I’ve made it no secret over the years on this blog that I’m a huge fan of old time radio. One of my favorite joys during the holiday season is listening to Buck Benny’s OTR podcast and hearing the Bing Crosby radio shows that took place through the months of November and December from various by-gone years in the late ’40s & early ’50s. Not only do you get to hear great Christmas music sung by Bing and guests but you also get fun commercials pushing cartons of Chesterfield cigarettes as Christmas presents to give to your friends & family.
Chesterfield is a cigarette brand that was popular in the first half of the 20th century. They are still manufactured to this day (Phillip Morris bought the brand in 1999) but are hard to come by in the United States and most of their sales now come from Europe. Anyway, they sponsored a number of radio shows and would go all out around the holidays by sprucing up their cigarette cartons with a holiday theme and or the faces of the celebrities they were sponsoring at the time. They would even include a nice little gift tag on the box so the person you were giving it to knew who bought it for them.
Can you imagine a cigarette company doing this now? There would be outrage! No way would the tobacco industry have the balls to encourage giving cartons of cigarettes to your friends & family for Christmas. You’d only see something like this these days in a Saturday Night Live skit. Ah, smoking. It was so innocent back in those days (just like suicide)!
Hey, future Mr. President! What are you giving your friends for Christmas this year???
What's funny is despite being sponsored by Chesterfield for a number of years, Bing thought they tasted awful and would often hide Lucky Strikes in a Chesterfield package.
Artwork look familiar?
What's going on here?
I’m not familiar with the Page & Shaw candy company. The only information I can find seems to point to Page & Shaw Inc. being one of the nation’s top candy makers in the early 1900s. Judging by the product pictured, it appears they were similar to a Whitman’s/Russell Stover. It doesn’t appear they are in business any longer but I did find an interesting article from the New York Times (PDF format) from July 20, 1918 about the Federal Food Board shutting them down for a week because they had stockpiled more sugar than the Food Administration permitted.
The ad above is from 1956 and I have to say, this is a pretty creepy painting of Bob Hope. He looks evil. Apparently he was somewhat of a spokesman for Page & Shaw though because I found another ad he did (same pose, but this is a photograph) in 1955.
Here’s a some dark holiday humor for you from 1947. According to the ad, the demand for Arrow Shirts is so great that jolly Old Saint Nick can’t meet those demands. He’s become so depressed that he’s decided it’s better to off himself than to face disappointing the men of the world. What a strange, sad holiday advertisement. I’m assuming these two guys in the background made it in time before Santa pulled the trigger on his musket. I can’t imagine a musket being a clean way to go out.
Dark humor like this was mainstream in the ’30s and ’40s. I’ve listened to plenty of radio shows over the years where one character has told another character to “go blow your brains out” and it wasn’t said in a mean or vindictive tone at all. It was viewed as a perfectly harmless joke that got the crowd laughing. A number of times a gunshot was used on these shows to infer a suicide has taken place… all for the sake of a gag.
During the course of Jack Benny’s radio & TV shows, there was an annual Christmas shopping episode where Mel Blanc (as a department store worker) would be driven crazy by Jack’s indecisiveness and the final result on a number of occasions was Mel Blanc committing suicide with the aid of a gun. Even Dennis Day’s character on the show would sometimes randomly state that he was going to commit suicide.
It’s actually a bit shocking when you hear suicide discussed so flippantly on these shows because most of those shows were so tame when it come to other matters such as sex, alcohol and politics. It’s funny how views have changed because you’d never hear such light-hearted graphic talk about suicide on today’s shows.
Anyway, this Christmas ad is an interesting look back at a time that’s probably not as innocent as we like to think it is.