Category : Marketing Madness

Selling It: Unusual Facts Revealed


What to do if you are a newspaper editor wanting to add a little Hollywood glamour to your paper, but you don’t have the resources to buy a feature like Seein’ Stars, Screen Oddities or even a celebrity gossip column? Never fear, Mr. Editor, just check your in-box. There you’ll find freebies from some of the major Hollywood studios that fit the bill. 

While most of these freebies, ads disguised as entertainment, tried to hide their origin, you’ve got to give Columbia Pictures points for being forthright about Unusual Facts Revealed. It carried a ‘syndicate stamp’ for Columbia Feature Service, a nom de plume about as transparent as Hemming Ernestway. 

As with most of these freebies, determining start and end dates is pretty well impossible. Even if they came with release dates on the proofs, you can be sure any newspaper that was on the skids enough to use them ran them when they needed to fill a hole, even if it was ten years late, or running a whole page’s worth of them in a single edition. I suppose if we wanted to make a life’s work out of Unusual Facts Revealed we could examine the movies being flogged, check their release dates, and …. no, it’s just too depressing to think about a time sink like that.  

My best fix on a start date, December 1 1933, is from the Moorhead County Press. The feature seemed to be available on a more or less weekly frequency through 1943*, I’m guessing with some gaps. It’s not as if Columbia Pictures was overly concerned with guaranteeing papers an installment every single week.

The feature was credited as “by Movie Spotlight”, and I’m going to go out on a limb and declare that’s not someone’s real name. Seldom was the art signed, and there were definitely a number of different artists involved, but Barrye Phillips did sign some early episodes (the top sample here is signed by him), and he occasionally admitted his involvement through sometime in 1935. I don’t know much about him, but his work appeared on some paperback and magazine covers in the 1950s and 60s. He also did a stint on the Sunday strip Famous Fiction from 1944-46.  

After Phillips’ departure the panel was unsigned for a long stretch, but then in 1939-40 Erwin Hess signed some. After that the feature was unsigned until its apparent end in 1943.

* Source: end year from Covington Virginian.


Selling It: It’s a Wonderful, Wonderful Feeling!


Gin has long been a spirit that could benefit from some positive press. In the 18th century, England practically became a nation of raving alcoholics because of its unregulated cheapness, prompting William Hogarth’s famed print “Gin Lane“. Then, during the raj, Brits in India needed to take the infamously bitter quinine to stave off malaria, and it was found that the only drink in which it could be sufficiently masked was in rotgut gin, for which they eventually acquired a masochistic fondness. 

So coming into the 20th century, especially outside England, gin was saddled with some baggage. The liquor might well have been practically ignored had it not been for the gin martini, that most famous of cosmopolitan cocktails, which came into fashion in the 1920s. If you wanted to appear sophisticated, no other cocktail carried with it the high-end man-of-the-world panache of the martini. 

American gin distillers like Kinsey Distilling Corporation knew that people want to drink martinis, but that the strong and bitter taste of gin tends to weed out the weak-willed. So their advertising tells us that Kinsey offers “a genial gin, smooth, delightful and delicious.”

Kinsey’s newspaper ad campaign “It’s a Wonderful, Wonderful Feeling”, which debuted in November 1944, sought to reassure the public that they could reap all the social benefits of drinking martinis but without the pain of so doing if they would opt to make them with Kinsey Gin. In order to reinforce this concept of diffident sophistication, they made a brilliant choice in recruiting William Steig to add cartoons to the ads. 

Steig was the perfect choice because he was well-known for his cartoons in The New Yorker (there’s the sophisticated angle), but among the alumni of that magazine he could be considered one of the more accessible and approachable (there’s the genial angle). Exactly the virtues Kinsey was looking to mirror in their booze.

Evidently the ad campaign was a real winner, because it continued appearing in papers regularly with new episodes until April 1947, a tremendously long run. 

Kinsey Gin is apparently still available today, but the name has been sold and resold to various companies, so it may bear no resemblance to the spirit offered in the 1940s.

2 comments on “Selling It: It’s a Wonderful, Wonderful Feeling!

  1. Was it Briggs or Webster who had characters celebrate small victories by singing "Ain't it a grand and glorious feeling"? In any case, the rhythm of the headline brought that to mind; suspect the advertising writers were purposely echoing what was likely a still-remembered catchphrase.

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Selling It: Dick Tracy’s Sweet Tooth


Some marketing makes you scratch your head and wonder just what the heck they were thinking. Now this ad above might not reach a sublime level of irony of, say, Richard Nixon promoting tape recorders, but you really have to wonder why the brainiacs at Kraft Foods thought that it was worth paying good money to license Dick Tracy for this one-off 1959 Life magazine ad for their caramels. Okay, they wanted the motif of a Wanted poster with a Kraft caramel on it. So do that. Everyone knows what a Wanted poster (supposedly) looks like. You can get that across without lining the pockets of the Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate. Go to Johnstone & Cushing and tell them you need a cartoon of a police detective type, if that’s so near and dear to your hearts. Sheesh.

