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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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Penn Vet Working Dog Center
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
New Program Trains Dogs to Sniff Out Art Smugglers
Penn Vet Working Dog Center
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

Soon, the dogs you see sniffing out contraband at airports may not be searching for drugs or smuggled Spanish ham. They might be looking for stolen treasures.

K-9 Artifact Finders, a new collaboration between New Hampshire-based cultural heritage law firm Red Arch and the University of Pennsylvania, is training dogs to root out stolen antiquities looted from archaeological sites and museums. The dogs would be stopping them at borders before the items can be sold elsewhere on the black market.

The illegal antiquities trade nets more than $3 billion per year around the world, and trafficking hits countries dealing with ongoing conflict, like Syria and Iraq today, particularly hard. By one estimate, around half a million artifacts were stolen from museums and archaeological sites throughout Iraq between 2003 and 2005 alone. (Famously, the craft-supply chain Hobby Lobby was fined $3 million in 2017 for buying thousands of ancient artifacts looted from Iraq.) In Syria, the Islamic State has been known to loot and sell ancient artifacts including statues, jewelry, and art to fund its operations.

But the problem spans across the world. Between 2007 and 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Control discovered more than 7800 cultural artifacts in the U.S. looted from 30 different countries.

A yellow Lab sniffs a metal cage designed to train dogs on scent detection.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

K-9 Artifact Finders is the brainchild of Rick St. Hilaire, the executive director of Red Arch. His non-profit firm researches cultural heritage property law and preservation policy, including studying archaeological site looting and antiquities trafficking. Back in 2015, St. Hilaire was reading an article about a working dog trained to sniff out electronics that was able to find USB drives, SD cards, and other data storage devices. He wondered, if dogs could be trained to identify the scents of inorganic materials that make up electronics, could they be trained to sniff out ancient pottery?

To find out, St. Hilaire tells Mental Floss, he contacted the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, a research and training center for detection dogs. In December 2017, Red Arch, the Working Dog Center, and the Penn Museum (which is providing the artifacts to train the dogs) launched K-9 Artifact Finders, and in late January 2018, the five dogs selected for the project began their training, starting with learning the distinct smell of ancient pottery.

“Our theory is, it is a porous material that’s going to have a lot more odor than, say, a metal,” says Cindy Otto, the executive director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center and the project’s principal investigator.

As you might imagine, museum curators may not be keen on exposing fragile ancient materials to four Labrador retrievers and a German shepherd, and the Working Dog Center didn’t want to take any risks with the Penn Museum’s priceless artifacts. So instead of letting the dogs have free rein to sniff the materials themselves, the project is using cotton balls. The researchers seal the artifacts (broken shards of Syrian pottery) in airtight bags with a cotton ball for 72 hours, then ask the dogs to find the cotton balls in the lab. They’re being trained to disregard the smell of the cotton ball itself, the smell of the bag it was stored in, and ideally, the smell of modern-day pottery, eventually being able to zero in on the smell that distinguishes ancient pottery specifically.

A dog looks out over the metal "pinhweel" training mechanism.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

“The dogs are responding well,” Otto tells Mental Floss, explaining that the training program is at the stage of "exposing them to the odor and having them recognize it.”

The dogs involved in the project were chosen for their calm-but-curious demeanors and sensitive noses (one also works as a drug-detection dog when she’s not training on pottery). They had to be motivated enough to want to hunt down the cotton balls, but not aggressive or easily distracted.

Right now, the dogs train three days a week, and will continue to work on their pottery-detection skills for the first stage of the project, which the researchers expect will last for the next nine months. Depending on how the first phase of the training goes, the researchers hope to be able to then take the dogs out into the field to see if they can find the odor of ancient pottery in real-life situations, like in suitcases, rather than in a laboratory setting. Eventually, they also hope to train the dogs on other types of objects, and perhaps even pinpoint the chemical signatures that make artifacts smell distinct.

Pottery-sniffing dogs won’t be showing up at airport customs or on shipping docks soon, but one day, they could be as common as drug-sniffing canines. If dogs can detect low blood sugar or find a tiny USB drive hidden in a house, surely they can figure out if you’re smuggling a sculpture made thousands of years ago in your suitcase.

