Photo: 1948 Buick Roadmaster hearse for sale on EBay. Bidding starts at $9,102.
Queen of the Dead—dateline August 1, 2011
• Elliott Handler, cofounder of Mattel, died on July 21, age 95. He and Harold Matson (thus the name: Matson, Elliot), founded the company in 1945; after Matson left soon thereafter, Mrs. Handler—Ruth (1916-2002)—joined up and proved to be a whirlwind of creativity and business acumen. Barbie dolls are Mattel’s most famous creation, but among its other memory-joggers are Hot Wheels, Creepy Crawlers, Cabbage Patch Kids, Magic 8 Balls, Polly Pocket, Chatty Cathy, and See ‘n’ Say. Handler is survived by his daughter, Barbara; his son, Ken, died in 1994. (I did some research to see if my sister’s old “growing hair” Tressy doll was from Mattel, but it was from American Character—who also manufactured Mary Makeup, which would be the best drag name.)
• The Godfather of Cryogenics, Robert Ettinger, fell somewhat short of his goal of living forever on July 23 (he was 92). The author of The Prospect of Immortality (1964), he inspired thousands of what we in the journalism community call “idiots” to have their bodies—or just heads—frozen, till their annoyed descendents finally pull the plug in a few years. Ettinger himself was frozen alongside both of his dead wives, which should lead to a few awkward moments in the year 3000 or so.
• June 22 saw the death of cartoonist Simon Bond, 63. Bond was an antiquarian print and painting dealer, a magazine cartoonist, and the author/illustrator of such books as Real Funny, Odd Visions and Bizarre Sights, A Bruise of Bouncers, Holy Unacceptable, and several others—but it’s his 1981 opus 101 Uses for a Dead Cat that was his most lasting accomplishment. Sadly, my dead cats were cremated, and there are only so many hilarious uses for a small box of ashes, but Bond’s suggestions are nonetheless enlightening.
Photo: Dick “Mr. Whipple” Wilson squeezes the Charmin in an undated TV commercial.
• Those of you who enjoy seeing Don Draper brainstorming new ad campaigns on Mad Men may note the passing of John Chervokas (who died on July 23, at 73)—he came up with the immortal “Please don’t squeeze the Charmin!” while at Benton & Bowles in 1964. “What does mom do in the supermarket? She squeezes the melons,” he later reminisced. “And the tomatoes. And the bread. To see if they’re soft . . .Why not use the same test for Charmin?” I was a copywriter in a NY ad agency in the 1980s, and one of our clients made bathroom stall partitions. For a trade-magazine ad, I came up with the headline, “We separate the men from the boys!” My boss agreed that it was hilarious, and no, he couldn’t possibly show it to the client. Which is one reason I am no longer in the ad game. (By the way? In all my years in NY advertising, I never once heard the expression “Mad Men,” I am pretty sure Matthew Weimer just made that up.)
Ever see a real, or even a picture of the Lily Doll that inspired Barbie? It was a German doll made by a men’s magazine, ca. 1950, complete with bustier, fishnets, Spring-o-lators and, well you get the idea. Somehow Mrs. Handler’s daughters got one and loved it! Understandably as there were no grown-up dolls for little girls to play with. After whipping up a few acceptable costumes for Lily, Mrs. H knew she was on to something. The first Barbie is almost a perfect copy of Lily, it’s a wonder the German company didn’t sue Mattel.
Yes, I love the fact that during the war, Barbie had been a German streetwalker! I wonder if she ever told Ken? You know Midge would had spilled the beans.
Mattel made the most wanted toys for the kid’s. The first toy I recall was their automatic cap gun called the Burp Gun fashioned after GM’s division Guide-O-Matic sheet metal submachine gun of WW2. Highly prized and most wanted back then. I always thought the Barbie was their first answer for the girls after a string of toys mostly geared for boys.
The Roadmaster looks really angry. More like a Roadmonster named Christine.