by Kevin Wollenweber
As you probably know by now if you’ve stumbled across this page within the last couple of days, my blogging partner Rachel Newstead and I are thinking of expanding the scope of this blog to include comments on other media, as much as we can with our limited resources, and whatever else is going on in our lives.
I know that Rachel will intrigue you with her memories and current viewpoints and, hopefully (gulp), I can come up with an intriguing point or two.
So what changed my blogger’s viewpoint within the past few months? Well, I really enjoy animation and know that it still remains the most flexible of all the art forms. Or at least it is the stepping-off point at which all or most imagery in film exists, again from my own perspective.
As I have stated before, I could easily be accused of far too much TV watching. At the time I began watching extensively as a kid, TV was already being hailed as this vast wasteland, and not the medium of hope that some originally saw. While I agree that TV will never be this artistic variety that we all hope it could possibly turn into, there are some ridiculous things that I have committed to memory over the years as twisted pop art, and that includes TV commercials.
Let’s face it, some of these were so embedded in the popular consciousness that lyrics to jingles and images from popular ads showed up in parody on animated cartoons on television, and in those created for theatrical distribution, made before the theatrical studios closed for good.
And so, to explain the title of this entry– originally growled by the male cat in the TOM & JERRY cartoon, “SPRINGTIME FOR THOMAS” when he gets his own eyeful of the pretty kitten whose attentions both cats are vying for–the examples I’d use of bizarre pop art, as I see it, would unfortunately be from ads that possibly have vanished from the world entirely, as most ads were casually and literally tossed out when they were no longer useful.
While watching a movie one afternoon, one in which a favorite actress appeared, I started creating my own image of her, not being physically able to describe her but infatuated with her voice or nuance thereof.
This somehow morphed into memories of girls in TV commercials and, then and there, it occurred to me how it seemed as if an underlying sexual urge ran through a lot of TV commercials of, say, the early 1960’s. I can name one or two ads that were driven by just watching a shapely pair of female legs move about, sometimes utilizing what used to be called “under-cranked” photography. I was 10 ears old in 1963, and I recall ads like these that fascinated me in ways I could not immediately define just yet, but I liked it! One such ad was one for Mazola Corn Oil.
The focus of the ad, or, more accurately, the point was supposed to be “what if you, the shopper, had to scurry about trying to find all the ‘nutritional’ ingredients in this product…” God knows what the announcer was trying to say, because I sat there, transfixed by the scurrying, shapely legs of this woman, moving with a shopping cart at top speed through the streets, outfitted in the stereotypical dress of the sitcom suburban housewife or homemaker. The camera point of view follows these shapely legs *VERY* closely, as she not only scoops up over-sized representations of ingredients she’d need to create the final product for herself, but even as she stampedes in her high heels into a corn field and, her torso whirling around at top speed, bends to snap up larger-then-life ears of corn to toss into her already full basket.
Whatever the voice-over announcer is saying is obscured by this visual, like something that almost belonged in an old OUR GANG comedy with all those bits of silent footage of fast-moving chases. It was as close to slapstick as such a frivolous commercial can get, but I found this really exhilarating to watch as a kid, because you’d see this woman with a bounce in her step, again subliminally emphasizing her shape and what we viewers are watching in stark close-up. Hey, even at 10 or 11 ears old, I knew what I liked. Remember, too, that this was not the progressive age, and we have already found so many now laughable commercials that make each and every one of us into nothing more than one-dimensional clichés.
Yet, I found it amazing how many of these types of ads there were, ads that spoke their piece as we watched the female form from the waste down. Another such ad, for a bank (I can’t recall which one), actually began with the phrase “these are Mary Mason’s feet…” “Hello” says I, in my then political/social incorrectness, because this Mary Mason, if she really existed at all, did not look like our average work-a-day individual. Like the previous ad, the majority of time it took to sell the product, the convenience of the locations of the savings bank in question, was taken up watching this stunning young woman move along, this time at regular speed, through busy streets, even being jostled this way and that as she waits to cross at street corners, bending in an almost exaggerated gracefulness to dab at city dirt around the toe of her shiny shoe, all saying to this viewer, even at that age, “look at me, look at me!”
I always joked that this ad had to be selling the girl with the service, but I know that wasn’t the case. At any rate, with my memories of these types of ads, those two would have won awards for alternate messages, but there isn’t such a category today, again because we like to claim that such subliminal messages are no longer inherent in our pop culture. But I digress, as always.
Of course, ads like these were scoffed at even by me in later years as I grew to hate the way we as human beings are seen in modern advertising, and even the most saccharine of sitcoms of that age would poke fun at the categorizing of America. One of my favorites in this area came from none other than Donna Reed in an episode from her show in which a then popular morning radio show is being broadcast from a local Hilldale shopping center as Donna walks in.
She begins seething when she realizes that the smug host of the show is treating his female interviews as if they were automatically going to be nothing more than frivolous, air-headed wind-up dolls who claw through grocery aisles in their painted nails and high heels, fighting for nothing more than that elusive bargain on that top brand name product advertised on and around his show. It is an episode that cagily tried to work against the sponsors who also condescendingly send their message out to those homemakers with much the same attitude, while, as I said above, putting the jiggling body out there as eye candy for howlin’ wolves like me.
Yet, again, in most sitcoms of the day, the homemakers were designed in much the same way. Remember how gorgeous Elizabeth Montgomery was throughout the run of “BEWITCHED”? I know I was also bowled over by lovely Mary Tyler Moore from the first we saw her well-proportioned legs in the opening credits of that detective show—I can never recall its name, but Mary will forever be etched in my mind from that point on up through her own show. She was a major crush!
