Friday, January 25, 2013

New Yorker Cartoonists Sell Liquor

Past posts in this blog have celebrated such well known figures as Dr. Seuss and Andy Warhol for their ads merchandising liquor.  A number of well-known cartoonists, many of them made famous in the New Yorker magazine,  have also done their part to advance the cause of alcoholic beverage sales.   My immediate impetus for exploring this topic was the discovery that James Thurber, the great American author, wit and cartoonist in 1930 had done a whiskey cartoon, one with a back story.

Shown here is a typical Thurber effort, a simple line drawing in which a standing character says to a scowling man behind a desk,  “What, Another Whiskey!”  The reply is “Yes, but NOT.  The line below emphasizes what it is not, declaring “It’s Irish American--An absolutely New Good Taste.”  The brand was a short-lived whiskey, meant to meet the post-Prohibition thirsts of Americans.  The William Jameson Company of Ireland had closed its operations in Ireland in the 1930s as the result of the Great Depression.  The remaining Jameson stocks were quickly bottled and shipped to the United States. As supplies dwindled, and as American distilleries ramped up production, the Jameson company began blending its own whiskey with American product as a way to stretch its inventories–voila!, Irish-American whiskey.

Thurber was born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1894 and worked on the staff of the New Yorker as a writer and illustrator for many years.  He had failing eyesight that caused him to draw on very large sheets of paper using a thick black crayon or on black paper using white chalk, which were photographed and reversed upon printing.  He once wrote that people said it looked like he drew them under water. Dorothy Parker, a contemporary and friend of Thurber, referred to his cartoons as having the "semblance of unbaked cookies.” Thurber died in 1961.

The next cartoon is of the same vintage, advertising Martin VVO Scotch.  The cartoonist was Otto Soglow,  born 1900, better known for his comic strip, The Little King.  It was syndicated across America  from 1934 until Soglow’s death in 1975.   His resulting fame caused McKesson & Robbins, the U.S. importers of Martin’s Scotch to do a series of cartoons that emphasized that most Scotch whiskey was no more than eight years old, while Martin’s VVO was aged for ten.    In this instance, a Soglow character is disturbing a woman in a Pullman car, mistaking her No. 8 berth for his own No. 10.  Note the politically-incorrect porter entering at right.

The Peter Arno drawing skips us ahead to 1944.  That is when Arno, born in 1904 in New York City, appropriately was hired by Calvert Distilleries to do a series of cartoons under the heading “Metropolitan Moments.”  All of them ran in the New Yorker and most featured Wall Street types.  Here one of them is in a cab with three other gents telling the driver, “I never saw the blighters ....they got in when I mentioned going to Louie’s for a Whiskey Sour made with Calvert Reserve.”  Arno’s cartoons were published in the New Yorker from 1925 until 1968, when he died.

No cartoonist achieved more fame in the New Yorker than Saul Steinberg.  Born in Romania in 1914, he left his native land to avoid a fascist government during World War II. Sponsored for entry into the U.S. by the New Yorker,  Steinberg had more than a 50 year relationship with the magazine, contributing nearly 90 covers and more than 1,200 drawings before his death in 1999, age 84.

In 1955, the distributor of Noilly Pratt French Dry Vermouth in the United States hired Steinberg to do a series of ads around the theme that no martini would taste as good as one made with its vermouth mixer.  The disengaged head is holding a swizzle stick and stirring an drink with a series of  eye-catching squiggles and arabesques.  The slogan in this and other Steinberg ads for the company was “Don’t Stir without Noilly Pratt.”

William Steig was a prolific American cartoonist, born in Brooklyn in 1907.  He began drawing illustrations and cartoon for the New Yorker in 1930, producing more than 2,600 drawings and 117 covers for the magazines.   Late in life Steig became known for his children’s books.  He produced a series of cartoons in 1964 for Chevas Regal Scotch, one of which is shown here.   A newspaper reporter is interviewing a mountain climber who is heading for a bottle of Chevas Regal.  He has stopped to tell the newsman why he is climbing: “Because its there.”

