Tuesday, 15 January 2013

A Colour Goes to War

I suspect the bulk of the readers of this blog weren’t alive during World War Two, and therefore have to learn cultural references to the war in old cartoons just like I did: by being told. Here’s one at the beginning of “The Screwy Truant,” a Tex Avery cartoon released at the start of 1945.

It opens with Disney-style little animals—skunks, rabbits and squirrels—heading to school, with Scott Bradley’s light arrangement of “The Alphabet Song” in the background. You’ll notice an outhouse gag in Johnny Johnsen’s backdrop.

The idea of a little red schoolhouse belongs in the distant past so the blue colour of the school may not stand out as unusual. For the people of 1945 that noticed, the scene fades into an explanation.

And there’s our war-time reference. It’s a parody on the slogan “Lucky Strike Green Has Gone to War.” The slogan was already obsolete by the time the cartoon was released but was, no doubt, still remembered as part of recent pop culture.

In fact, Billboard magazine, in its issue of February 23, 1943, headlined the climax of the controversy over the phrase with “The Best Quiz of All Moves Over to Heinz, Whose Green Pickles Have Gone to War.”

Here’s what happened. The American Tobacco Company sponsored the erudite question-and-answer show Information Please. A sponsor controlled just about everything about a programme it bankrolled and American Tobacco foisted two slogans on Information Please and its other sponsored shows. The first one was heard on ads for the first time in November 1942. It was “Lucky Strike green has gone to war.” The second one was “The best tunes of all go to Carnegie Hall.” Information Please producer Dan Golenpaul was like many listeners—he hated them. And he did something no one else ever dare tried with a sponsor. Billboard of February 6, 1943 reported:
Dan Golenpaul, originator and producer of Information Please, was in and out of court, and on his first try last week obtained a “show cause” order from Supreme Court Justice Walter a few hours before the program went on the air last Friday, announced Milton Cross and Basil Ruysdale being served with summonses. Golenpaul tried to prevent Luckys from using the slogan “The best tunes of all go to Carnegie Hall,” to plug the sponsor’s new All-Time Hit Parade, The line was employed 10 times in the half-hour quiz. Trouble started a few weeks ago when Golenpaul objected to “Lucky Strike Green Has Gone to War” announcements. He lost his injunction plea Thursday before Justice Bernard Shientag, who said he could not agree with the plaintiff that the “best tunes” plug was “low, vulgar and offensive.” However, the judge opined that its use might be irritating to listeners, but on the basis of law had to dismiss the complaint. Reaction would be against the sponsor, Judge Schientag held, a tip-off that similar slogans will not be employed in radio. It was observed in last Friday’s Info that Clifton Fadiman, interrogator-moderator-cueman, did not cotton to “best tunes,” but the average listener probably didn’t detect the held [?] in his voice, as Fadiman is usually sharp anyway.

By then, Golenpaul had lined up a new sponsor, H.J. Heinz Company, the pickle and ketchup maker. But American Tobacco may not have been too worried about the fuss. It claimed in a 1954 book plugging the company’s 50th anniversary that sales of Luckies rose 38% in six weeks after the slogan was first heard.

And what’s the deal with the green? Billboard, on November 28, 1942, reported Lucky Strike switched to a white package “because of the impossibility of importing from the Phillipines the chrome” needed to make the green colour. What? Does that even make sense? It doesn’t and didn’t then. David Sloan of the National Association of Printing Ink Makers told Advertising Age magazine at the time: “There always has been, and there still is, enough of the green in the bins of printing ink manufacturers, and enough raw material to manufacture it, to supply the deep green formerly used on the Lucky Strike package.” That’s because it was all a ruse. The head of American Tobacco, who loved overly-repetitive slogans on his radio ads, wanted to change the package, The war was a convenient excuse to do it and look patriotic at the same time. If you want to read more, do what I couldn’t do when I first watched war reference-laden cartoons in the 1960s—look it up on the internet. Here’s a good site.

Who said cartoons weren’t educational?


  1. At last you've cleared up a Cartoonland Mystery, Yowp! In the Columbia Phantasy cartoon called "The Case of the Screaming Bishop" from 8-4-1944, there is a crazy little professor of anthopology who keeps saying the "Best bones of all go to symphony hall!" I've always been puzzled by that phrase, knowing it was a cultural reference of some kind, and now thanks to your article, I've found it was a promo for YOUR HIT PARADE, broadcast repeatedly on INFORMATION PLEASE. Thanks for your blog, Mr. Yowp. Mark Kausler

  2. I wonder if they got rid of the green because it could symbolise being sick...?

    Anyway great to know the reference...

  3. Lucky Strike got rid of the green to better attract women; notice which gender is plugging the lovely new white package in the ad shown in that link. Pat Weaver, who prior to his NBC tenure was an ad exec for American Tobacco, affirmed, "With the white pack we went from third to first place." To this day, "Lucky Strike green has gone to war" is considered one of the most successful ad campaigns in broadcast history. It never showed up in print - only on radio for six excruciating weeks.