When You Cash In On a Star
I don't know how far back one can trace the use of celebrities to advertise products. My guess is the turn of the twentieth century, at least. Anyway, the comics pages were always glad to call on a familiar face to hawk food...cigarettes...beauty supplies...automobile parts...you name it. In descending order of fame, here are four advertising comics I enjoy.
Coming in first place is Mr. Ray Milland, a screen star who will be familiar to anyone who likes classic American movies. In 1952 Ray discovered V-8 Vegetable Juice Cocktail while building a cabinet with his friend "Bob." As he recounts in his typewritten voiceovers, Ray had never had a V-8 before, and he promptly introduced everyone at the movie studio to the drink. No wonder Campbell Soup Company hired him for this strip!
A lighter line than most ad strips of the time, and some decent likenesses of Mr. M. As always I'd appreciate any artist ID's.
Golden-voiced Vaughn Monroe was one of the kings of the late Big Band era. He recorded many hits, including the best-known version of "Ghost Riders in the Sky." He also took a fling at being a singing cowboy. Vaughn's music made him rich and famous, while his movies made him a comic strip star. In 1950 he promoted Quaker Puffed Wheat while performing stunts for his new feature, "Singing Guns." Helping him was a remarkably literate six-year-old ("Hello, Mr. Monroe. Your fans are thrilled that you're starring in your first movie!" ) Bet the kid grew up to be an ad copywriter. The artist here did a good job capturing Monroe's likeness. Nice painting of him in the splash panel, too. I notice his movie debut was filmed in the notorious Trucolor process...which means its color probably looks as good today as does this beat-up tearsheet's!
By the way, my folks often tried to get us to eat Puffed Wheat, but it tasted dry and bland. The only thing that could liven up Puffed Wheat was LOTS OF SUGAR!! Which was available pre-applied to Sugar Jets, my favorite breakfasttime tooth-rotter.
Speaking of teeth, give an open-mouthed smile to Bert Parks, unforgettable host of a zillion radio and TV game shows, as well as the Miss America pageant. In this undated strip (probably circa 1950-1952), Bert shows his pearly whites for Vitalis Hair Cream, which guarantees the TV camera won't catch him with a "gooey film" on his hair.
It appears Vitalis left a gooey film on the illustrator's Art-O-Graph, though, because he seems to have had only one photo of Bert to work from. I'm reminded of an old Cracked parody of The Millionaire that John Severin drew . He had obviously been given only one still of Marvin Miller (playing "Michael Anthony," the guy who distributed million-dollar checks). I gather it annoyed him, because Severin drew one caricature of Miller (a full-face shot), made multiple stats, and pasted one onto each Michael Anthony figure throughout the strip, regardless of the position of his body!
Be that as it may, we have one more face from the past: lovely Kitty Kallen, who may not be remembered at all. After a career in the Big Bands, Kitty made a comeback in the 1950s with two hit singles, "Little Things Mean a Lot" and "Chapel in the Moonlight." 1954 was Kitty Kallen's big year. It was also the year she thanked Halo Shampoo for helping launch her career.
To me, using quotation marks within balloons was one of the sure signs of an ignorant comics scriptwriter, right up there with having the tail of a pointer touching the speaker's mouth. But Miss Kallen doesn't mind so long as she has her Halo.
I remember that Halo package well. It was a slick design, a ridged spindle-shaped clear bottle of thick glass. The golden color of the shampoo made a neat glowing reflection on my grandmother's vanity as the sun shone through it. The only shampoo that was aesthetically superior was Prell, with its thick Oz-green bubbles. But I digress.