Just look at that radiant smile! And it’s all because of (find out below) …
This is a reposting of a blog entry that was originally published on OpenSalon.com on November 30, 2013. This is the fifth in a series of Christmas-themed posts.
A couple of yuletides ago, I published an entry highlighting Christmas-related ads spanning 1949-2011 (along with a Ka-Ching-A-Ling Part 2 in 2022) that were culled from my magazine collection, focusing on gift-giving suggestions from throughout the years as well as with ads relating to seasonal social activities and entertaining.
While I love old magazines in general, I am particularly fond of and seek out issues of LIFE (something I chronicled in this piece on the first issue of LIFE on the 1950s). In this entry, I am zeroing in on one particular issue, with a newsstand date from exactly 54 years ago today: November 30, 1959.
What was being proffered up as gifts and seasonal accoutrements during those final weeks of the 1950s, and how were they being depicted and sold? I love what ads tell us about a particular place and time, and these specimens bark out the rigidity and restrictions of the day, as the epoch of the 1960s was about to commence.
Six of the ads below appeared as part of the compilation entries from two years ago, but I am running them again so that they can be seen in context.
As a side note, this issue has a lengthy (and unsurprisingly condescending) article on the then-current beatnik scene. I plan on doing a whole entry on that piece at a later date.
And with that … let’s go shopping …
HAVE YOURSELF A MERRY LITTLE GENDER-ROLE-SPECIFIC CHRISTMAS (AND A DECIDEDLY STRAIGHT, WHITE ONE TOO) ALL ACCORDING TO THESE ADS.
These were the closing moments of the 1950s, many years before the civil rights and women’s and gay rights movements took hold. As per the society it was trying to reflect and snare, strict gender roles by (presumed) straight and white people proliferate (although the issue does have a positive article on basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain, and that aforementioned counter-culture-negative one on the Beats).
FOR THE LADIES:
Most ads aimed at women stress the joy and desire of … household products and beauty aids.
The inner front cover pulls out to a three-panel ad for Proctor appliances. Just look at that radiant smile! And it’s all because of …
… Mary Proctor irons??? ….
… and a mighty … toaster? I’d love to see the written agreement defining what constitutes “perfect toast.”
Note m’lady’s glowing face reflected in the appliances, and the (literal) crown jewels associated with these fine products. Hey Mary!
If dishes were wishes, they’d look like these kitsches.
Bill Cullen was then-host of the original Price Is Right, one of many game shows of the time aimed squarely at a housewives audience. Here he is shilling for Frigidaire and wearing a smart Santa hat to boot. For me, I remember Cullen as a panelist on To Tell the Truth.
Puritron: It sounds like the name of an early ’80s electropop band. Just look at how thoroughly delighted Mom is to have an odor-free kitchen. And you can give this to Dad too, for his ciggy smoke. As for Arthur Godfrey telling the “amazing Puritron Story” every Monday night on CBS … oh, heart be still.
A Joan Harris prototype? Visually, I love the colour scheme used in this ad as well as its layout of repeating rectangles.
Look at that accessory on her wrist: clearly, she doesn’t have an eye for elegance. I also love that it’s via the Pro-Phy-Lac-Tic Brush Company: does this mean that the brushes come wrapped in condoms? The dudes even get a mention in this ad as well. Speaking of whom ….
FOR THE GENTS:
It’s a lawn mower! It’s a an Outboard Motor! Does it make you breakfast as well? Below are some of the fine Acco models. There’s nothing quite like wrapping up a lawn mower and discretely chucking it under the tree.
Hmmm … Hunter … Race Car Driver .. Gentleman. Yep, there’s no crack addicted, ranting buffoon of a mayor hanging out with extortion-friendly criminals, so I guess Rob Ford wasn’t part of Bostonian’s target audience.
Him and Her household items, with fab graphics. I would say that the lady in the illustration has been made to look more than a bit like Mary Tyler Moore, except that this was almost two years before MTM hit the big time on The Dick Van Dyke Show.
In another set of his and hers pitches, Schick’s ladyparts model works a Jane Russell vibe in retail celebration of “96 blades … (to) shave underarms immaculately clean.” Let’s not forget the electric razor’s “slender, alabaster beauty … touched with jewels and tapered for a lady’s hand.” It reassuringly gushes that it makes for an “inspired gift … completely feminine.” This colourful ad really jumps out at you when viewed across the two oversized LIFE pages. Meanwhile, below, some dimpled, gurning schmuck gets the simple b&w treatment. “14 Day Free Home Trial Starts Christmas Day!,” it sez here. This guy reminds me of someone but I can’t put my finger on just who. Any suggestions, dear readers?
Leesures? Groan! Although you can kind of see the 1960s starting to come in here a bit. Check out her waist — she could give Vampira a run for her money. Although I doubt Vampira would have ever be caught dead in “Frontier Lady” slacks.
‘TIS THE SEASON FOR …
Nothing says Yuletide quite like a “twinkling, stainless metal” Christmas tree. And what if the promised “Merriest Christmas Ever!” doesn’t bear out? As with that suspect Five Years Guarantee of Perfect Toast for Lady Proctor, things here could quickly turn litigious.
