I call YouTube “the black hole of the Internet,” because you go there looking to do research on old movie advertising and two hours later you’ve gotten nothing done but you’ve found the “Ghostbusters” logo drinking a Diet Coke. These are the results of one of my recent excursions into the black hole: seven of the weirdest vintage commercials in the history of television (American television, that is; weird commercials from around the world deserve a list all their own). Here, presented in no particular order, are my favorites:
Radioactive Makeup Tests
Dorothy Gray Cosmetics
“A clean skin is a healthy skin,” boasts this ad for Dorothy Gray Cosmetics. And really, what gets skin cleaner than a big old blast of radioactivity? This absurd makeup advertisement proves the effectiveness of cold cream by using it to remove dirt that’s been rendered “just radioactive enough” to register on a Geiger counter. Just enough! Amazing — watch as the cold cream removes the dirt, along with the rest of this lovely woman’s skin! Let’s pray this ad faked the radioactivity stuff, otherwise that model was going to need a lot more than cold cream to fix her face in a few years.
Load Your Toy Gun Just Like a Real Psycho Killer
Mattel Fanner .50 Shootin’ Shell Cap Gun
You could easily make a whole list of the creepiest vintage toy gun commercials on YouTube, but I picked just one “favorite:” this spot for Mattel’s Fanner .50 Shootin’ Shell Cap Gun. Most toy gun ads from the period play up the authenticity of their product — this other ad for the same gun boasts that it looks “just like Uncle Matt’s real .45!” — but this particular announcement gets bonus points for the “demonstration” of its eerily realistic loading and firing mechanics. In a scene straight out of a serial killer movie, an unseen subject lovingly prepares each individual bullet for its deadly mission: delicately applying caps to the back of each shell and loading them into the revolving chambers after blowing smoke from the freshly fired barrel. Afterwards, a child practices his quick draw moves on an elaborate Western town set. My sources tell me that child grew up to be John Malkovich’s character in “In the Line of Fire.”
The Scariest Doll Ever
Remco’s Baby Laugh A-Lot
This single 30 second ad for Remco’s Laugh A-Lot doll is more disturbing than all five “Child’s Play” films combined. The doll itself is bowel-looseningly terrifying, with a godawful laugh and Joker-esque cheshire smile. Plus there are these jarring quick cuts of girls turning to camera, obstensibly with surprised delight as they hear the doll. But the sequence is cut and shot in a way that suggests the head-spinning body horror of Linda Blair in “The Exorcist.” Then everyone bursts out into a fit of uncontrollable laugher, as if they were being compelled by Satan himself to pay homage to his latest earthbound messenger. Seriously, if you’re reading this article after 9:00 PM do NOT watch this commercial. You won’t sleep tonight.
Glasses Make You Smart
RadioShack Tandy TRS 80
Why should you trust the opinion of Bill Bixby, an actor, when deciding which computer to buy? Because he wears glasses so he must be smart! Check out the hilariously unsubtle move Bixby makes twenty seconds into this ad, as we cut from a close-up of a computer monitor to Bixby pulling off a pair of specs. Apparently glasses automatically make someone an expert in the field of personal computing. “Well, hell hun, he has a slight case of myopia! Throw that Macintosh in the trash! We’re getting a Tandy!”
Yabba Dabba Do… Smoke!
“The Flintstones” for Winston Cigarettes
It’s inconceivable today that a cigarette company would advertise in family friendly entertainment, but back in the early 1960s, not only did Winston sponsor the classic cartoon series “The Flintstones,” they actually had the Flinstones characters appear in ads like this one, where Fred and Barney relax while their wives do the housework, marvel at the wondrous features of Winston cigarettes and recite the brand’s mantra-like catchphrase: “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should!” I realize that the 1960s were a different time with different beliefs. But as far as I’m aware they were still basically the same cigarettes. Which makes this cutesy clip all the more insane.
Beer For Men, and Only Men
Though the brand is all but extinct now, Falstaff was one of the country’s largest brewers in the 1960s, when they made their best and strangest commercials. Some of them are flat-out awesome, like this surreal James Bond pastiche. All the ones I’ve seen play up the product’s masculine appeal, with numerous reference to “man-sized pleasure” guaranteed to quench your “man-sized thirst.” I’m rusty on my American history, but didn’t women have the right to drink alcohol in the 1960s? Wouldn’t they enjoy a beer too? I guess not. Actually, now that I think about it, there’s plenty of phallic imagery in this thing — bows and arrows and foaming beer bottles — but not a single woman in sight to enjoy the, uh, man-sized pleasure. Curious.
Where’d That Hamburger Come From?
Here’s one of the earliest spots featuring McDonald’s signature clown, Ronald McDonald, played by future “Today Show” weatherman Willard Scott. While Ronald would eventually evolve into a cute and benevolent mascot, here he gives me the willies (or maybe the “willards”). When a skeptical little boy tells Ronald he’s not convinced he’s the real deal (I guess a lot of guys walk around this kid’s neighborhood in clown makeup with a pound of french fries on their heads), Mr. McDonald proves he’s the genuine article by making hamburgers appear out of thin air. This commercial teaches children never to talk to strangers, unless those strangers have magic ghost hamburgers. Then you do whatever they want.