Saturday 13 October 2012

Cartoon Commercials 1955

Cartoons are for kids? TV commercials should have shown that was a lie in the 1950s. All kinds of products—many of them not aimed at children—were sold in the decade, thanks to animated ads.

The ‘50s were not only the decade of the Golden Age of Television, but the Golden Age of Animated Television commercials. For awhile, the airwaves were filled with them. Brand-new little animation studios popped up on both coasts to fill the need. And they were a boon to animators looking for a little extra work, or any work at all. It was either Bob Givens or Virgil Ross who once remarked the studios were lined up on Cahuenga Boulevard and you could get work by walking down the street.

Cartoon commercials were being made by Shamus Culhane in the late ‘40s (Ajax Cleanser) but it took until 1955 for someone in the popular press to write about them. The column below seems to be under the impression that Storyboard, Inc. came up with the concept of the animated spot; Billboard magazine about the same time talked about how Storyboard was following the lead of UPA. And the column couldn’t reveal the fact that John Hubley left UPA under the noxious cloud of the Blacklist.

The column appeared in papers October 12, 1955.

TV Cartoon Commercials Score Hit With Audiences
United Press Hollywood Writer

HOLLYWOOD (UP) — At Judy Garland’s TV debut, the “star” that drew the most applause from the studio audience was a new 30-second cartoon commercial that ends, “It’s a F-o-r-r-d!”
These animated commercials have become one of the biggest entertainment hits on the home screens along with Davy Crockett and Lassie.
The TV ad has raked in as many fan letters as live performers get. George Gobel hollered, “It’s a F-o-r-r-d” on his TV show. Milton Berle, also with a different sponsor, got a laugh with the line on his recent fall debut. Newspapers used the line in cartoons when the Ford wage strike was settled and when Whitey Ford of the New York Yankees starred on the mound.
While Lying Awake
The commercials—and many of the other whimsical cartoon pitches now flooding TV—are made by a new company, called Storyboard Inc. It’s headed by John Hubley, who once helped create such movie cartoons as “Gerald McBoing Boing.”
Hubley quit movies to make TV cartoon commercials and was such a success he now has a staff of 35 and a flood of imitators.
The Ford cartoon was born on a warm June night in 1954. A Hubley assistant, Bob Guidi, was lying awake at home when “'I got the idea of having the character spell out the brand name with his mouth, to stretch the word.” Hubley drew the original “story” line.
In 16 months of business, Storyboard Inc., has collected 21 awards for its cartoon commercials. The best known is the Ford cartoon showing a bird playing a phonograph record with its beak.
Takes Three Months
“Our commercials have the entertainment touch,” explains the company’s production manager, Les Goldman.
Another popular cartoon commercial shows a TV announcer who cannot pronounce “Worcestershire” sauce.
Storyboard “casts” its commercials as if they were super-colossal movies. Comedian Jim Backus and Hal March of “The $64,000 Question” are the voices of many characters. Famed progressive jazz musicians Andre Previn, Oscar Petersen, Shelly Manne and Shorty Rogers play the background music.
Each 60-second commercial takes three months to make and costs $10,000.
The Ford cartoons have reaped the most fans. Spike Jones has a musical called “It’s a Fraud.” And it's reported, says Goldman, that Norway, land of lakes and fjords, wants to buy a similar commercial to proclaim, “It’s a…” You finish it, I can’t.

Les Goldman, who soon went to work for George Blake Enterprises, is better known for forming a production company with Chuck Jones to make Tom and Jerry cartoons for MGM in the ‘60s. And you’ll note the Flintstones didn’t invent the idea of the beak of a bird as a record player needle.

I couldn’t even begin to name all the little commercial studios that appeared for a time in the ‘50s. Howard Swift of Columbia opened Swift-Chaplin. Arnold Gillespie of MGM helped open Quartet, later run by Mike Lah of MGM. Tex Avery was at a place for a number of years called Cascade. The major West Coast studios all eventually started commercial divisions. Here are some trade ads for some of the others.


  1. Thank you for remembering our television heritage!

  2. Also glad to see who animated that "Chinese Baby" spot.