I come not to praise the Star Wars Holiday Special, nor to bury it. You can find that elsewhere on the world wide web (Much more of the latter than the former, of course- it is the internet we’re talking about).
No, the true gift this giant old turd grants us is a bevy of old commercials, captured for all time by the handful of rich geeks who recorded this thing on Betamax, expecting to have a true treasure they could revisit periodically forever instead of an ironic laughingstock. Advertising provides the most disposable of all artifacts; barely noticed at the time of its inception, treated as a slight distraction at best and a nuisance at worst. However, a keen eye and understanding of marketing’s place in a capitalistic society can tell you a whole lot about the desires, worries, and mentality of a time, just from its advertising. Thanks to this collection of commercials passed down through the decades, we have a remarkable little time capsule of American life in late fall of 1978.
Someone was nice enough to pluck all these diamonds from out of the rough. You can watch them here, from the WMAR-2 Baltimore feed: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yJ21QVLBsAo&t=479s I originally wrote this from a tape of the WCBS-TV 2 New York feed, which required me to watch and pause the video many times. It took hours, I’m not sure I ever fully recovered, so, you’re welcome.
Here we go:
Willie Rawls: Utility Man. He’s not tied down to one job at GM. He has a bunch. But soldering is the best: it takes skill. He’s just killing time until he can get his pimp threads out of his locker and hit the bricks. This is a commercial for General Motors which promotes the idea that it’s a great place to work with plenty of camaraderie and support. Willie Rawls is an actual dude. He’s kind of a homely cat who, presumably, actually worked at GM. How often do actual dudes show up in commercials anymore? And how often do corporations advertise that their employees aren’t miserable?
Looks like a good job there, Willie. BE A SHAME IF SOMETHING HAPPENED TO IT…
Kenner used to make a toy car that would go wherever you drew a line. It was called the Trail Tracker. Remember when toys used to come out that didn’t have to be attached to some property? Even as you watch the Holiday Special you know that Star Wars is crushing these kinds of toys and relegating them to Dollar Store status with the other generic and anonymous cavemen, spacemen, pirates, and cowboys.
Hey, I want a rolling Millennium Falcon that goes wherever I draw a line.
60 Minutes will come on tomorrow night, followed by Alice, Lucy Goes to Nashville (and meets Ronnie Milsap in an outfit no sighted man would wear), and then Dallas, starting at “7 PM Central time, 8 o’clock Mountain.” Remember when they used to talk about Mountain Time? Somebody explain this shit to me. What mountains? The Rocky Mountains? If only there was a way I could look it up…
A husband and wife have separate sides of a medicine cabinet. The husband loses: she has COMTREX!
What happens next is straight out of John Waters: a dude with wrecked up teeth, a comb over, and a peach shirt is lamenting the lack of work in the International Women’s Garment Industry. These jobs are being farmed out to other countries and his family can’t “buy the things other Americans make.” Then a bunch of ugly people come out and sing “Look for the Union Label.” Ugly people used to get on TV with a lot more regularity than today. Remember that? When all of us ugly people could be on TV sometimes, too? Is it a coincidence that it was around the same time that America produced something besides heart disease and unfettered ignorance?
Lunky Genuine Bell phones make great gifts. I guess.
The Saturday movie is John Houston’s adaptation of The Bible, and the particular scenes they chose fed through nearly 40 year old deteriorating tape are particularly unsettling in a way no modern CGI special effects bonanza ever could.
You can eat a chocolate candy named after REGGIE! REGGIE hit 3 home runs in one World Series game, and you can’t get his candy bar anymore, because that was a stupid idea and we should all just try to forget about it.
