Saturday, November 11, 2017

Oh, Those Radio Days!

Yes, kids, there was a time before the advent of television when people stayed glued to a box that that had only sound — no sight.   Those days were the apex of radio entertainment — the 1940s and into the 1950s.  As a youngster I was addicted to listening, morning (when not in school), evenings and weekends.   Reading a list of programs from that era, I am struck by how many were tuned to my dial.  From them, however, I have winnowed a list of just four for which I have a special fondness.

The first is The Shadow, a character adapted from a pulp magazine that first aired with a half hour on CBS in 1937.  It was my favorite show and still is.  The Shadow was characterized as having traveled through East Asia and learned  "the power to cloud men's minds so they cannot see him." As in the magazine stories, The Shadow was not given the literal ability to become invisible.  The introduction to the program sent chills through me — and still does as the character intones: "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!”  It was followed by haunting laugh.

On the radio The Shadow assumed the visual identity of Lamont Cranston, described as “a wealthy young man-about-town” who every week found himself emeshed in a crime, one often imperiling his girlfriend, “the lovely and talented” Margo Lane.”  She was the only person to know the crime-fighter’s real identity.  What the pair and The Shadow actually looked like was meant for our imaginations.  As depicted in the pulps The Shadow wore a wide-brimmed black hat and a black, crimson-lined cloak with an upturned collar over a standard black business suit.  Later a crimson scarf was added.

At the outset, The Shadow was played by Orson Welles, one of the most famous actors and directors of American history, shown here in a radio spot promo.  Although another actor intoned the introduction, Wells provided the stirring conclusion. At the end of each episode The Shadow reminded listeners that, "The weed of crime bears bitter fruit! Crime does not pay...The Shadow knows!"   That message got across to a young mind forcefully.  Welles left the program in 1838 and a succession of Shadow voices followed until December 26, 1854, when the program left the air.

My second choice, something completely different, was “Fibber McGee and Molly,” a situation comedy that ran from 1935 to 1936 on NBC. It followed the adventures of a working-class couple, the habitual storyteller Fibber McGee and his sometimes exasperated but always loving wife Molly, living among their numerous neighbors and acquaintances in the community of Wistful Vista.   The program as I recall aired on Tuesday nights after my bedtime on a school night.  But my parents thoughtfully allowed a radio in the bedroom with instructions to turn it off as soon as the program ended. 

The characters were created and portrayed by Jim and Marian Jordan, a real-life husband and wife team that had been working in radio since the 1920s.  Because of a clamor from fans to be able to see the personalities behind the disembodied radio voices, Fibber McGee and Mollie portrayed their characters in four motion pictures, often starring another favorite, Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy.  Athough the films were somewhat creaky by today’s standards, I eagerly await each of them.

Looking back, it may have been the fact that the McGees were Irish and my family was Irish.   More likely, however, it were the running gags.  For example, when Fibber tells a bad joke, Molly often answers, “Tain’t funny, McGee,” which became a catch-phrase of the times. Perhaps the show’s most enduring stroke was Fibber’s closet.  It involved someone, usually McGee opening a hall closet with the contents clattering down and out and, often enough, over McGee's or Molly's heads. "I gotta get that closet cleaned out one of these days" was the usual McGee observation once the racket subsided.  It never failed to get a laugh from the studio audience (no laugh track in those days) and those of us at home.

Among the many after-school radio programs aimed a young crowd — “Jack Armstrong,” “Dick Tracy,” “Green Hornet” — my favorite was “The Lone Ranger.”  It aired for a half hour on ABC at 7:30 p.m., after dinner but before homework and bedtime.  I always thrilled to the opening: “In the early days of the western United States, a masked man and an Indian rode the plains, searching for truth and justice. Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear, when from out of the past come the thundering hoofbeats of the great horse Silver! The Lone Ranger rides again!”