And if your stainless metal Angel Pine “natural shape” tree isn’t quite silver enough, you can tinkle Holiday Sprinkles all over the tree. Just don’t inhale in the vicinity.
When voicing your Christmas wishes to loved ones around the world, ensure that the colours of your lipstick, nail polish, and top match that of your phone and Christmas cookies. Also ensure that the phone accomplishes the unrealistic feat of floating in space, ahead of the cookie jar. This ad is also proof positive that crossdressers were alive and well in the conservative ’50s.
The 1950s was the era when suburbia exploded, and if you’re one of those snow-belted burb dwellers, you’re going to need some tires to get around in the gleaming white stuff. These Suburbanites from Goodyear should do the trick — they were even “tested way up in Canada’s Hudson Bay area.”
GIVE THE GIFT OF LIFE
“It’s easy to give LIFE,” this ad clolyingly announces, although I wouldn’t say no to an annual subscription to LIFE, particularly circa 1959 editions, for a mere $4.95 a year. And it’s easy too! “To give LIFE for Christmas just fill out the order form at the right and mail it today” (see below) …
… and you get this fetching card/decoration specimen to hang on your tree AND …
… this subscription-only special edition, The Good Life. I know that I’d be making a beeline straight for “The Gay Old Days,” although it must be said that “How the Famous Use Their Leisure” and “How to Play with Your Kids” promise to be the most fun you’ll have with your clothes on.
And what if you encounter big words while reading all those issues of LIFE that will be arriving on your doorstep? What if you find yourself face-to-face with perfidiousness or pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis? What then? It’s Webster’s New World Dictionary to the rescue! And not only has it been “Tested” (could I have that qualified, please?), it’s used and recommended by wordsmith “Experts” such as James Thurber and Marianne Moore.
It seems that home movie cameras, slide projectors and advanced snappers were really taking off as consumer goods at this time as evidenced by the copious number of ads that populate magazines from the era. In this issue alone, here are three such ads for Argus (above), Kodak and Keystone (below). I never thought I’d live to see the day when Kodak would file for bankruptcy.
I included this this Zenith ad in KA-CHING-A-LING. Below are some details of the graphics, as well as the then-cutting-edge technology available for under the better-heeled Christmas trees of 1959.
Indeed, just as with the movie cameras, the emerging stereo systems of the time make a splash across issues of LIFE from this period, as they started becoming more common place as standard consumer goods. Above, we have a precoital couple groovin’ with their Arvin (above), as well as ads for RCA and Webcor (below). You know what I want for Xmas? That Nipper figurine in the RCA ad.
Once you have that new HiFi, you’ll need some music to play on it. Why, just look at the exciting choices that London Records was offering that Xmas. Top Polkas, Hollywood Cha Cha Cha, Famous Continental Marches … it’s hard to know where to start, really, given such breathtaking audio selections.
Maybe you and the tots could play a game or two while listening to those Continental Marches. And remember: always wear a tie when playing Racko.
If you’re going to be doing some entertaining, then perhaps this Samsonite portable furniture may come in handy. Somehow, those dresses don’t seem Samsonite-table appropriate.
Of course, you’ll need plenty of liquor, too. As I had mentioned in KA-CHING-A-LING, these holiday issues are fairly teeming with booze ads. “Old” seemed to be the thing of the day, such as with Old Grand-Dad above, and …
… the high quality bourbon that is Old Crow. Check out the toast below. Have an “Old Crow in your glass” … now there’s a revolting thought.
I believe it’s also being suggested that Martin’s may be the most virile scotch too.
My, Lord Calvert is a shifty looking fella. Nice hat, my lord.
Here’s Seagram’s V.O. with swanky accompanying accoutrements, our old standbys of jewels and furs. Who needs ’em, when you can have a Mary Proctor toaster.
“Oh look, it’s a cigarette.” This beaming couple boogie down and welcome in the Swingin’ Sixties at a most merry fiesta, potentially contemplating key parties to come circa ten years down the line.
This woman has huge nostrils. Is that William F. Buckley that she’s with?
NON-SEASONAL ADS WORTH NOTING
There are plenty of non-Claus-oriented ads in the issue too, and I’ve selected a few favourites to highlight.
Classic-style illustration for a car ad from this era.
Clairol were still using that “only her hairdresser knows” line a decade later in ads from when I was a kid.
Nothing quite like changing your skin tone to match your outfit. What if she’d been wearing gingham?
Gotta love this illustration — and tag line — for Tussy Pink Cleansing Cream (it also ended up as an Elvis Costello LP title).
This backpage Coke ad explodes with colour — and I want his striped shirt.
On behalf of this ad and me, a couple of Canadians, we wish you all a Very Merry Christmas and Terrific 2014.
Other Christmas-Themed Entries:
Xmas #1: December 1986: My 3 Xmas Weekends From Hell Snuggle in for a heartwarming seasonal tale of being a store manager and having to endure armed robberies, flouncing Christian employees, slap-happy Santa helpers, and looting mall rats. Merry Christmas to one and all!
