In the 1950s, 60s and 70s, advertisers hired lots of second- and third-tier actors to play fictitious characters in their TV commercials. Jesse White was the lonely Maytag Repairman, Jan Miner played Madge the Manicurist for Palmolive dishwashing liquid, Nancy Walker cleaned diner counters with Bounty paper towels (the quicker picker-upper) as Rosie the Waitress and Dan Resin played the Ty-D-Bol man who wore a captain’s hat and drove a boat around inside your toilet tank.
Only a few real people played themselves in commercials for their brands
Let’s take a closer look at four of them.
When Harland was 15, his mother married a man who beat him, so he ran off, joined the U.S. Army and served in Cuba
When he came back to the states, he ran a Shell gas station in Corbin, Kentucky. Harland sold his fried chicken to hungry motorists from the tiny Sanders Cafe, one table with six chairs in the gas station’s back room.
He expanded the seating area, added one of the earliest motor courts and you know the rest
The chicken was so “finger lickin’ good” that in 1935, governor Ruby Laffoon made him an honorary Kentucky Colonel (during his term of office, Laffoon commissioned 2,368 honorary Colonels, including Mae West, Clark Gable and W.C. Fields). To look more like a colonel, Sanders grew a goatee and took to wearing a white suit so the flour wouldn’t show.
Demand grew so strong that Sanders took to the road to sell his secret recipe to restaurants
He would set up in the kitchen and work alongside the owners, showing them his way of breading and frying chicken using his secret combination of 11 herbs and spices. His fee was a nickel for every chicken they sold. In 1965, he sold Kentucky Fried Chicken for $2 million but stayed on as spokesman for the company until his death in 1980.
The Heublein company changed the name to KFC a year later
Some say the name was changed to seem healthier by eliminating the word fried. Others contend it was to eliminate the word chicken. Most believe it was to make the name easier to say.
16-year-old Ettore Bioardi came to the USA from Piacenza, Italy
He started as a kitchen helper and worked his way up to owning a family restaurant, Il Giardino d’Italia (the Italian Garden). People loved his spaghetti sauce so much that when they asked for some to take home, he’d give it to them in empty milk bottles. When people wanted his recipe so they could make their own Italian meals at home, he and his partners sold packaged dinners that could be made in under 15 minutes.
Americans had trouble pronouncing Boiardi, so the name was changed to Boy-Ar-Dee
The United States War Department awarded Boiardi their highest civilian honor for keeping his factory open around the clock to produce 250,000 cans of much-needed field rations a day for the millions of soldiers fighting in World War Two.
The New York Times called this guy “America’s inner nerd”
They said he was “the agricultural visionary who all but single-handedly revolutionized the popcorn industry.” Orville grew up on the family farm in Indiana and played sousaphone in the Purdue University marching band. After graduating in 1928 with a degree in agronomy, he ran a fertilizer business while he tinkered with the idea of making a better popcorn. In all, Redenbacher spent 40 years crossbreeding 30,000 popcorn hybrids in search of the perfect kernel.
Redenbacher and his partner Charlie Bowman combined the first three letters of their last names to create the name RedBow
They sold popping corn to supermarkets. In 1970, they changed the name at the urging of a Chicago advertising consultant who sent them a bill for $13,000 along with his advice. Shortly thereafter, we heard Orville say “You’ll Like It Better or My Name’s Not Orville Redenbacher.”
When he was 16, little Ronnie hawked inexpensive flea market goods 12 hours a day in Chicago
He was such a mesmerizing pitchman that crowds would draw around his tiny table in a corner of a Woolworth five-and-dime store to watch him demonstrate how to chop vegetables with astonishing ease using his Ronco Chop-o-Matic. Popeil needed lots of fresh vegetables for his demonstration and went through so many that he tired of lugging them around. To save time and money, he made a one-minute film of his performance and showed it to customers. In 1950, he ran that demonstration on television, thus becoming the inventor of the infomercial.
Popeil first sold products from his father’s Ronco factory and later products under his own label
How many of his late-night television infomercial products do you remember – Mr. Microphone, Pocket Fisherman, Rhinestone Stud Setter, Inside-the-Egg Scrambler?
In 1995, Popeil told an interviewer, “I am what I am. Pick a product. Introduce the product. Tell all the problems relating to the product. Tell how the product solves all those problems. Tell the customer where he or she can buy it and how much it costs. Do this in one minute.”
Lots of people have made fun of Popeil
The best takeoff was probably Dan Ackroyd’s Saturday Night Live Bass-o-Matic infomercial. Watch the 30-second video here.
Lets Take A Closer Look proudly announces the unveiling of our second Mount Rushmore:
Dishonorable Mention: “We will sell no wine before its time.”
Many historians agree the greatest film of all time is Citizen Kane. Writer, director, producer and star Orson Welles went on to make a dozen more movies before becoming the spokesman for Paul Masson. Highbrow Welles was much ridiculed at the time for being a shameless shill for a lowbrow winemaker. All was quiet for years until bootleg videos of a drunken Welles stumbling through outtakes surfaced. Click here to see a short one of the once-great actor on the set.