The Lone Ranger was named so because the character was the only survivor of a group of six Texas Rangers.  A posse of six rangers while pursuing a band of outlaws, is betrayed by a civilian guide  and ambushed in a canyon. Later, an Indian named Tonto stumbles onto the scene and discovers one ranger is barely alive, and he nurses the man back to health.  To disguise his identity, the ranger — dubbed The Lone Ranger by Tonto — dons a black mask.  The Lone Ranger’s horse was named Silver;  Tonto rode Scout.  According to the program introduction, the two men “led the fight for law and order in the early western United States! Nowhere in the pages of history can one find a greater champion of justice!”  

In reality, the program was a well-scrubbed Old West.  The Lone Ranger always spoke with perfect grammar and without any slang.  When forced to use guns, he never shot to kill but tried to disarm his antagonists.  No scene ever occurred inside a saloon only "restaurants."  Nonetheless, this youngster thrilled each night to hear “Hi Ho Silver, the Lone Ranger Rides Again.”

My last selection may seem odd for a youngster, but it is Don McNeill’s Breakfast Club,” a morning variety show out of Chicago on ABC radio for more than 35 years.  While later it would have some personal ties, when I was a kid it was entertainment when I was home sick.  It was my fate to come down with virtually every childhood disease known to medicine including measles, mumps, chicken pox and scarlet fever.  Top it off with viral pneumonia as an eighth grader and I spent a lot of time with morning radio.

McNeill, shown here, presented a program that combined music with informal talk and jokes often based on topical events, usually ad-libbed. In addition to recurring comedy performers, vocal groups and soloists, listeners heard sentimental verse and a musical “March Around the Breakfast Table.”  He is credited with being the first performer to make morning talk and variety — now a staple of TV — a viable format.  I was an avid listener.  Perhaps too avid.  Asked to prepare the eighth grade graduation skit, I came up with the dialogue modeled on the show that the nuns thought too “adult” and nixed it.

To the personal.  For a long time McNeill was the most famous graduate of the Marquette University College of Journalism, where I went to school, and a friend of its longtime Dean Jeremiah O’Sullivan.  Later in life the O’Sullivan introduced us and I could tell McNeill that while he had married one of the Dean’s early secretaries, I had married his last.  The final Breakfast Club was taped in December 1968.  McNeill retired from broadcasting and public life, dying seven years later.

There are a number of other radio shows of that era that I might have mentioned — “Ozzie and Harriet,” “Jack Benny,” “Lorenzo Jones and His Wife Belle,” “Bob and Ray,” and the list could go on.  But these four shows mark for me the “crucial corners” of that talking box we called radio.  Those, indeed, were the days.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Native Americans Selling Whiskey

The use of American Indian themes in selling a range of medicinals was common in the 19th and early 20th century.  Native peoples were believed to have herbal and other cures beyond Western medicine.  Not so in whiskey advertising and marketing.  Perhaps discretion was suggested by the rampant alcoholism among Indians and their association with liquor often not deemed appropriate.  Nevertheless, over at least a decade of looking, I have found a few examples where Native Americans were used in whiskey merchandizing.

My first examples are two whiskey jugs issued by Martindale & Johnson, a Philadelphia liquor house headed by Thomas Martindale, esteemed as a big game hunter and civic leader.  Both jugs bear the name “Minnehaha - Laughing Waters,” the female heroine of the poem “Hiawatha” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  The ceramic at left shows the Indian maiden sitting by a waterfall as if looking expectantly for her love.  The jug at right apparently shows Hiawatha in a canoe shooting arrows at a fire-breathing sea dragon.  The scene, by the way, has nothing to do with Longfellow’s poem.  

The Indian brave made another appearance on whiskey jugs issued by George Benz & Sons of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, a German immigrant who specialized in packaging his whiskey in attractive containers. Hiawatha is shown against a background of wigwams, striding down a path with bow and arrows.  He appears to have an Indian war club tucked in his tunic.  The jug at right recently sold at auction for $332.

“Indian Hill” was a whiskey produced by William Cate of Knoxville, Tennessee.  Not only did it bear a paper label showing Indians, embossed into the glass were the heads of two chiefs.  Cate had a difficult time with prohibition forces, moving several times from state to state to avoid local or state restrictions on making or selling alcohol.  This brand survived through the period of National Prohibition and was re-introduced by another distiller after Repeal.