Sorry about the crease line!

6 comments on “Selling It: Dick Tracy’s Sweet Tooth

  1. Well that cheap Dick Tracy cartoon was right around the corner in 1961 so maybe ol' Chet was missing the cash cow of the Bonnie Braids and Sparkle Plenty dools days.

  2. Hello all-
    I think Mr. Cab meant "dolls", as Many years before this, dooling had been outlawed.
    Even well before 1959, Tracy had been a licensing bonanza for Chi'Trib and Mr. Gould. There was another popular Dick Tracy character doll, that of B.O. Plenty. There were playtime versions of all accoutrements of law enforcement, from badges to squad cars to tommy guns, all with Tracy's imprimatur. Books,games,watches,movies, radio shows, the whole classic saturation deal. Another huge wave renewed the franchise with the TV toons, and yet another smaller one with the anticipated popularity of the 1990 feature.
    That film was not a box office hit, in fact I think it It would seem that that was the last hurrah for Dick Tracy licencing. I don't think he'll be endorsing much again.

  3. This feels like it was intended as one of a series, highlighting different comic strip characters. Note that Tracy is presented as a portrait on a piece of paper, and the layout could as easily serve Little Orphan Annie with slight copy tweaks ("Leapin' lizards, they're tasty!"). Maybe there are more out there, or this was a trial balloon.

    I vaguely remember 1960s magazine ads for shock absorbers in the form of Dick Tracy strips. In one, Tracy and Sam blow up one truck in a convoy they suspect is full of counterfeit shock absorbers. Tracy explained (to the villainous driver who landed in a tree) that the truck was visibly carrying less weight, and was therefore carrying the lighter, inferior imitations. Even as a kid, I questioned the legality of planting dynamite under a road and waiting for a suspicious truck.

    Tracy did get three serials, four B movies, a TV series, a Batman-flavored pilot, and two animated treatments (UPA's series and Filmation's "Archie's TV Funnies") before the last big-budget hurrah. His pop culture momentum is such that I'm surprised he wasn't recruited to pitch smart watches.

  4. DBenson, you'll be delighted … or horrified … to know that I have quite a few of those Dick Tracy car part ads and will inflict them on you Strippers one of these days soon.

  5. Hello again-
    Did you know there was a TV series starring Ralph Byrd, the hero of the 1930's-40's serials and B pictures?
    They were made in 1950-51, ending when Byrd suddenly died.If I recall, he was relaxing on his yacht at the time. Though the programmes were on film, they seem to have all been lost, though I managed to get copies of several (unconnected) episodes a few years ago. I guess that it was so early in syndication history, they were quickly forgotten, though you will notice that no new series with a new actor as Tracy appeared.

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Selling It: Boots and her Buddies Arrives in Dubuque

Back from the days when syndicates and newspapers actually marketed their features, here is a special strip created by Edgar Martin in 1925 to announce that Boots and her Buddies was soon going to begin appearing in the Dubuque Times-Journal. The Times-Journal would go belly up in 1927, despite the presence of this cute as a button NEA starlet.

Martin could have easily used this same art to advertise the strip in other new client papers, but this is the only instance I’ve seen where this promo was used. Scan from the collection of Cole Johnson.

One comment on “Selling It: Boots and her Buddies Arrives in Dubuque

  1. I have seen other papers use this promo, I guess like most big syndicates, NEA would update them every few years; the first "Boots" promo was re-using the first episode.
    At King Features, we'd put out our own , but unless it was a top title, we'd just keep sending out the same one until the artwork didn't look the same.
    The problem with promos, is that you can offer a plethora of various styles, sizes, and characters, but most new clients just didn't use them, making them rare collector's items.

    The Dubuque Times-Journal's last issue was Friday,1 April 1927. There was no Saturday issue anyway, but on Sunday 2 April, the rival Telegraph-Herald had incorporated their name (in small type) into their masthead, and announced the two had merged. It seemed like not much of an equal partnership, more like a buyout. On 6 May 1935 the Times-Journal's name vanished forever from the masthead.

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Market Madness: Steve Canyon Wear

Stylin’, baby!!

These very early Steve Canyon themed clothes from 1948 are exceeding rare, as best I can tell. Here’s a guy who has one of the sport shirts, very cool design but its sure seen better days.

I think I could live without the weird cargo-pocket ‘flight pants’, but if anyone wants to start reproducing those shirts, sign me up for one!