Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Happy Joe Lucky

The 1950s were a great time for animated TV commercials. Everyone seemed to use cartoons to get their message across with stylised characters. Former studio animators opened their own commercial operations in Los Angeles—Ray Patin, Playhouse Pictures, Quartet, Swift-Chaplin, Raphael Wolf, TV Spots, Animation Inc., Cascade. Even Disney and MGM got into the commercial business.

Some of the animated spokes-cartoons became fairly well known. Others flourished briefly and vanished when someone at an agency came up with the next Great Advertising Idea. One that seems to have enjoyed only a brief career was Happy Joe Lucky.

Joe appeared in campaigns for Lucky Strike cigarettes through agency Batten, Barton, Durstine and Osborne, located along New York’s Madison Avenue. I haven’t been able to finish researching where Joe’s animated adventures were created, but one lively little spot that ran on the Jack Benny show at the end of 1956 sure reminds me of the work of Ed Love, the MGM and Lantz veteran who did commercial work in the ‘50s. I wish the drawings were bigger and the quality of the digitised kinescope better, but you may be able to get an indication of what looks like typical ‘50s character design.

The best spot Joe ever appeared on was a combination of live action with Gisele MacKenzie singing at the piano. At the time, it was compared favourably with the Gene Kelly dance sequences with various animated characters crafted at MGM. Gisele had been taken under the wing of Jack Benny, whose sponsor was Lucky Strikes. Soon Gisele “coincidentally” landed on ‘Your Hit Parade,’ sponsored by—guess who?

Joe and Gisele were even featured together in a Sunday newspaper comic which, of course, was paid advertising.

Joe didn’t have the longevity of a Tony the Tiger. He seems to have pitched the fun side of cigarettes for a few years in the mid-‘50s before disappearing. But, if nothing else, he provided some gainful employment to some cartoonists.


  1. Joe's design reminds me of the later one for Philbert that Friz Freleng used in the failed TV pilot. Somewhere back in the depths of my audio collection, I've got the sound from this one from the ABC Evening News on January 1, 1971, the last day cigarette advertising was legal on TV in the U.S.

  2. Happy Joe Lucky was Luckies' "mascot" from 1955 through '58, and appeared in many "Sunday comics" and TV ads- often in tandem with the stars of "YOUR HIT PARADE", Gisele MacKenzie and Dorothy Collins {"The Sweetheart of Lucky Strike"). The Sunday comic featured here is from November 1955 [and despite what Gisele says at the end, a vending machine dispensing the sponsor's product was already seen in Jack Benny's living room in a live October 1954 telecast- the episode featuring Dan Dailey, Kirk Douglas, Dick Powell and Fred MacMurray].