The Indian maiden illustrated in “Tippecanoe,” a double fire copper whiskey from Union Distilling Company, a Cincinnati rectifying (blending) operation.  For saloon signs, almost always displayed in places where women and children were excluded, the husky lass was shown barebreasted.  When used on the label of a bottle that might find itself on a grocer’s shelf or a druggist’s display case where the eyes of the world might see, the maiden was more chastely dressed. 

The man who produced the tray of the Indian brave hunting a buffalo was a larger-than-life character who called himself Andrew Madsen Smith, “The Wandering Dane,” and eventually settled in Minneapolis. Leaving Denmark as a boy his career took him to many adventures as a ship’s cook,  a London street urchin, and then back to sea and, through jumping ship, into the clutches of Indians in the jungles of Brazil.  He also had encountered Native Americans in the West during a period living in Utah.  

“Red Chief Whiskey” was the product of another man whose life reads like a novel and who knew plenty about Indians.  He was Jack Danciger, born in 1877 in Taos, New Mexico, His was only one of two non-Spanish, non-Indian families in the small town.  His father ran a general store in Taos and owned a ranch outside town where he raised cattle.  One story told about Jack is that at six years old he was kidnapped by a nearby Indian chief who was childless and wanted the boy as a son.   When Jack’s whereabouts were discovered,  his parents through careful negotiation were able to retrieve him.

The picture of the Indian princess, Pocahontas, as displayed on the letterhead of R. T. Dawson & Company of Baltimore does not inspire confidence that she appealed to John Alden.  Her nose and chin seem woefully drawn on the Baltimore wholesale whiskey dealer’ letterhead from 1911.  “Pocahontas Whiskey” appears to be Dawson’s only proprietary brand, trademarked by the company in 1907.  My hope is that the bottle label carried a better image.

The final example is the label of a post-Prohibition whiskey called “Indian Trader,” from Frankfort Distilleries Inc.  This was an outfit that originally came under the ownership of Paul Jones with a distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky, and offices in Louisville and Baltimore.  The operation survived the period of National Prohibition by being licensed to sell “medicinal” whiskey, with its brands surviving into the 1940s when it was taken over by Seagrams.

Here they are, a dozen images of American Indians in whiskey advertising and merchandising that have taken years to collect.  Looking them over, it is clear that when Native Americans were depicted, in virtually every case they were presented in heroic or at least dignified ways.  

Saturday, October 14, 2017

More Poking Fun at Beer in Milwaukee

In May 2015 I posted on this blog a series of humorous trade cards and postcards from Milwaukee sources, including breweries, that poked fun at its image as America’s “beer town.” In the intervening months I have collected an additional group of similar images that also deserve viewing.  

The “Happy Days in Milwaukee” postcard provides an appropriate opening to the topic.  Here we are looking at a vested gent who apparently is fishing while sucking on a beer keg floating beside his boat.  He also has a bottle of beer within his reach behind the lawn chair in which he is reclining.   The well-stuffed gent also appears to have caught a fish whose tail sticks up in the bow of the boat.  Relaxation at its best.
The well-dress, top-hatted figure in the postcard above similar looks relaxed — or more likely drunk.  He is a two-fisted drinker, with a stein of beer in either hand.  The reference to Wurzburger flowing in Milwaukee is puzzling since it refers to a beer first brewed by a German bishop in 1643.  Among the earliest German beers to be imported into the U.S., it was made only in Wurzburg, never in Milwaukee.

There follows the images of a stout burgher in a bowler hat drinking straight from the barrel, providing “One View of Milwaukee, according to the captions.  This postcard came in more than one version with the colors of the drinker’s clothing changing while the basic concept did not.

“Touring Milwaukee” is a more subtle reminder of the many large breweries that once graced the city.  The vehicle illustrated has a beer barrel with spigot as the engine and two open steins as the headlights.  For good measure the driver has a third stein ready at hand.  Two containers at the side are labeled with favorite Milwaukee foods — “sauerkraut” and “frankfurter.”
In an oblique reference to the increasing strength of prohibitionary forces, the card above alludes to the fact that brewery owners largely were German in origin. Milwaukee is “Breweryville” and the five characters at the end of rope apparently their owners who, if Wisconsin goes “dry”:  “We Germans must hang together side by each.”   A similar card from Heilman Brewery in LaCrosse, Wisconsin has a slightly different message:  “If this town goes dry, us Germans will hang togeder.”