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9 Scandals that Rocked the Figure Skating World
ERIC FEFERBERG, AFP/Getty Images
ERIC FEFERBERG, AFP/Getty Images

Don't let the ornate costumes and beautiful choreography fool you, figure skaters are no strangers to scandal. Here are nine notable ones.

1. TONYA AND NANCY.

Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding
Pascal Rondeau, ALLSPORT/Getty Images

In 1994, a little club-and-run thrust the sport of figure skating into the spotlight. The assault on reigning national champion Nancy Kerrigan (and her subsequent anguished cries) at the 1994 U.S. National Figure Skating Championships in Detroit was heard round the world, as were the allegations that her main rival, Tonya Harding, may have been behind it all.

The story goes a little something like this: As America's sweetheart (Kerrigan) is preparing to compete for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team bound for Lillehammer, Norway, she gets clubbed in the knee outside the locker room after practice. Kerrigan is forced to withdraw from competition and Harding gets the gold. Details soon emerge that Harding's ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, was behind the attack (he hired a hitman). Harding denies any knowledge or involvement, but tanks at the Olympics the following month. She then pleads guilty to hindering prosecution of Gillooly and his co-conspirators, bodyguard Shawn Eckhart and hitman Shane Stant. And then she's banned from figure skating for life.

Questions about Harding's guilt remain two decades later, and the event is still a topic of conversation today. Recently, both an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary and the Oscar-nominated film I, Tonya revisited the saga, proving we can't get enough of a little figure skating scandal.

2. HAND-PICKED FOR GOLD.

Mirai Nagasu and Ashley Wagner at the podium
Jared Wickerham, Getty Images

Usually it's the top three medalists at the U.S. Nationals that compete for America at the Winter Olympics every four years. But in 2014, gold medalist Gracie Gold (no pun intended), silver medalist Polina Edmunds, and ... "pewter" medalist Ashley Wagner were destined for Sochi.

What about the bronze medalist, you ask? Mirai Nagasu, despite out-skating Wagner by a landslide in Boston and despite being the only skater with prior Olympic experience (she placed fourth at Vancouver in 2010) had to watch it all on television. The decision by the country's governing body of figure skating (United States Figure Skating Association, or USFS) deeply divided the skating community as to whether it was the right choice to pass over Nagasu in favor of Wagner, who hadn't skated so great, and it put a global spotlight on the selection process.

In reality, the athletes that we send to the Olympics are not chosen solely on their performance at Nationals—it's one of many criteria taken into consideration, including performance in international competition over the previous year, difficulty of each skater's technical elements, and, to some degree, their marketability to a world audience. This has happened before to other skaters—most notably Michelle Kwan was relegated to being an alternate in 1994 after Nancy Kerrigan was granted a medical bye after the leg-clubbing heard round the world. Nagasu had the right to appeal the decision, and was encouraged to do so by mobs of angry skating fans, but she elected not to.

3. SALT LAKE CITY, 2002.

Pairs skaters Jamie Sale and David Pelletier of Canada and Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze of Russia perform in the figure skating exhibition during the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games at the Salt Lake Ice Center in Salt Lake City, Utah
Brian Bahr, Getty Images

Objectively, this scandal rocked the skating world the hardest, because the end result was a shattering of the competitive sport's very structure. When Canadian pairs team Jamie Sale and David Pelletier found themselves in second place after a flawless freeskate at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake, something wasn't right. The Russian team of Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze placed first, despite a technically flawed performance.

An investigation into the result revealed that judges had conspired to fix the results of the pairs and dance events—a French judge admitted to being pressured to vote for the Russian pair in exchange for a boost for the French dance team (who won that event). In the end, both pairs teams were awarded a gold medal, and the entire system of judging figure skating competition was thrown out and rebuilt.

4. AGENT OF STYLE.

Jackson Haines was an American figure skater in the mid-1800s who had some crazy ideas about the sport. He had this absolutely ludicrous notion of skating to music (music!), waltzing on ice, as well as incorporating balletic movements, athletic jumps, and spins into competition. His brand new style of skating was in complete contrast to the rigid, traditional, and formal (read: awkward) standard of tracing figure-eights into the ice. Needless to say, it was not well received by the skating world in America, so he was forced to take his talents to the Old World.

