14 Vintage Ads Featuring Ronald Reagan

Long before Ronald Reagan became the 40th President of the United States, he was a popular actor appearing alongside Errol Flynn in Desperate Journey and co-starring with a chimpanzee in Bedtime for Bonzo. Reagan’s first film, Love Is On the Air, was released in 1937, and by 1941, a poll of movie theater owners ranked him fifth among up-and-coming movie stars. And what’s a celebrity to do but give celebrity endorsements? Enjoy these 14 vintage advertisements featuring a pre-politics Ronald Reagan.

1. ROYAL CROWN COLA AD WITH JANE WYMAN // 1947

Reagan and his first wife, actress Jane Wyman appeared in a few ads together, such as a 1941 Chesterfield cigarettes ad and the above Royal Crown Cola ad in 1947. The two met on the set of the film Brother Rat in 1938 and kindled a romance during a nine-week "Stars of Tomorrow" performance tour the next year. They married in January 1940 and starred in four movies together that year, becoming fixtures in the gossip pages of movie magazines like Modern Screen and Photoplay. Reagan and Wyman separated in 1948, divorcing in 1949, and Reagan married Nancy Davis, the future First Lady, in 1952.

2. MARLBORO SHIRT COMPANY CHRISTMAS AD // 1947

"'Pipe this!' cries Ronald." Apparently, Marlboro shirts feature "Soft-as-smoke fabric," but don’t get confused: the Marlboro Shirt Company was unrelated to the Marlboro cigarette brand, which has been produced by Philip Morris since 1924. Founded in Baltimore in 1907, the clothing company still exists and now goes by the name Marlboro Originals.

The above holiday ad appeared in the December 13, 1947 issue of the Saturday Evening Post and in the January 1948 issue of Esquire.

3. CHESTERFIELD AD // 1948

Despite appearing in multiple Chesterfield advertisements—like this one from 1948—Reagan did not smoke cigarettes. He did smoke a pipe, writing in his autobiography, An American Life, that he took up the habit in college because he thought it looked cool: "I'd never liked cigarettes, but I was impressed by a flurry of ads in those days in which women said, 'I like a man who smokes a pipe.' I’d always liked the look of someone smoking a pipe, so I saved up and bought one. But I never inhaled. I just sucked in the smoke, tasted it, and blew it out—and I only did that during the offseason, when I wasn’t playing football."

After his brother, Neil, a two- or three-packs-a-day cigarette smoker, developed laryngeal cancer in the 1960s, Reagan quit smoking his pipe and picked up a Jelly Belly habit instead.

4. MARLBORO SHIRT COMPANY AD // 1949

Reagan appeared in another advertisement for Marlboro Shirt Company in Life magazine, showing off a couple of collar styles just before Easter, 1949.

5. CHESTERFIELD CHRISTMAS AD // 1951

This ad was featured in the December 3, 1951 issue of Life magazine. In 1947, Chesterfield had changed their marketing strategy to heavily emphasize celebrity endorsements, and by this time, famous spokespeople for the brand had included Lucille Ball, Joan Crawford, Betty Grable, Rita Hayworth, Barbara Stanwyck, Gary Cooper, Bing Crosby, Kirk Douglas, Bob Hope, Gregory Peck, Frank Sinatra, and Jimmy Stewart.

6. V8 AD // 1951

Campbell Soup Co. purchased V8 (then styled as V-8) in 1948 and began running a series of print advertisements for the vegetable-blend juice featuring celebrities, including both Reagan and Shirley Temple.

7. JERIS AD // 1951

This advertisement appeared in the February 5, 1951 issue of Life magazine, among other places. Hair tonics—lightweight, alcohol-based hair products—were popular in the '50s and still show up in barbershops today. Men used tonics to get a crisp part and to add shine to the hair without making it greasy. And Reagan wasn’t the only celebrity singing Jeris’s praises—Kirk Douglas also endorsed the brand.

8. CIGAR INSTITUTE OF AMERICA AD // 1951

This February 1951 ad for the Cigar Institute of America suggests that Reagan's approach to cigars was the same as his approach to pipes: smoke, just don't inhale.

9. WILDROOT AD // 1950S

Dating to sometime during the 1950s, this advertisement for Wildroot Cream Oil is equipped with a cardboard easel and seems to have been designed to sit in the window of a barbershop, using Reagan’s glossy hair and confident grin to draw in customers. Infused with lanolin, Wildroot is an oil-based grooming product meant to serve the same purpose as a hair tonic, with added moisturizing properties.

10. WESTINGHOUSE AD // 1953

Reagan would become a famous General Electric spokesman, but before taking on that role, he endorsed Westinghouse appliances in this April 1953 advertisement. According to the ad (he's third from the left along the front row), his favorite Westinghouse feature was "the Laundromat's Weigh-to-Save Door and Water Saver." Reagan would begin working with GE the next year.