(Note from Rachel: Kevin is referring to RICHARD DIAMOND, PRIVATE DETECTIVE, which aired on CBS from 1957 to 1960. And yes, one could easily say Mary’s legs were the real star of the program.)
And, of course, there was Donna Reed herself, originally positioned years ago to be one of MGM’s long stream of theatrical beauties.
So what am I trying to say, here? Nothing more than an acknowledgment that perhaps the Donna Stones were correct to assume that entertainment was unfortunately being aimed at a certain level, something that has driven good actors crazy. They could and would be pigeon-holed and crammed into thankless roles just to keep their faces seen in popular culture. It is a subject that began to bother me when it seemed as if we were all, male and female, victims of pigeon-holing and neat categorizations, but I was smiling and shaking my head in shame to admit that I was as seduced by some of that eye candy, too.
I think it made us all feel that Hollywood is the only place where we will ever find such beauties, because it is still assumed that, if you are so well-endowed, you will never be taken seriously as anything but candy for the eyes. The body will age; the creative spark will not, and that is why I now cherish the latter as well as the former. Yeah, even in this age of enlightenment and sightlessness, some of my impressions are still holdovers from the duller-headed periods of my life. When I hear the voice of a young actress, I pin it to the beauty I salivated over in the days when I had one eye’s worth of sight and a desire that never quits.
Never fear, though, because I was not someone who acted upon his hungers. I guess I was also someone who, unfortunately for me, thought too much of consequences. So the lovely Mary Masons of the world didn’t have anything to fear from me, and they should know that my dagger starings in their direction will probably amount to nothing more than any discomfort they might feel at being so fixedly gazed upon.
In closing, what does this have to do with cartoons? Well, almost nothing, except that the Mazola ad had its wild, cartoonish appeal for me, also making me realize that watching a shapely girl bouncing around at top speed was also a buzz for this boy. I also recall, believe it or not, a segment of one of the popular PBS kids’ shows, perhaps “SESAME STREET”, which was supposed to show kids how to count. It involved a lovely, dark-haired girl, dubbed “the lovely Maria” and her unicycle. The point of all of this was that the announcer was counting how many times this woman rode that cycle around and around in the center ring, so to speak. Like in the old commercials as mentioned earlier, she was also dressed so that we were very much aware of her shape as she began riding. As she moved, the image sped up, until she was moving at top speed, thanks to trick photography as I also pointed out above, even playfully leaping on her tiptoes off and back on the cycle, with my one good eye not missing a single gesture. I have to admit, I found this little tidbit amusing and interesting, while the little children were counting along with how many laps the lovely Maria made around the circle. The counting from one to ten stopped and the unseen audience claps as Maria stumbles off the unicycle and wearily bows to her appreciative audience. Nice job.
Aw, forgive me, folks, but my mind will never stray from the beauty of the heavenly bodies of this miserable planet, but I am also mindful of where the wolf always ends up in the classic Tex Avery “red” cartoons. He snaps wildly, in staccato bursts of energy, at her pretty feet as she kicks out at him, and she manages, every time, to get away. Even Betty Boop, in her own teasing and playful way, always came out of the frey unharmed. When she wanted to play, she’d play…*HER* way.
This was a leaping off point for me, though, regarding visuals and what we could do in taking live actors and turning them into cartoons. There is also the example that the late, great Art Clokey realized in one particular episode of GUMBY adventures, called “ANIMATED PEOPLE” which I believe I’ve already described within these postings. Very briefly, Clokey and an unknown actress are seen as stop-motion figures in the parts of two people on a picnic, suddenly besieged by a runaway lawn mower. If ever this particular short is given to us on DVD, I’d love to hear commentary by someone who knows how this effect was achieved. It is one of Clokey’s most surreal shorts, along with other wonderful GUMBY shorts of this and earlier periods.
I’ve known of actresses within the past 10 or 20 years that I’d love to create visual media with in this fashion. One such actress is the delightful Jenna Leigh Green, most widely known for her portrayal of Libby Chessler in the once popular tween sitcom, “SABRINA THE TEENAGE WITCH”. Miss Green’s character was the quintessential “mean girl” cheerleader character, but I had to make note of the fact that this particular mean girl had a knack for reaction that endeared her to me. I mean, if she was born in the 1930’s, I could find a place for her in Hal Roach comedies of the day. I wanted to see Libby Chessler get her comeuppance just so I could watch and hear Jenna react with a slow burn or screeching shock. What I’m only realizing recently, though, is that Jenna Leigh Green has now made a name for herself in more than a few theatrical productions. She has been part of the L.A. company of “WICKED”, a show I’d never seen but that is still being performed on stages ‘round the world. She is part of the original cast album as it exists presently. Having just heard an ad for it the other day on a local radio station, I, therefore, wondered whether Jenna Leigh Green would possibly be among its present cast here in New York. I’m not much for divas, as they are presently redefined in popular culture, but I do feel that this particular one should be doing a lot more, in movies as well as onstage.
I hope I get this chance to experience her in “the flesh”, as Bugs Bunny puts it, someday. I guarantee you this beast won’t sit there with his tongue lolling out, steaming a hole in someone else’s theater program or chewing up the scenery in overwhelming longing but the longing will be there and, truth be told, I did sucker myself to join a “group” around her on Facebook. I’ll just never learn, I guess.
To get an idea of the sorts of ads Kevin means, look no further than this collection of commercials from the 1950s and ’60s, from the folks at TVDays.com. Take particular note of a very young Charlotte Rae at about 3:15, singing the praises of Accent seasoning.–R.