Xmas #2: Twisted Seasonal Sounds: A John Waters Christmas The Pope of Filth curates what is probably the most “unique” collection of seasonal tunes on the market, filled with redneck children singing Happy Birthday to Jesus, ornery’n’tourette-inflected C&W, Theremin-driven toe tappers, and other joyfully questionable sonic Christmas delights.
Xmas #3: Ludicrous Seasonal TV: Star Wars Holiday Special George Lucas once said of this special “If I had the time and a sledgehammer, I would track down every copy of that show and smash it.” Read here and find out why.
Xmas #4: KA-CHING-A-LING: Xmas Advertising Highlights 1949-2011 A collection of seasonal ads from my magazine archives, taken from a variety of international publications spanning 60 years. Which items were singled out as worthy Christmas lucre from then until now, and how were these retail treasures flogged and positioned? And what do you need and need to know about seasonal entertaining: the booze, the turkey and fixins, the cards, the decorations, and so on, as well as how to capture it all for posterity.
Xmas #5: Christmas Advertising: LIFE Magazine, November 30, 1959 This entry zeros in on the Christmas-related ads featured in a single issue of LIFE from November 30, 1959. What was being proffered up as gifts and seasonal accoutrements during those final weeks of the 1950s, and how were they being depicted and sold? These specimens bark out the rigidity and restrictions of the day as the epoch of the 1960s was about to commence.
Xmas #6: I Believe In Father Christmas, or: Brown Shoes Don’t Make It We all find out the truth about Santa Claus at some point. Here is my story of crestfallen discovery and it involves … my dad’s shoes.
Xmas #7: VariousArtists’ 12 Days of Christmas Viewing A dozen alternative xmas-y eyeball suggestions that you may wish to consider, even if a few of them take liberties with the concept of being Christmas-related (and two look forward to New Year’s Eve).
Xmas #8: VA-Tel presents 20 OUTTASIGHT XMAS SENSATIONS! Here’s some fun’n’hip shakin’ musical accompaniment for the annual Santafest. This splendiferous list mostly avoids the obvious or overly solemn, and should get the gang groovin’ at your seasonal shindig while helping to mask the sound of partygoers vomiting in the bathroom after too many Baileys … or drive everyone swiftly out the door, depending on the circles you run in. (A playlist of this terrific 20 can be found over on my YouTube channel, VATV). Featuring the Ramones, Jingle Cats, Judy Garland, Wild Man Fischer, Sharon Jones, RuPaul and many more.
Text © 2013 VariousArtists
Brought back memories..
VA, wonderful trip back in time here and thanks for putting this together…just the scanning alone had to a time consuming project! Besides the cultural issues raised, it’s interesting to see what companies shown here are still around and which ones either merged, went out of business, or became more obscure versions of their former selves.
When Bing Crosby sang “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” he probably had a copy of a holiday edition of Life Magazine not far from his mic! Looking forward to more X-mas themed installments!!
Good thing the guy in the kilt also had his sporran on to hold down the front of that kilt in the photo. LOL 😉
The Tussy ad was a hoot, but they all are indicative of where we were being jerked into spending money back in ’59.
Linda, I *still* want one of the record players in the ads. HUGGS back at ya.
designanator: The point you raise about what happened to various companies depicted is exactly what was going through my mind when I was putting this together. Coke is still a colossus, Kodak is a shadow of its former self, while LIFE magazine itself no longer exists. As for Bing, he appears as part of a seasonal Chesterfield cigarettes ad that I included in Part 2 of the KA-CHING-A-LING (http://tinyurl.com/p4s8e7u).
Poor Woman: I always find advertising in all forms fascinating, especially from a distance of time, as it really says so much about any given culture as it has to reflect that culture back at itself in a visual language a consumer will understand in order successfully shift products.
That Tussy ad has particularly terrific graphics. Thanks for stopping by.
Just Thinking: That’s the thing, it was such an oppressive era yet I’m almost fetishistically obsessed with mid-century modern design. I find a number of these items retain high aesthetic appeal, at least for me.
Aw crap. Scenes from my childhood.
Love the Frigidaire ad — “as little as $1.45 a week*” Yes, that all important asterisk, which no doubt points to a four-point disclaimer at the bottom of the ad that includes: “$1.45 a week … for the rest of your life.”
And good ole Canadian Club, still distilled in Windsor by the corporate descendants of notorious rum runners.
I love looking at retro adverts…like you say, the artistic expression is wonderful, the toxicity, not so much. There’s a lyric to a Sinead O’Conner song…’listen to what I’m not saying’ …there’s a lot left unsaid in these ads, so much that they are practically screaming.
kudos como siempre, VA ~
catch-22: Ah, “Just Call Me Joe” — one of my favourite Sinead songs.
I love what you wrote about that ads, how there is “a lot left unsaid … so much that they are practically screaming” … that observation could pertain to the society in general of that time.