroit radio station owner George A. Richards bought the Spartans and moved the team to Detroit in 1934.

Although Richards's new squad was a solid team, they were playing second fiddle in Detroit to the Hank Greenberg-led Tigers, who had gone 101-53 to win the 1934 American League Pennant. In the early weeks of the 1934 season, the biggest crowd the Lions could draw for a game was a relatively paltry 15,000. Desperate for a marketing trick to get Detroit excited about its fledgling football franchise, Richards hit on the idea of playing a game on Thanksgiving. Since Richards's WJR was one of the bigger radio stations in the country, he had considerable clout with his network and convinced NBC to broadcast a Thanksgiving game on 94 stations nationwide.

The move worked brilliantly. The undefeated Chicago Bears rolled into town as defending NFL champions, and since the Lions had only one loss, the winner of the first Thanksgiving game would take the NFL's Western Division. The Lions not only sold out their 26,000-seat stadium, they also had to turn fans away at the gate. Even though the juggernaut Bears won that game, the tradition took hold, and the Lions have been playing on Thanksgiving ever since.

This year, the Lions host the Minnesota Vikings.

HOW 'BOUT THEM COWBOYS?


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The Cowboys, too, jumped on the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving as an extra little bump for their popularity. When the chance to take the field on Thanksgiving arose in 1966, it might not have been a huge benefit for the Cowboys. Sure, the Lions had filled their stadium for their Thanksgiving games, but that was no assurance that Texans would warm to holiday football so quickly.

Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, though, was something of a marketing genius; among his other achievements was the creation of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Schramm saw the Thanksgiving Day game as a great way to get the team some national publicity even as it struggled under young head coach Tom Landry. Schramm signed the Cowboys up for the game even though the NFL was worried that the fans might just not show up—the league guaranteed the team a certain gate revenue in case nobody bought tickets. But the fans showed up in droves, and the team broke its attendance record as 80,259 crammed into the Cotton Bowl. The Cowboys beat the Cleveland Browns 26-14 that day, and a second Thanksgiving pigskin tradition caught hold. Since 1966, the Cowboys have missed having Thanksgiving games only twice.

Dallas will take on the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday.

WHAT'S WITH THE NIGHT GAME?


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In 2006, because 6-plus hours of holiday football was not sufficient, the NFL added a third game to the Thanksgiving lineup. This game is not assigned to a specific franchise—this year, the Washington Redskins will welcome the New York Giants.

Re-running this 2008 article a few days before the games is our Thanksgiving tradition.

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