Chevas Regal during the same year commissioned an advertisement from Charles Addams, a cartoonist known from his darkly humorous and ultra weird characters.  Addams’ first drawing appeared in the New Yorker in 1932 and subsequently his cartoons appeared regularly in the magazine.  In 1938, he drew the first of what became known as the Addams Family, which launched a television series on ABC from 1964 to 1968 with reruns up until the present day. 

The Addams cartoon shown here is less macabre than many.  It depicts a fortune teller and her client.  Instead of a crystal ball she is gazing into a bottle of whiskey.  She explains to the gent, “I always use a Chevas Regal bottle.  It conjures up a much better class spirit.”  Addams has been described as “sociable and debonair” and squired celebrities such as Greta Garbo, Joan Fontaine and Jacqueline Kennedy on social occasions.  He died in 1988 at age 76.

Moving forward in time to 1967, the next item is a New Yorker cartoon that could have been an ad.  It shows two African-American gentlemen walking down the street with a large bottle of Fleischmann whiskey while a white man behind them carts off an even larger bottle of the booze.  The punch line is “Sure, there’s still discrimination but it is getting better. The cartoon was lampooning a Fleischmann Distillery advertising campaign showing well-dressed men carry off large bottles of whiskey.

The cartoonist was Eldon Dedini, born in King City, California in 1921.  He was known for testing the edges of social proprieties, frequently drawing for men’s magazines like Esquire and Playboy.  His work often featured wide-eyed, large breasted nymphs and leering satyrs.  Just before Dedini’s death in 1996, he was honored with an retrospective exhibition of his work called “Babes and Broccoli” at a Salinas, California gallery, not far from where he was born.

Although this 1973 cartoon for Bushmill’s Irish Whiskey is not signed, the style clearly marks it as the work of Robert Crumb, who like Dedini, “pushed the envelope of respectability.” Celebrated as a comic book artist, he has been cited as the founder of the underground comix movement,  recognized for his satirical and subversive view of American society.  Here, however, Crumb has drawn a very  benign character, said to be the Oldest Man in the World.  This is emphasized by a banner at his feet that says, “Babylonian U.”   The oldest man wants us to know that Bushmills is the oldest whiskey in the world, founded in 1608.

In contrast to Crumb, James Stevenson,  who drew the next cartoon, was noted for his utterly middle class,  nonintellectual, conformist types.  This was fitting for an individual who illustrated and authored more than 100 childrens' books, as well as regularly appearing in the staid New Yorker.   He has given us a picture of two men dressed only in shorts enjoying a highball made with Passport Mature Scotch Whiskey.  One is saying to the other, “You’re my kind of intellectual, Harry.  You don’t have to curl up with a good book to relax.”   Born in 1929 and to my knowledge still living,  Stevenson did this ad sometime in the 1970s.

Chevas Regal over the years has made use of American cartooning talent to pitch its Scotch.   Here the famous creator of “Little Orphan Annie,”  Harold Gray has served up Annie’s protector and father figure,  Daddy Warbucks.  Depicted as a multibillionaire entrepreneur Daddy moves in and out of Annie’s life, sporting the same kind of “blunked out” eyeballs that she has.

Gray launched his Annie cartoon through the Chicago Tribune Syndicate in August 1924. By the 1930s, Little Orphan Annie had evolved from a crudely drawn melodrama to a dramatic story with multiple plot threads and interesting characters. It was one of my favorites growing up in the 1940s, particularly for Daddy Warbucks sidekicks,  Punjab and The Asp. Gray, known for his conservative views, died in 1968 a millionaire from radio and merchandising spin-offs from his cartoon.  He did not live long enough, however, to see Annie made into a hit musical.

There they are,  ten top American cartoonists from the 1930s to the 1970s, some names more recognized than others. All of them, however, have had their cartoons anthologized in various New Yorker and other cartoon collections.   These artists were not to proud to sell liquor with their drawings and many ads, as some shown here, were truly funny.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Re-discovering Cowan Pottery

Last summer, while visiting in the Cleveland area, I was introduced to the Cowan Pottery Museum,  located in the Rocky River Public Library.  This full service library contains a collection of some 1,100 ceramic objects, many of them on display. They were inspired by one of Ohio’s most famous sculptors in clay,  Reginald Guy Cowan,  who founded his pottery almost one hundred years ago.