WCBS-TV 2 NEW YORK FEED: A mustache newsman of the celebrated type that they just don’t make anymore pops on and says “Fighting the frizzies, at 11.” “Frizzies” refers to the whacked out way your hair gets when static starts to emerge in the air during the cooler months, something that was a real plight in the 70′s when everyone wore their hair grow out, even in the cast of Happy Days. Once, a few years back on the overnight CBS news around the holidays (which aired around 2:30-6:00 AM and consisted of a number of canned, cheaply produced little packages during a ratings black hole time frame), some dry wit ran an actual story on -you guessed it- fighting the frizzies. I got it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cP4H4jV1Spo
James Rock also enjoys working at GM. He wears a helmet. Made of hair. Nice job there, James. BE A SHAME IF SOMETHING HAPPENED TO IT…
Marilyn Makela switched her Duncan Hines yellow cake to Pillsbury and to prove it she slowly sucks a piece of cake off a fork. It looks even better in rewind: she spits a perfectly formed piece of cake out. Mrs.Makela e-mailed me, once. I’m not going to tell you anything else about that.
“Hongry! Hongry Jack!” Hungry Jack is a gigantic hillbilly who forces his mom to keep cooking biscuits or he will smash her with his massive hands and feet.
In a sobering CBS Update, it’s reported that Soviet President Brezhnev has told US Authorities that Russia has tested a Neutron Bomb. “That’s the kind of bomb that kills people but leaves buildings standing” the news bitch bitches. Cold blooded. To add insult to injury, a CIA agent has just been busted selling secrets to the Russians. This makes you wonder though, all this stuff we worry about now with North Korea and Al Qaeda and ISIS, they worried about the same stuff like 40 years ago, and they got out alright.
We’ll’ be fine.
To end on a brighter note, the newscaster reports that a blizzard about 9 months previous was expected to bring about a mini baby boom, but it had not. However, I was born on October 27, 1978, and I was a product of that blizzard. So that’s nice, I guess.
After the newsbreak, Valerie Bertinelli lets us know about Bobby Vinton’s “Rock Around the Clock Extravaganza!” It’s like Grease on wheels! Featuring Penny Marshall, Fabian, and… wait for it… Erik Estrada! It’s from the producers of Donnie and Marie! This is one of those 50′s nostalgia things that Lucas’ other great achievement, American Graffiti, brought us. While Graffiti felt painstakingly accurate, it’s funny that everything that came out of that took a total cartoon take on that mid-century time. Since it was the 70′s, bell bottoms were still everywhere and all the men retained shag haircuts that would’ve gotten them killed in 1957.
This show looks like wacky fun, and it’s easy to see that and say “Wish I could see that instead of this,” but the reality is, it was probably worse. Imagine if all that remained of the Star Wars Holiday Special was this ad: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F3-Df7ROAxA People would be calling it “Episode 4.5″ and talking about how sad it is that it’s out of reach and never to be seen again.
In what might’ve been the Expendables of its day, Richard Burton, Roger Moore, and Richard Harris smoke cigars, shoot machine guns, wear berets, and blow stuff up in THE WILD GEESE. You can see it at Cinema Perring Plaza, Cinema Security Square (that sounds like a scary place…or maybe it’s everywhere else that’s scary, but you’re safe there), and The Movies- Golden Ring if you have a time machine and the main thing you want to do is see a really obscure movie.
If you live in Glenburnie, don’t buy ANY CAR until you see Gladding Chevrolet. In fact, base all your life choices around Gladding. Factory air conditioned Chevette is just $99 down and $99 a month!
PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: A naked and chubby mustachioed man who busts a scale and then eats a huge hoagie in a gym locking room needs help, and he gets it from the Consumer Catalog. You can get one too, you just have to write to Pueblo, Colorado.
HOT CITY, SATURDAY NIGHT!
Eerie music and another non-tie in toy: Tobor, the Telesonic Robot. He’s under your control. You tell him to circle and go forward. You tell him to pick up the Tobor Module. And bring it to you. It ends with a bombshell.
Hold on to your hats.
“Tobor is ‘Robot’ spelled backwards.”
Do they make toys at all anymore that aren’t tied to some property? I know licensed toys didn’t begin with Star Wars, but they sure perfected it. A kid who had Tobor had to come up with his backstory all on his own, actually use his imagination, maybe even go outside every now and then. Maybe Tobor was sent backwards through time to try to stop Star Wars marketing from eventually invading every facet of our lives. Kids today won’t even know the joy of building the thing the Lego set tells you to build, but then deviating from it completely a month later and making something new up.