The Jung beer trade card is known to collectors as a “mechanical.”  When issued it contained a white powder that flowed, if tilted, from the huge stein in the imbiber’s hand down to the pitcher being filled by the rosy cheeked barmaid.  Philipp Jung was born in Germany in 1845 and immigrated to Milwaukee in 1870.  After working in the Jacob Best Brewery and marrying his daughter, Jung broke away to found his own brewery in 1879.  It became a rival to the Best Brewery and its successor beer-maker run by another Best son-in-law, Frederick Pabst.
If you like puns, then a card likely issued by Milwaukee’s Schlitz Brewery may tickle your funny bone.  It takes advantage of a fashion statement begun at the turn of the 20th century when Paul Poiret revolutionized women's dress by introducing a skirt that was that was long and fitted but frequently featured a slit that revealed the wearer’s ankles.   The proximity of “slits” to “Schlitz” seems to have overcome the good sense of the card designer, leading to the image shown here.

Sometimes the humor involved in Milwaukee beer-related ephemera seems unintended.  Such is the “Pabst Everywhere”  card that shows four construction workers, apparently on their lunch break, one of whom is drinking from a large vessel.  The tag line is “Pabst-Milwaukee is enjoyed by the workingman.”  Yet one is left wondering how steady on the job these midday drinkers will be after drinking their lunch. 

The final example is an advertisement for a 1904 Pabst Calendar showing 12 children from a wide range of countries, each attached to a month.  This calendar could be obtained from the Milwaukee brewery for ten cents in coin or stamps.
It is called a “stork calendar” and shows a large bird front and center, one that apparently has brought the tots.  It occurs to me that a subliminal message is:  “Drink beer and make babies.”  But it just may be me.

The identification of Milwaukee with beer long since has faded into obscurity.
The Jung Brewery closed with National Prohibition.  Schlitz sold out in 1982.  Pabst is a holding company with a blizzard of brands, no longer headquartered in in Milwaukee but in Los Angeles.  Only Miller remains of the major breweries that once identified the city as “beer town.”  Yet remaining to us are these reminders of a day when Milwaukee gloried in the suds —and laughed about it as well.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Newspaper Paperweights — Securing the News

Certain industries seem to have made the paperweight a preferred method of marketing.  Newspapers were among them, with two modes.  One was a heavy metal bar that was given to newsstands to keep their papers from blowing away.  The second, to be considered here, were smaller, lighter paperweights that carried an advertising message and meant for the general public.

Boston newspapers seem to have vied for attention most competitively.  The Boston American chose for its weight to feature Mutt and Jeff, two popular cartoon characters created by Bud Fisher and running daily in the American.  Begun in 1907, the strip ran nearly fifty years and was one of my favorites as a kid.  The American was even older, having been founded as a tabloid in 1904.  It became part of William Randolph Hearst’s chain of newspapers, eventually merged with other local sheets but the name disappeared in 1961.

The Boston Herald, founded in 1846 and still in circulation, is one of the oldest daily newspapers in America. Over its history it has received many awards including at least eight Pulitzer Prizes.   The Herald chose to advertise through a paperweight and pocket mirror with a newsboy hawking the “New England’s greatest newspaper.”  Initially a full-sized sheet, the paper converted to tabloid format in 1981.

Choosing to advertising its status as having the largest circulation in New England via the spacious belly of a cartoon character, the Boston Globe could boast at least 26 Pulitzers.  Founded in 1872 it is locally owned and in 2016 had a circulation of 245,814, making it the 25th most read newspaper in America.  Its investigative team was the basis of the 2015 motion picture, “Spotlight.”