Known simply as “Guy” throughout his life,  Cowan was born in 1884 and raised in East Liverpool, Ohio,  known as “Pottery Capital of the World” for the many ceramics companies located there.  The Cowan family was steeped in the pottery trade.  After studying ceramics engineering in New York State,  Cowan moved to Cleveland in 1908 to teach ceramics and design at the East Technical High School. 

About 1912 Cowan left teaching to open his own studio, located at Nicholson and Detroit Avenues in Lakewood, Ohio.  He called it the Cleveland Pottery and Tile Company.    Working with three kilns and a small staff, he designed and executed functional art pottery.   In 1917 recognition came to him in the form of the prestigious first prize in pottery in a show at the Chicago Art Institute.  Shortly thereafter, however, Cowan was forced to close his business when called to serve during World War One as a captain in the Chemical Warfare Service.

After the war Cowan returned to find that his Lakewood location had run out of natural gas to fire the kilns.  While he and his wife, Bertha, continued to live in Lakewood,  he moved his pottery operation to Lake Road in Rocky River.  He is shown there in the new studio that he called “Cowan Pottery.” That facility had nine kilns and a small house on the property that became a showroom.  His designs were perfect for the times. The Art Deco movement was sweeping across America and the demand for the sinuous and stylish Cowan pieces found a ready market.

Cowan served up practical items like vases and sconces and a whole line of ceramic statuary featuring sweeping poses and highly discrete nudity. The years Cowan Pottery operated coincided with the start of another famous Cleveland tradition: the Cleveland Museum of Art's May Show, a juried exhibition of works by Northeast Ohio artists that included several categories of art.  Repeatedly pieces made by Cowan and his artists won medals.

The company, however, did not rely on prizes for their merchandising.  As the studio prospered, Cowan formed a nationwide dealer network with an estimated 1,200 outlets.
They distributed pottery to such prestige stores as Marshall Field’s of Chicago,  Wanamaker’s of Philadelphia and Halle’s of Cleveland.  Prosperity allowed Cowan to diversify his designs by hiring some of the Nation’s best known artists in clay , a number of whom had been students at the Cleveland School of Art. They continued to keep Cowan Pottery a factor in the Art Deco movement and gained additional respect for the Rocky River studio.

Despite its prizes, dealer outlets and talented artists,  Cowan pieces do not show up in the several reference books on American art pottery in my library.  Most books do not even mention the pottery.  My guess is that most of the Cowan production has been considered fairly pedestrian, made for the public taste of the time and rarely on the experimental or adventurist edge.
That said, three pieces by Cowan artists particularly caught my eye.  Considered perhaps the gem of the museum’s collection is a piece generally known as “The Jazz Bowl.” Shown here, it was made by Viktor Schreckengost.  Born and raised in Sebring, Ohio,  He was a student at the Cleveland School of Art when Cowan met him and recognized his talent. Sckreckenhorst reputedly created the bowl on an order from a New York housewife.  The object incorporates cocktail glasses and skyscrapers in jet-blue and Egyptian black in apparent homage to New Year’s Eve in the Big Apple.  It is definitely worth a look as another Schreckengost piece in the collection, a plate shown here entitled “Danse Moderne.” 

A third article of particular note, shown here, is a mural by one of the several female artists employed by Cowan, who was ahead of his time in employing women.  Displayed near the entrance of the library, this mural only recently has been restored.  It was created in 1930 by Elsa Vick Shaw, a Cowan artist and is called “Egyptian Maidens.  The vivid colors and graceful shapes make the sizable ceramic mural an impressive introduction to the collection.

