Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Groucho Recommends

Lending one’s name and reputation to a commercial product was an everyday and lucrative transaction for Hollywood stars. There were several who attained prodigious levels of promiscuity – Arthur Godfrey, Bob Hope, Lucille Ball, Rita Hayworth to name but a few – and there was the inspirational example of Constance Talmadge who endorsed no less than 11 different products in a single issue of Liberty magazine in October 1927. Her indiscriminate approach may have been driven by the impending arrival of sound recording which brought her silent movie career to an abrupt end just two years later. These arrangements were negotiated via agents – it’s difficult to imagine the adman ushered into the presence of the illustrious star to extol the virtues of the very latest twin-tub, carpet-beating, cocktail shaker – and some were obviously more zealous than others in marketing the services of their clients.
Decisions about which products to favour and which to pass on are lost in the past and the evidence in the form of advertising offers few clues as to the process. What is clear is that for many there was no conflict between protecting their image as a star and associating with some very banal and unsophisticated products. Laxatives and toilet tissue were universally avoided but almost anything else was acceptable. As a master of verbal wit and cynicism, Groucho Marx was certainly fully aware of the idiocy of endorsement but unwilling to reject such a well rewarded proposition. Any damage to his reputation for denouncing human folly was more than compensated for in cash. The famous painted eyebrows and moustache were put to good use on behalf of a wide range of advertisers including General Electric, Rheingold Beer, Teachers Whisky and Skippy Peanut Butter. There was even a little jousting with Tony the Tiger for a serving of Sugar Frosted Flakes. These three examples need little further comment except to observe that the demonic gleam in Groucho’s eye as he inspects his Amana Home Freezer suggests it may be full of deep frozen body parts.

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