Perhaps the most classy weight ever issued by a newspaper came from The New York Post, a newspaper that claims its origins in 1801 and Alexander Hamilton.  It issued a crystal apple made by Tiffany & Company.  It is etched in acid “New York Post, The Juice of the Apple.”  The modern version of the paper is published in tabloid format and has been owned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch since 1976.  Just as Murdoch bears no resemblance to Hamilton, the Post has no resemblance to the respected paper of the past.

Another attractive contemporary glass etched paperweight is from the Baltimore Sun, another newspaper that has declined from past glory.  The paper once was known for its overseas presence.  At its height, the Sun ran eight foreign bureaus, giving rise to a 1983 ad that “The Sun never sets on the world.”  Unfortunately those sunny days have since departed since the paper was bought by the Chicago Tribune.  One by one those overseas bureaus closed and in recent years the Sun has declined in quality and readership.

The Cleveland News could trace its antecedents back to 1868, officially being founded in September 1905.  Who Geo. E. Harper was, my research has failed to reveal.  I assume he was a major figure on the staunchly Republican newspaper and decided to issue a paperweight.  Always the third newspaper in Cleveland behind the Plain-Dealer and the Press, it suffered financially during the Great Depression and closed in 1960 when it was absorbed by the Cleveland Press.
Even smaller newspapers often issued weights.  The New Haven Evening Register selected one of its front pages for its glass artifact.  Founded in 1912, the Register is a daily owned by the Hearst interests that covers 19 cities and towns within New Haven and Middlesex Counties.  Like other dailies, especially those published in the afternoon, this paper has suffered declines in circulation in recent years.

The paperweight shown here emphasizes the years in which its several newspapers were founded:  The Intelligencer Journal in 1794, Lancaster New Era in 1877, and Sunday News in 1923.  Unfortunately, none of them are currently extant.  Instead the LNP Media Group owns and publishes LNP, a daily newspaper in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and several other local publications.  It is controlled by a family, however, whose roots in local journalism go back to 1866.

The Herald-Palladium has had its current name only since 1975, it can trace its origins back to 1868 when the Palladium was established as a local weekly.  It serves the twin cities of Benton Harbor and St. Joseph, Michigan, towns that sit on opposite sides of the St. Joseph River as it flows toward Lake Michigan. After a dizzying series of mergers, acquisitions and name changes over the years, the current paper emerged in 1975.  Its paperweight shows a light house on Lake Michigan.

Even U.S. weekly newspapers might issue paperweights.  Shown here is an attractive item from the Cayuga Herald of Cayuga, a town of barely over 1,000 residents in Vermillion County, Indiana.  This newspaper had a relatively short run, being founded in 1891 by one Charles E. Cook and out of business a decade later.  This allows a much more precise dating of the weight, one that has a element of crudeness in its fashioning that renders it interesting as a glasshouse product.

The final paperweight carries an element of mystery about it.  Was issued by a “Ledger” newspaper but there are at least six U.S. journals, past and present, that carry that name.  It has an ad for Hires Root Beer, which dates from 1876 until today — no help at all.  I  have included the weight here because the delightful little girl is wearing a hat made from a newspaper.  Head coverings similar to this one have been popular with printers since the 1700s.  They would make a paper hat at the start of each day to keep grease, paint, paper lint, and oil out of their hair.

In featuring newspaper paperweights I have just included a dozen of the more interesting examples.  Dozens more exist for the collector, providing a window into the history and development of the American newspaper.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Examining Risqué Bitters Advertising

Having examined in four previous posts the risqué images that often accompanied whiskey advertising, attention here moves to the sometimes racy, sometimes double entendre, world of bitters beverage merchandising.   

While some bitters may not have had the same alcohol content as liquor, they almost always eclipsed the amounts found in wine and beer.  For most of the 1800s, they were advertised with extravagant claims about their ability to cure all manner of diseases including malaria, kidney stones, rheumatism and even impotency.  With the coming of the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906 most purveyors toned down their advertising to dealing with problems of digestion and defecation.   

In order to spark interest, however, bitters manufacturers often resorted to advertising in trade cards and postcards with images meant to titillate the viewers.  Among the leading purveyors was Lash’s Bitters, a company founded in Cincinnati and later moved to San Francisco.  It specialized in “hold to the light” cards in which a fully dressed woman when lighted from behind is shown in underclothing.  One is shown here.

