Thursday, May 14, 2009

Pillsbury's Funny Face Sequel

June 2 1967: The U.S.  release of the Beatles' iconic
and just shy of my 10th birthday, Pillsbury- 'nothing says lovin' like something from the oven' as well as the good folks who brought you

'Chinese Cherry'and 'Injun Orange'

delighting 3 year olds everywhere decided to go after a more mature market = 10 year olds! Actually it was marketed to a more 'adult' taste as evidenced by print ads
and like a good vintage 8mm 'stag movie' was touted as being 'tart n' tangy'.

My Mom who was preggers at the time with a difficult pregnancy- she was 6 mos. in-and-out of hospital during the 9 mos. -called it and all of the day-glo fluorescent drink mixes 'paint' and 'junk' and she was most probably right- Mom always knew best -but what was interesting is the new product that those soft-drink alchemists and marketing wizards had concocted:
The Thirst Fighters!

Coming after and definitely influenced by the cinema's recent

-both Sir Reginald Lime-Lime & Demon Thirst owe their appearances in part to Terry Thomas'

Those Magnificent Men.. & Jack Lemmon as Professor Fate in Great Race 

as well as the influence of pop culture trends as
'I Was Lord Kitchener's Valet'
vintage clothing store where hip Carnaby Street bound denizens would get their fix of Victoriana, Edwardian, and WW I stuff
Comic strips such as Peanuts where the lovable beagle/hound Snoopy in his Sopwith Camel fought the Red Baron, as well as music trends such as The New Vaudeville Band, Whistling Jack Smith with his hit

and The Royal Guardsmen- who got a lot of frequent flyer miles (or should I say kilometers) out of the previously mentioned Snoopy vs. The Red Baron

literally setting his adventures to song in several 45s and LPs, the stage was set to try to capitalize on these trends.
In fact the soon to be released Sergeant Pepper's LHCB
was heavily influenced by 'Lord Kitchener's Valet' as the art design of the album cover
and cut-outs included attest:

"Pepper was just another psychedelic image. Beatle haircuts and boots were just as big as flowered pants in their time.I never felt that when Pepper came out, Haight-Ashbury was a direct result.It always seemed to me that they were all happening at once. Kids were already wearing army jackets on King's Road--all we did is make them famous."-- John Lennon
Of course at that time I was in 4th Grade in Helen Morgan School in Sparta, NJ,
and was oblivious to all of this, all I knew was these little 25 cent semi-gloss stock booklets which were much better printed than the comic books of that time, and detailed the adventures of our 3 heroes, and were really FUN!
Used to go to the Lakeside Center Shop Rite (now a Path Mark) RT 15N Lake Hopatcong, NJ with my Dad to buy food staples such as soups, canned tuna fish, bread lots of bread, canned spaghetti and a new discovery (for me) jumbo sized canned ravioli (used to mix the two varieties together for an added taste treat), and while shopping for these would pester him each time x 3
to spend the 25¢ents to which he grudgingly agreed.
Wouldn't buy the drink mixes though.
The character names were clever too- Crash Orange was simply a scramble of
Orange Crush

while Sir Reginald Lime-Lime was an obvious reference to the British Naval surgeon James Lind's discovery in the 1700's that citrus fruits prevented scurvy, and as a result a slang term for the English- 'limeys'.
Even though the caricature template for Lime-Lime was Terry Thomas, I imagined him later to sound more like Frankie Avalon as 'Potato Bug' in the Beach Party movies,

although I don't know why...

*Yeah baby yeah!*
Baron Von Lemon too seemed to have a resemblance to John Banner's 'Sgt. Schultz'

on the popular sitcom 'Hogan's Heroes'.
The artist and writer Pete Bastiansen apparently operated on both levels as did the wildly popular Batman series a year earlier with a similar formula: superficially appeal to the kiddies with seemingly simple cartoons with a lots of color & sound effects, but razzle-dazzle the adults with slyly subversive humor.
A lot of it went over my head at the time as did Beany & Cecil, Rocky & Bullwinkle, and Soupy Sales, but the art and the vocabulary wowed me- I always was seeking out stuff that was outside my childish world, especially printed matter that I could linger over at length and ponder the meaning of- not that I would get it until years later.
Unfortunately I lost them all through the years, last seeing them in 1977 when I moved out of my parent's house.
Luckily- Eureka!
-I found them all online.

So instead of trying to recreate my 1967 experience with Pillsbury's The Thirst Fighters Messrs. Orange, Von Lemon, and Lime-Lime, I'll refer you to Ragnar's excellent Pete Bastiansen's Comicbooks

where you can read these little books for yourself and see just how clever they really are.
Too bad they don't make anything comparable to these
currently- even for 'adults' -as the emphasis seems on
'dumbing down' the populace...
*Frankie plays himself and mop-topped British pop idol the 'Potato Bug'- a not-so-sly reference to The Beatles, which were the happening thing in pop/rock music at that time. The character is a permutation of John Lennon, albeit with a persona based on British stereotypes as perceived by Americans.
Except that this was July 1964, the Beatles arrived for Ed Sullivan stateside February 1964, yet 'Potato Bug' had wire-rimmed spectacles and a moustache, a look which Lennon himself didn't adopt until 3 years later for 'Sgt. Pepper's'
Frankie Avalon = prophet.
The Rat Pack
motorcycle gang is largely a parody of The Wild One (1953); Harvey Lembeck's "Eric Von Zipper" spoofs Marlon Brando's (or as "Von Zipper" would say "Marlo Brandon") performance as the leader of the gang.
('The Beetles miss you Johnny...')
Has Little Stevie Wonder, Janos Prohaska, Timothy Carey (who appears June 1, 1967 on the "Sgt. Pepper's" cover, right behind George Harrison) Boris Karloff- and it even has Keenan Wynn from a year before 'The Great Race'--

Need I say more?

Dick Cavett: "So you're Jack Lemmon?"
John Lennon: "You're Fred Astaire...or is it Orson Welles?"


  1. Dang nab it!!!! What a great post Mr. On! One of the best cross-pop-cultural in-depth looks at the Thirst Fighters I've ever seen. You sir, have pulled together all the varied and random influences which went into (or at least were floating around in the minds of all of us back then) the making of this concept. Simply splendid post.

  2. Yes r/e, thanks for the kudos!
    A lot of this stuff has been percolating and I've been trying to put in words since 1970 when all the 60s stuff was still circulating and topical- but apart from purple mimeographed fanzine activity couldn't really 'get it together' (not like >ugh!< Bobby Sherman) until 21st Century 'blog tech'.
    Mr. On

  3. Fascinating how the visual iconography of the past from Edwardian England to WWII Germany all intermingles in the movies and celebrities of the 1970's in its own original way and may do it again in its own way in the future.