11. VAN HEUSEN AD // 1953

Reagan appeared in this Van Heusen campaign in 1953, and in January 1981, the company re-ran the ad with a celebratory message in Time, Newsweek, and People magazines to congratulate Reagan on the eve of his first inauguration. Then, in 1985, Andy Warhol used this same ad as a basis for his screenprint "Van Heusen (Ronald Reagan)" in his "Ads" series.

12. "LIVE BETTER ELECTRICALLY" AD // 1958

In 1954, Reagan was hired by General Electric to host General Electric Theater, a popular CBS anthology TV show that mixed dramatic stories with advertising for GE products and the modern "electric home" more generally. It ran for two seasons without a host, then introduced Reagan in the third season to give the show a more consistent voice. At a low point in his acting career, Reagan was enticed by the offer of steady work—and a starting paycheck of $125,000.

Along with his salary, GE also turned the Reagan family’s home in the Pacific Palisades into "the most electric home in the country." In a recurring segment, the show would "check in" with the Reagans, exploring their house as the family demonstrated and praised their "electric servants," as they called their GE appliances. The tagline for these segments was "Live Better Electrically," the name of a multi-million dollar campaign co-sponsored by GE and Westinghouse that aimed to sell not just specific products but the idea of a home populated with appliances and reliant on electricity. Launched in 1956, the "Live Better Electrically" campaign marketed a vision of the modern American home as an "all-electric" home—catchy jingle and all.

13. UNION PACIFIC DOMELINER AD // 1959

In this advertisement in National Geographic from 1959, Reagan touts the luxury of train travel in a Union Pacific Domeliner, a special passenger car topped with a glass dome that offered panoramic views. The Domeliner had snagged another A-list endorsement a couple of years earlier—it got the full-episode treatment on I Love Lucy when Lucy, Desi, and company took a long trip on the luxury liner (which Lucy ruined when she kept pulling the emergency brake).

14. GE PORTABLE TELEVISION AD // 1961

This advertisement appeared in 1961 when Reagan was still presenting General Electric Theater, which he hosted the show until the following year. With Reagan at the helm, GE Theater had become a top-10 show in the Nielsen ratings between 1956-'58, and celebrities like Fred Astaire, Bette Davis, Judy Garland, and the Marx Brothers all made guest-star appearances.

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Kars4Kids, YouTube
The Cruel (But Effective) Agony of the Kars4Kids Jingle
Kars4Kids, YouTube
Kars4Kids, YouTube

It can happen suddenly and without warning. Driving in your vehicle, a commercial break comes on. In addition to the standard pleas to use a specific laundry detergent or contemplate debt consolidation, the voice of a preadolescent, out-of-tune child materializes. Your grip on the steering wheel gets tighter. The child begins to warble:

1-877-Kars-4-Kids, K-A-R-S Kars for Kids, 1-EIGHT-SEVEN-SEVEN-Kars-4-Kids, Donate Your Car Today …

An adult breaks in to repeat the lyrics. The two begin to sing in unison:

1-877-Kars-4-Kids, K-A-R-S Kaaaaars for Kiiiids…Donate Your Car Today!

In roughly a minute, it’s over. You go on with your day. But the song’s repetitive melody sticks to your brain like sap. You hear it when preparing dinner. While brushing your teeth. As you put your head on the pillow. When it's finally worked its way out of your brain and you've started to forget, it reappears.

The song is engineered to be obnoxious. And its producers wouldn't have it any other way.

 
 

Since 1999, an untold number of Americans have found themselves reduced to mewling heaps of distress following exposure to the Kars4Kids jingle. The 501(c) nonprofit organization based in Lakewood, New Jersey, spends up to $17 million annually making sure this earwig of a commercial is played across the country. While the purpose is not expressly to annoy you, the fact that the song is irritating is what makes it memorable. And successful. And more than a little controversial.

Kars4Kids began in 1995 as a way to capitalize on the trend of automotive owners donating their unwanted cars in exchange for a tax deduction. Owners who donate their vehicles are able to get an IRS write-off—though typically for only a percentage of the current value—if they declare it a charitable donation. Kars4Kids arranges for the vehicle to be towed away and sold at auction, with proceeds going to afterschool and summer programs for students.

According to the organization, business was slow until one of their volunteers had an idea to craft a commercial song. The melody was purchased from a singer and songwriter named Country Yossi, and Kars4Kids enlisted a child to perform it at an in-house recording session. It debuted in the New York market in 1999, and spread like the plague to the West Coast by 2005 and nationally by 2007.