Even as early as 1929 Cowan’s business began to suffer financially as competition to sell art pottery intensified.  The Stock Market crash and the onset of the Great Depression eventually spelled doom for his pottery as the public had no spare money for nonessentials.  The company went into bankruptcy in early 1931 and closed its doors for good in December of that year.  After the studio closed, Cowan spent the rest of his life as the chief designer for Syracuse China and a judge and trustee for the National Ceramic Exhibitions. He died of a heart attack while vacationing in Tucson, Arizona, in 1957 and is buried in Rocky River.

During the relatively brief existence of the firm, Guy Cowan and his artists had produced outstanding and technically advanced artifacts which brought them and American art pottery international recognition. Today the pottery’s pieces sell at auction anywhere from a few dollars to more than $10,000. The prices reflect a continuing respect by the public, if not by the experts, for Cowan’s output.   The Rocky River, Ohio, Public Library is the place to re-discover Guy Cowan's pottery and its works in clay.

Note:  The information for this post was derived from materials available from the Cowan Pottery Museum and from news stories that have appeared from time to time in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Merchandising Shakespeare

  Shakespeare undoubtedly was the greatest dramatist in the English language or for that matter any language.  His plays are produced and acted worldwide every day.  Once years ago I saw a production of “Macbeth” done by Chinese students in Hong Kong.  Not understanding a single word, I left after the first act.  Shakespeare’s popularity has made him and his works natural fodder for the advertising world over many decades.  This post explores some of the merchandising in which the Bard been employed.

The first example is a antique trade card from the Christian Moerlein Company of Cincinnati, Ohio.  Moerlein was born in Truppack, Bavaria in 1818.  He emigrated to the United States in 1841 at the age of 24, settling in Cincinnati,  a favorite locale for people of Germanic heritage.  His initial occupation was as a blacksmith. 

At some point during the late 1840s, Moerlein began brewing beer in the rear of his blacksmith’s shop,  selling it to friends and customers.  His brew proved so popular that it soon eclipsed his forge work.   A Cincinnati businessman offered to invest with him in founding an actual brewery.   Thus, in 1853 Moerlein and his partner established the Elm Street Brewery.   The enterprise was an almost immediate success.  Moerlein’s was the first American beer to meet the strict standards of the “Reinheitgebot,” the German beer purity law first decreed in 1516 by Duke Wilhelm IV.   Cincinnati beer drinkers, many of them of German descent,  appreciated the quality and became a solid customer base.
Those same German-Americans would have been fairly well educated and would understand a beer advertisement based on a Shakespearean theme.   Here in a 1900s trade card Moerlein shows the playwright himself enjoying a bottle of beer in a garden setting.   The brewer has severely altered a line from the play, “Othello,” in which the villain, Iago, is complaining about his good name being besmirched.

Schlitz Beer of Milwaukee also parodied Shakespeare in an early 20th Century trade card, this time making use of the familiar figure of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.  This ad features a point in the play where the King, who has killed Hamlet’s father to gain the crown and additionally has married Hamlet’s mother, addresses the young prince.  Never in the play, however, are the king and queen seen holding foaming glasses of beer.

Hamlet frequently has been turned to advertising.  The vintage ad for Dewar’s Whiskey  is a send-up of the scene where the Danish prince confronts the ghost of his slain father on the battlements of the family castle.  In the play it is a tense and terrifying scene.   Here the king is a bottle of “Highland Whiskey” Scotch and Hamlet drops his sword in excitement at the sight.   I have been unable to locate the line below attributed to Shakespeare”  “Now do I wish it,  love it, long for it, and will for evermore be true to it.” It does not appear in Hamlet and may be the creation of the ad writer.
A second recreated scene from the battlements is more like the original.  Here Hamlet is faced with a bottle of “Old Rye” topped by a skull wearing a crown.   This may have been a pro-Prohibition screed from J. H. Mulhare of Lawrence, Mass.  Mulhare apparently  would much rather that customers smoked his cigars, chewed his tobacco, and sniffed his snuff than take a slug of whiskey.

