Saturday, February 19, 2022

TV ads ruled the fifties...

Written by Jim Heffernan for the Duluth News Tribune/2-19-22

I was reading the other day that some people in America want us to return to 1953 in this country. They don’t like modern society and believe the 1950s were better.


Many of these people are older Americans, like me, although I don’t join them in their longing for the past. Younger folks have had to be told how wonderful this country was in 1953 (and other years on either side of it) because they weren’t there. I was there. There was good stuff, and there was bad stuff, just like in any other era. Oh, and stupid stuff too.


I was dipping my toe into the murky waters of adolescence in 1953, eagerly looking forward to getting a driver’s license and starting high school — in that order. Anticipation of high school was exciting, but nothing in my life compared to the thrill of being able to drive. You could get a driver’s license at age 15 back then.


Everyone in my male peer group suffered from a condition known as “car crazy.” I’m not sure the psychological tomes list car crazy as a malady worth addressing on a psychiatrist’s couch, but it was very real in the 1950s. Some never got over it, I’ve noticed.


We eagerly anticipated each fall’s introduction of the latest Fords, Chevys, Oldsmobiles, Pontiacs and others, making pilgrimages to each model’s local dealership to inspect the new models on the showroom floor. Wow. Get a load of those tail fins. What? They’re making wrap-around windshields now? Cool.


These developments were nothing short of thrilling. Never mind that nobody I knew well could afford one. My family had a clunky old 1950 Ford, the car I learned to drive in, with its shift lever on the steering shaft, three gears forward, one gear back, don’t forget to disengage the clutch and have a good life.


We all were told then, by TV commercials, that: “When better cars are built, Buick will build them,” but if you want to get out and about a bit, “See the U.S.A in your Chevrolet.” We were also told, “There’s a Ford in your future,” in case you were wondering what the future might hold.


Nobody I knew had a Cadillac, but then I didn’t know many Republicans. I grew up in Duluth’s West End (now Lincoln Park) and the fanciest car anyone in the neighborhood could muster was a Packard, fading by then as a luxury car with Chrysler still hanging tough.


Lincolns were favored by rich Democrats but at least they now have named a Duluth neighborhood after them. Hudson introduced “step down in design,” which meant the floorboards were sunken, and you could turn the interior of a Nash into a double bed for sleeping and whatever else.


There were a lot of catchy ad slogans in 1953, right when television came on the scene. You were told such things as “you’ll wonder where the yellow went when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent.” We were Colgate toothpaste people though, so I suppose my teeth were doomed to be permanently yellow.


Still, these slogans make an impression on you. I notice one for Alka-Seltzer has been half revived recently on television. “Pop, Pop, Fizz, Fizz” is back but without the next line of this upset-tummy nostrum’s commercial: “Oh What a Relief It Is.” Just how do you spell relief? Ask the Rolaids people. Or take Pepto-Bismol “and feel good again.”


Over in soft drinks, don’t forget that “Pepsi Cola hits the spot, two full glasses, that’s a lot, lots more value, lots more zest, why take less when Pepsi’s best?” Sorry, I was a Coca-Cola man myself, being a somewhat lazy kid lacking in zest. Later, when I grew into imbibing in beer a bit, I was tempted but didn’t choose Hamm’s, proclaimed as “the beer refreshing” from the “land of the sky-blue waters.” I was a Bud boy, told by an ad in plain, declarative language that, “This Bud’s for you.” Yup.


The 1950s was the heyday of smoking cigarettes and their purveyors were ubiquitous on television of the day. Old Gold cigarettes outfitted leggy female models with oversize mock Old Gold packages over the rest of their bodies. They danced around on commercial breaks to the tune of some ditty. And if Old Gold wasn’t your favorite brand, you met television characters who proclaimed: “I’d walk a mile for a Camel.” I wouldn’t, although I was puffing an occasional Pall Mall. (“Outstanding, AND they are mild.”)


Camel cigarettes were also recommended by more doctors than any other cigarette. Sure they were. They said so on TV, stethoscopes draped around their necks.  And in the ‘50s we all welcomed into our homes the Marlboro Man, a weathered-looking cowboy type personifying all that any self-respecting American male would want to emulate. Just lose a few pounds.


Of course a good way to do that would be to eat Cheerios for breakfast. That cereal had the melodious slogan: “Oh, he’s got go-power, there he goes, he’s feeling his Cheerios.” I guess they didn’t care if any females slurped Cheerios.


But enough 1950s. I see today’s infinitely more enlightened television ads feature a lot of animals and birds like penguins, turtles, owls and ostriches. Have to admit, there’s nothing like a crazed ostrich to make you want to buy insurance. Nothing. Darn tootin’.


Jim Heffernan is a former Duluth News Tribune news and opinion writer and continues as a columnist. He can be reached at and maintains a blog at

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