Young women suggestively wiggle around as they apply bright red make-up to their faces. One sticks her head in some water and comes up throwing water around wildly but with her face un-mussed. “It’s waterproof, baby.” This is that key party stuff you always hear about from the 70′s, in that time between the pill and AIDS when adults actually started to have a fairly progressive and healthy attitude about sexuality.
A Whirlpool ad airs featuring a bald eagle swooping down and pulling fish out of water. A forceful announcer voices over about how America was founded on a commitment to excellence, but now it’s slipping away due to a growing willingness to accept second rate items from overseas.
Commercials can tell us a lot about the societies they advertise to and can betray things that history books don’t recall. There’s this mix of post-pill/pre-AIDS open and innocent sexuality crashing into paranoid Patriotism without the super advanced product peddling of today’s world, where no free dollar is left blowing around un-snatched. I was just being born, but I wish I could’ve partied with Tobor, man. I’d like to spend a little quality time with some foxy ladies in bright red blush celebrating American made greatness, because a proton bomb is gonna blow us all away any minute now.
Sue is out of sorts. She has a headache and needs something strong, but safety concerns her. What an existential quandary. Good thing Anacin solves all our problems.
If you use Woolite, you deserve a second look. Don’t be ignored by the male gaze! Get it twice…with WOOLITE!
Sheer Indulgence Pantyhose make women way happier than I ever thought possible from pantyhose, which look incredibly uncomfortable. Does anyone wear those anymore?
There’s more in the middle of an Egg McMuffin than an egg in the middle of a muffin, and that whole concept is more than a couple of hillbillies can handle.
Schneider from One Day at a Time introduces a promotional spot for an entirely forgotten show about airline stewardesses called Flying High coming on next that I’m pretty sorry isn’t on the tape. “The girls take it off and Pam has a great Layover!” I’m nostalgic about this, but it seems like sex was more of a party at this point in our history than today and man, I wish I was there for it. Paco Ignacious III said that “We feel nostalgic for the things we have not seen, the parties we have not been to, the pots we have not drank from, the women we have not slept with.” Now it seems like we’re more uptight, even though sex permeates everything now, it’s not like this fun thing that adults do. It’s super serious, it’s fetishistic and weird, and it’s this big deal. In the day, or on TV commercials at least, it was like “Hey, let’s take our clothes off and roll around, it’ll be cool.”
Lincoln/Mercury has a nice cat themed ad about 30 years before everyone lost their damn minds about cats.
THE WIZ has audiences going crazy! The Motown retake of the Wizard of Oz with the all-star cast of Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, and some other people is in its third week and it’s ON FIRE!
WCBS-TV 2 NEW YORK FEED: After that the mood changes with this Sweathog Reject talking about how he loves fun, his friends, and milk. I don’t have to think about what to drink if Milk’s the one for me! Like I really sit around thinking about what I want to drink. I could be blown to atoms any second now and this dink is drinking milk so he won’t have to consider if we wants water or soda or what. Then an Animal House commercial! Hell yeah!
… frizzies, at 11.
A dude in a gold body suit and winged hat delivers flowers to old ladies in hospitals.
Another old lady is waaay too excited about the underwear “her men” wear. Then the Fruit of the Loom fruit dudes dressed as various fruits appear in this woman’s run down, Gray Gardens looking house, and they all have a wonderful time.
If you want to get three generations of your family to run in a marathon, you can’t do it without Bell System telephones.
Good Sense brand pantyhose want you to think much harder about the ventilated cotton lined panel than anyone ever should.
Daddy loves baby, but hates the smell of urine. Good thing mom waves Twice as Fresh around and solves all the odor related problems of the household. Twice as Fresh works twice as hard…like mom.
Then it finally happens. Kenner drops an ad for their tsunami of Star Wars products. This was the Christmas of 1978 and I was 2 months old, but by the time I could hold something in my hand it was the Star Wars figures in this ad. I imagine that was true for many of you, as well.
Hey, ever look at the back of a Star Wars toy?
It says MADE IN CHINA.
Happy Life Day!