Hamlet’s famous soliloquy as he contemplates suicide, “To be or not to be, that is the question....” frequently has been altered for comic effect.   A cartoon from the 19th Century shows two down-and-out chaps trying to scrape up a nickel to buy two glasses of beer.   In a more contemporary ad, the Bard himself, holding a skull, asks the question: “To snackify, or not to snackify?
The next advertisement asks a similar question and attributes it to Shakespeare: “To cof or not to cof; That’s the cof cof.”  It is an ad for a nostrum called Transpulmin, said to be a complete treatment of cough and bronchial congestion, including:  “All types of irritant and convulsant cough of every genesis and degree of severity.”  The active ingredient in Transpulmin is “guaifenesina y pipacetato.”  It apparently is a Central American herbal.
The next four Shakespeare ads are all from the early 1900s when beer companies vied with each other to win customers.   Several of them decided on the efficacy of issuing colorful trade cards that parodied the Bard.  We have already seen examples from Christian Moerlein and Joseph Schlitz Brewing.   Others came from the Gund Brewing Company of La Crosse, Wisconsin, and the Lemp Brewery of Saint Lewis.

The first is taken from “Julius Caesar.”  The lines parodied are spoken by Caesar to Mark Anthony about Cassius, a ringleader of his future assassination.  Earlier he has said of Cassius that “he has a lean and hungry look....”  The implication here is that if Caesar had only handed out Gund Beer to the Roman Senate, he might have survived.

In August of 1854, John Gund, a German immigrant started a brewery in the log cabin he had built at the corner of Front and Division Streets in La Crosse, Wisconsin. It was a small operation, even for those days.  Over the years, as he continued expanding his brewery business, the John Gund Brewing Company was organized and incorporated on May 1, 1880, with one hundred thousand dollars capital. The amount of business being handled by the brewery increased steadily. Additions and improvements were made to the brewery so that by 1897, the complex covered five acres. In that year sixty thousand barrels of beer were brewed. Gund’s beer was shipped all over Wisconsin, Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, and Nebraska.  Gund’s Brewery was accounted the largest in the Upper Midwest outside of Milwaukee.
It may have been competition from other breweries like Schlitz and Pabst that impelled Gund to issue his own set of Shakespearean trade cards.   Another card replicated a scene from “The Merchant of Venice” in which the moneylender,  Shylock, is swearing that he will not relent in taking “a pound of flesh” from the hide of an aristocratic borrower who cannot repay.  Here Shylock’s oath is to stand by Gund Beer.   Sir John Falstaff shows up in several of Shakespeare’s plays.  A favorite of theater goers down through the ages, Falstaff was a hard drinking, big talking rascal.  Here he is shown in a scene from “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” where in a “stage whisper” he is promoting Gund’s Extra Pale La Crosse Bottle Beer.  

Given Falstaff’s drinking habits  it is perhaps natural that an American brewery would name a beer after him.  Johann Adam Lemp was born in 1798 in Eschwege, Germany, and two years after his arrival in the United States in 1836,  moved to St. Louis.  He sought to make his fortune by becoming a grocer; however he abandoned this dream when he realized his grocery store was more popular for its lager beer than for its groceries. In 1840, Lemp closed his grocery and opened a brewery and saloon.  During the 1840s, Lemp moved the brewery to a larger complex in south St. Louis and began training his son, William J. Lemp, to take over the operations.

After the elder Lemp died in 1862 William took over the brewery and purchased the property that would become the Lemp Brewery complex in 1864. This property at 3500 Lemp Avenue, still stands in St. Louis today.  The younger Lemp made Falstaff the flagship label of the brewery.  He issued a mechanical trade card showing Sir John guzzling beer from a bottle.  Empty now, at one time the bottle held a granular substance that trickled down to a bottle on the other side of the card, one being filled by a young boy.

These are just a few of the advertisements that have been hived out of the works of Shakespeare.  They span more than 100 years and involve some of the Bard’s best known plays, from tragedies like Othello and Hamlet to historical dramas like Julius Caesar and comedies like the Merry Wife of Windsor.    All have been grist for the merchandising mill.  From his grave in Westminster Abbey, I can imagine Shakespeare altering his own famous line about lawyers in Henry VI, Part 2.  It would become: “First let’s kill all the ad men.”