Aside from Yossi, however, the company has repeatedly declined to identify anyone else involved with creating the song. The reason? Death threats. The tune has apparently enraged people to the point of contemplating murder. Speaking to SanFranciscoGate.com in 2016, music cognition expert Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis said that the combination of repetitive structure and the overly simplistic message was engineered to grate the listener's nerves.

“This simple melodic line is also probably responsible for some of the annoyance,” she said. “These kinds of three and four note lines are often the ones specially crafted for kids learning how to play instruments ... It probably conjures up associations of painful practice sessions.”

 
 

The line between irritating and memorable is often blurry. Kars4Kids has repeatedly pointed to the song as being effective in driving telephone traffic to their number. When they debuted a television commercial in 2014—complete with lip-syncing kids who subsequently got bullied for their participation in the spot—donations went up by 50 percent. To date, the company has received 450,000 cars. In 2017, contributions totaled $39 million.

Surprisingly, people have reserved animosity for something other than the commercial. In 2017, Minnesota's attorney general chastised Kars4Kids for not making it clear to donors that many of the children who benefit from the fundraising are located in the northeast: Kids in Minnesota received just $12,000 of the $3 million raised in that state. Other times, the organization has been criticized for leaving information out of their solicitations. In 2009, both Pennsylvania and Oregon fined the charity for failing to disclose a religious affiliation. (Most of the funds raised go toward Orthodox Jewish groups.) Oregon’s Department of Justice said that Kars4Kids needed to disclose such information in its ads.

Those speed bumps aside, the jingle shows no signs of leaving the airwaves any time soon. Rather than run from the negative response, Kars4Kids marinates in it, sharing hateful diatribes from others on social media.

“Newer people join the [media] team and when they are first exposed to the level of hatred on Twitter they'll be like, 'Are you sure you think this is a good idea that we should keep on playing this?,'" Wendy Kirwan, Kars4Kids’s director of public relations, told Billboard in 2016. “And we've looked at that time and again, and we've come to the conclusion that it's definitely worth sticking with.”

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Rebecca O'Connell (Getty Images) (iStock)
How Frozen Peas Made Orson Welles Lose It
Rebecca O'Connell (Getty Images) (iStock)
Rebecca O'Connell (Getty Images) (iStock)

Orson Welles would have turned 103 years old today. While the talented actor/director/writer leaves behind a staggering body of work—including Citizen Kane, long regarded as the best film of all time—the YouTube generation may know him best for what happened when a couple of voiceover directors decided to challenge him while recording an ad for Findus frozen foods in 1970.

The tempestuous Welles is having none of it. You’d do yourself a favor to listen to the whole thing, but here are some choice excerpts.

After he was asked for one more take from the audio engineer:

"Look, I’m not used to having more than one person in there. One more word out of you and you go! Is that clear? I take directions from one person, under protest … Who the hell are you, anyway?"

After it was explained to him that the second take was requested because of a “slight gonk”:

"What is a 'gonk'? Do you mind telling me what that is?"

After the director asks him to emphasize the “in” while saying “In July”:

"Why? That doesn't make any sense. Sorry. There's no known way of saying an English sentence in which you begin a sentence with 'in' and emphasize it. … That's just stupid. 'In July?' I'd love to know how you emphasize 'in' in 'in July.' Impossible! Meaningless!"

When the session moved from frozen peas to ads for fish fingers and beef burgers, the now-sheepish directors attempt to stammer out some instructions. Welles's reply:

"You are such pests! ... In your depths of your ignorance, what is it you want?"

Why would the legendary director agree to shill for a frozen food company in the first place? According to author Josh Karp, whose book Orson Welles’s Last Movie chronicles the director’s odyssey to make a “comeback” film in the 1970s, Welles acknowledged the ad spots were mercenary in nature: He could demand upwards of $15,000 a day for sessions, which he could use, in part, to fund his feature projects.

“Why he dressed down the man, I can't say for sure,” Karp says. “But I know that he was a perfectionist and didn't suffer fools, in some cases to the extreme. He used to take a great interest in the ads he made, even when they weren't of his creation.”

The Findus session was leaked decades ago, popping up on radio and in private collections before hitting YouTube. Voiceover actor Maurice LaMarche, who voiced the erudite Brain in Pinky and the Brain, based the character on Welles and would recite his rant whenever he got the chance.

Welles died in 1985 at the age of 70 from a heart attack, his last film unfinished. While some saw the pea endorsement as beneath his formidable talents, he was actually ahead of the curve: By the 1980s, many A-list stars were supplementing their income with advertising or voiceover work.

“He was a brilliant, funny guy,” Karp says. “There's a good chance he'd think the pea commercial was hilarious.” If not, he’d obviously have no problem saying as much.

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