His new “international style” did eventually catch on around the globe, and Haines is now hailed as the father of modern figure skating. He also invented the sit spin, a technical element now required in almost every level and discipline of the sport.

5. LADIES LAST.

In 1902, competitive figure skating was a gentlemen's pursuit. Ladies simply didn't compete by themselves on the world stage (though they did compete in pairs events). But a British skater named Madge Syers flouted that standard, entering the World Figure Skating Championships in 1902. She ruffled a lot of feathers, but was ultimately allowed to compete and beat the pants off every man save one, earning the silver medal.

Her actions sparked a controversy that spurred the International Skating Union to create a separate competitive world event for women in 1906. Madge went on to win that twice, and became Olympic champion at the 1908 summer games [PDF] in London—the first “winter” Olympics weren't held until 1924 in France, several years after Madge died in 1917.

6. AGENT OF STYLE, PART 2.

A picture of Norwegian figure skater Sonja Henie
Keystone/Getty Images

Norwegian skater Sonja Henie was the darling of the figure skating world in the first half of the 20th century. The flirtatious blonde was a three-time Olympic champion, a movie star, and the role model of countless aspiring skaters. She brought sexy back to skating—or rather, introduced it. She was the first skater to wear scandalously short skirts and white skates. Prior to her bold fashion choices, ladies wore black skates and long, conservative skirts. During WWII, a fabric shortage hiked up the skirts even further than Henie's typical length, and the ladies of figure skating have never looked back.

7. TOO SEXY FOR HER SKATES.

Katarina Witt displaying her gold medal
DANIEL JANIN, AFP/Getty Images

A buxom young beauty from the former Democratic German Republic dominated ladies figure skating in the mid- to late 1980s. A two-time Olympic champion, and one of the most decorated female skaters in history, Katarina Witt was just too sexy for her shirt—she tended to wear scandalously revealing costumes (one of which resulted in a wardrobe malfunction during a show), and was criticized for attempting to flirt with the judges to earn higher scores.

The ISU put the kibosh on the controversial outfits soon afterward, inserting a rule that all competitive female skaters “must not give the effect of excessive nudity inappropriate for an athletic sport.” The outrage forced Witt to add some fabric to her competitive outfits in the late '80s. But 10 years later she took it all off, posing naked for a 1998 issue of Playboy.

8. MORE COSTUME CONTROVERSY.

For the 2010 competitive year, the ISU's annual theme for the original dance segment (since defunct and replaced by the “short dance”) was “country/folk.” That meant competitors had to create a routine that explored some aspect of it, in both music and costume as well as in maneuvers. The top Russian pair chose to emulate Aboriginal tribal dancing in their program, decked in full bodysuits adorned with their interpretation of Aboriginal body paint (and a loincloth).

Their debut performance at the European Championships drew heavy criticism from Aboriginal groups in both Australia and Canada, who were greatly offended by the inaccuracy of the costumes and the routine. The Russian pair, Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin, were quick to dial down the costumes and dial up the accuracy in time for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, but the judges were not impressed. They ended up with the bronze, ending decades of Russian dominance in the discipline. (With the glaring exception of 2002, of course.)

9. IN MEMORIAM.

While not a scandal, this event bears mentioning because it has rocked the figure skating world arguably more than anything else. In February of 1961, the American figure skating team boarded a flight to Belgium from New York, en route to the World Championships in Prague. The plane went down mysteriously (cause still questioned today) as it tried to land in Brussels, killing all 72 passengers. America's top skaters and coaches had been aboard, including nine-time U.S. Champion and Olympic bronze medalist-turned-coach Maribel Vinson-Owen and her daughter Laurence Owen, a 16-year-old who had been heavily favored to win the ladies event that year.

The ISU canceled the competition upon the news of the crash and the United States lost its long-held dominance in the sport for almost a decade. The United States Figure Skating Association (USFS) soon after established a memorial fund that helped support the skating careers of competitors in need of financial assistance, including future Olympic champions like Scott Hamilton and Peggy Fleming.

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