It also could go farther in its saucy images.  Shown above is a tableau in which the five senses are cited.  It shows a young woman who is seeing a figure in the distance, is hearing his approach at the door, smelling the bouquet he has brought, each feeling the warmth of their embrace, and finally tasting — what?It takes little imagination to understand what is going on.

Only rarely did the bitters makers resort to nudity but Lash’s provided the public with an example that was clothed in a medical context.  A doctor is examining a very attractive female patient who, according to the caption, has “heart trouble.”  She has pulled up her night gown so that the attending physician can listen.  Although the stethoscope was invented in 1816 and was standard equipment for U.S. physicians in 1900, this doctor has decided that an ear pressed to a breast gives a better diagnosis — or something.

George M. Pond was the manager of Lash’s branch in Chicago.  Having mastered the art of selling bitters, he struck out on his own, establishing a company he called the Ponds Bitters Company located at 149-153 Fulton Street, Chicago.  For some 15 years, employing many of the merchandising ploys he learned at Lash’s, he thrived.  Those included risqué advertising, with several examples shown here.  The first, “Stopped for a Puncture, with an outrageous double meaning, is my favorite.

The ad “Maud with her little bear behind,” shown front and back, was a somewhat bizarre take on an old knee-slapper anecdote.   Shown below left is a Ponds card titled “Taking in the Sights”  and the card right bears a caption indicating that the man on the phone is giving an excuse to his wife about being late for dinner.

In June 1916, the city prosecutor of Chicago filed suit against Pond’s Bitters Company,   A test of the product by the health commissioner had found that Pond’s Bitters were more than 20 percent alcohol and required the company to obtain a license for selling spiritous liquor.  The suit sought $200 in damages from Pond’s which likely was instantly coughed up since the amount  was a small price to pay for immense profits being reaped from the bitters.

Many distillers and whiskey wholesalers featured a line of bitters — for good reason.  As “medicine” they did not fall under the liquor revenue laws and escaped significant taxation.  Second, bitters could be sold in dry states, counties and communities where whiskey was banned.  Among those taking advantage of these opportunities was Alexander Bauer, a Chicago liquor wholesaler, with a reputation for chicanery, as well as the ribald.  Look closely at this Pepsin Kola and Celery Bitters ad and the story becomes clear.

Carmeliter Bitters and its “come hither” lady bearing an “elixir of life,” poses something of a mystery regarding its origins.  The several variants of the bottle are embossed with different names, including Frank R. Leonori & Co. and Burhenne & Dorn.  Leonori was a New York City organization located at 82 Wall Street.  Burhenne & Dorn was a liquor house in Brooklyn at 349 Hamburg Avenue.  This nostrum was alleged to be for “all kidney & liver complaints.”

Union Bitters advertised that it would be found “grateful and comforting” where manhood needed to be restored or where “men have lost their self-respect.”  The Union Bitters recipe is recorded containing gentian, peruvian bark, roman chamomile, quassia bark, bitter orange peel and most important, 50% alcohol.  As if those ingredients were not enough to strike an erotic spark, Union Bitters provided a “mechanical” trade card which initially purports to show a peeping gent seeing a woman’s bare behind.  Opening the card, it is revealed as a a pig’s hind end.
The final trade card is from Dr. Roback’s Stomach Bitters.  Those in the know relate that Dr. Roback was neither a doctor nor named Roback. He was an unsuccessful farmer turned salesman who in 1844 escaped debtor’s prison in his native Sweden and headed for America.  As Dr. Roback in Boston he sold horoscopes and founded an astrological college.  Then he moved into patent medicines and a bitters nostrum, selling his stomach bitters first from Philadelphia and later from Cincinnati where he died in 1867.

Although the dozen items shown here are just a few example of the risqué advertising from bitters manufacturers, they demonstrate the range of images chosen to intrigue and sell a customer.  

Note:  For anyone interested in seeing the images from my four posts on risque' images in whiskey advertising, they appeared in January 2011, July 2012, July 2013, and January 2017.