Food Icons: Immortal In the Eyes of the Television Beholder
by Marjorie Dorfman
To be somebody you must last. Ruth Gordon
How have food icons sustained their popularity throughout the years? Why dont they dont age the way that we do? Tony The Tiger looks the same as when I was five years old and both The Pillsbury Doughboy and Charlie The Tuna bear not a single wrinkle upon their well advertised brows! Read on for their secrets and a smile or two.
From the valley of the Jolly Green Giant and the floors of Mr. Clean to the pastures of Elsie The Cow and the kitchen of The Campbell Kids, lies the fickle realm of television advertising where cartoons are born and icons are made. Theres a thin line between a trademark and an icon and its one that not all cartoons pass with flying or other colors. Most of the more famous television icons began their lives as animated trademarks; that is, they were used to represent a specific product. Born on the high-powered wings of the media (although not able to leap tall buildings in a single bound), these symbols have maintained the growing tide of their own fame. How many can recall the pleasing voice and face of Miss Chiquita Banana, luring us into the healthful world of the banana? Who could ever forget Charlie The Tuna, Tony The Tiger and The Pillsbury Doughboy? They too belong in the realm of television cultural icons, but the question is: How did they get there in the first place?
Chiquita Banana is the oldest of the lot mentioned above. (I should never say that about a "fellow" female, but the truth is the truth.) She dates back to 1941 when Dik Brown, the same artist who produced the Campbell Soup Kids, created her. She helped teach consumers about the nutritional value of bananas and how to ripen them. The first live "lady of fruit" was Miss Patty Clayton in 1944. The most famous Miss Chiquita was Elsa Miranda (no relation to Carmen) who made numerous personal appearances in 1945 and 1946.
Miss Chiquita first appeared on labels to identify the Chiquita Brand bananas in 1963. Her likeness remained unchanged for years and she eventually reached the ranks of media immortality (icondom). Until 1987 she was a sexy banana lady, but still a cartoon. And then all that changed. Whether or not bananas pass through puberty may always remain a moot point, but artist Oscar Grillo, who created the Pink Panther, most definitely transformed Miss Chiquita into a sultry yellow lady with a mission. You can hear her lilting pleas for all humans to eat bananas in her own seductive words at: http://www.chiquita.com
Charlie The Tuna, that striving go-getter fish of the 1960s, is another character forever immortalized by the powers that media be. He made his debut on American television in a commercial for Starkist in 1961. All his machinations to be selected by Starkist for lovers of fine tuna have always resulted in failure and the salty old soul has always been forced to bear the rebuke in actor Herschel Bernardis voice: "Sorry Charlie. Starkist doesnt want tuna with good taste. Starkist wants tuna that tastes good."
In Pago, Pago, American Samoa, the home of the Starkist canning factory, Charlie lives on in the form of a statue dedicated to his image. In case you cant find him, hes the jaunty-looking tuna on top of the pedestal wearing glasses and a red hat. A sign below him reads: "Home of Charlie The Tuna." Perhaps it is his tenacity and our need to root for the underdog that keeps Charlie forever in our hearts. Or maybe, alas, its simply clever advertising. Im afraid that only his ad agency knows for sure!
Back in 1952, the Kellogg Company held a contest to see who would represent their new cereal called: "Sugar Frosted Flakes of Corn." The contestants were Katie The Kangaroo, Elmo The Elephant, Newt the Gnu and Tony The Tiger. Tony was declared the winner, although it was nip and tuck with Katie the Kangaroo for a while. In 1953, Tony became the sole spokes-cartoon for Kelloggs "Sugar Frosted Flakes" cereal. Tony Jr. (originally referred to as "boy" and later as "son") made appearances along with Tony Sr. who obviously had paternity denial issues for a while.
Thurl Ravenscroft, whose career in radio, film and television has spanned more than 60 years, is and always has been the voice behind Tony the Tiger. Thurl had been well known in the field of jingles and commercials as part of a quartet known as The Mellomen. Kellogg sent him a sample script along with a character description and his active imagination did the rest! The pay-off line was always: "Tony, are Frosted Flakes any good?" And Tony would always say: "Good? Why theyre great!" It was Thurl who came up with the much more explosive and effective: "Gr-r-r-r-r-eat!!"
The Pillsbury Doughboy was created by an ad agency called Leo Burnett. Pacific Data Images, a pioneer in the work of computer graphics for film and video, created the animated version of the lovable figure for the commercials. In October of 1965, the 14 ounce, 8 and 3/4 inch character made his television debut advertising Crescent Rolls. His original voice was that of actor, Paul Fries (1920-86). The Doughboys co-star in the commercial was Maureen McCormick. He started his career with another name: Poppin Fresh. He is all dough with blue eyes and always wears a bakers hat and scarf. His hometown is Minneapolis; he loves to bake and twenty years ago he had a wife and two children.
A mock funeral from a master of puns added the following paragraphs about his passing in the Spring of 2002:
"The Pillsbury Doughboy died yesterday of a yeast infection and complications from repeated pokes in the belly. He was 71.
"Doughboy was buried in a lightly greased coffin. Dozens of celebrities turned out to pay their respects, including Mrs. Butterworth, Hungry Jack, the California Raisins, Betty Crocker, the Hostess Twinkies and Captain Crunch. The gravesite was piled high with flours. Aunt Jemima delivered the eulogy and lovingly described Doughboy as a man for all seasonings who never knew how much he was kneaded.
"Doughboy rose quickly in the show business, but his later life was filled with turnovers. He was not considered a very smart cookie, wasting much of his dough on half-baked schemes. Despite being a bit flaky sometimes, he was still considered a roll model for millions.
"Doughboy is survived by his wife, Play-Dough, two children, John Dough and Jane Dough; plus they had one in the oven. He is also survived by his elderly father, Pop Tart.
"The funeral was held at 3:50 for about twenty minutes."
Napoleon once said (and he should know) that glory is fleeting, but obscurity is forever. It is not known if the sister saying: "beauty fades, but stupid is forever" came from his mouth as well. Regardless, the man had a point. Time passes and what remains is only the whisper of recall to remind us of what once was. Miss Chiquita, the Campbell Kids, Tony the Tiger, Charlie The Tuna and the Doughboy are all mini legends in their own special way. They are all impressed deeply within my minds eye where cultural icons never die and dont even get the chance to fade away!
Note: Elsie the Cow is a trademark of Borden's Milk Co., Charlie the Tuna is a trademark of Starkist Tuna Co., Tony the Tiger is a trademark of Kellog's Foods, and The Doughboy is a trademark of Pillsbury.
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