Saturday 14 January 2017

The Educational Banana

It’s tough to say who was the most popular cartoon character in the earliest days of network television (that is, the mid to late 1940s), but a case could be made for a singing banana.

Old theatrical animated shorts had appeared on television screens in the experimental days of the early ‘30s and again from the time of the World’s Fair in New York until TV programming was cut due to the war. By “old,” I mean silent Aesop Fables. But after the war, when TV became a serious business, the only new cartoons anyone could see on the tube were animated commercials.

Two series of cartoon spots captured the imagination the most, at least by my estimation. One starred the Ajax elves, animated at Shamus Culhane’s studio in New York. The other was the almost minute-and-a-half-long spots for Chiquita Bananas, animated by John Sutherland’s studio on the West Coast. Both featured snappy jingles. Culhane’s were made especially for TV; Sutherland’s were intended for TV but made their first appearances in theatres.

The trade magazine Sponsor wrote about Chiquita on several occasions; that should indicate how popular the ads were. This feature story was published in the February 13, 1950 edition. It’s a shame the strip of animation drawings fell in the gutter between pages so you can’t see the astronomer character. The story doesn’t focus a lot about the cartoons but raises something we all take for granted—how colour cartoons appear on a black-and-white screen. You can have a chuckle as the promotions guy of the United Fruit Company tries to sell the Chiquita commercials as a public service/educational tool. The idea that the company hadn’t a clue if the ads did anything for his company’s sales is far-fetched, to be polite.

No Siesta For Chiquita
How a synthetic senorita educated and expanded the banana market

Chiquita Banana, United Fruit's golden bonanza gal, is one of advertising's busiest and best liked personalities.
She has guest starred on the Fred Allen, Edgar Bergen, Dinah Shore, RCA Victor, Coca-Cola, Ellery Queen and Alec Templeton programs; appeared before Ohio State University's Institute for Education by Radio; and with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
She’s turned up in the Harvard Lampoon and the New Yorker; in the editorial columns of Time magazine and the Christian Science Monitor; served as the text of a sermon at the Euclid Baptist Church in Cleveland; and was parodied to get out the political vote at Newton Center, Mass.
She's hopped to Hollywood for a bit part in "This Time for Keeps," with Xavier Cugat and Esther Williams. Today she's a movie queen in her own right, having appeared in a series of 80-second Technicolor shorts in 850 theatres throughout the U. S. During the presidential elections, she made her informal TV debut, livening up returns via CBS-TV in Boston.
She has lent a helping hand to starving kids abroad. To get a plea for food relief to the greatest audience, United Fruit not only yanked all commercial announcements, it also added 80 stations in 38 cities to its regular schedule of broadcasts.
As this article went to press, Chiquita was worried about the New York water shortage: she recorded a jingle along these lines: "Here's Chiquita to say something we should remember each day. Our H2O supply is getting very low, don't use water unless you think you oughter."
She likes to applaud and enhance the other fellow's success, and has spent considerable time plugging other fruits. During National Apple Week, she was heard over a national hookup with a jingle starting:

"I'm Chiquita Banana and I've got a beau,
A chap from North America you ought to know.
His name is Mr. Apple, and he has such taste,
He's a fav'rite at whatever table he's placed . . ."

Chiquita, the gal who never rests, has done big things for UF. Demand for the company's bananas is now running 20 percent ahead of supply. And the company is so sold on Chiquita's power to influence listeners and viewers that it has decided to allocate $200,000-$300,000 to AM and $250,000 to TV out of a $1,500,000 advertising budget for 1950. This represents a $100,000 increase in the broadcasting budget over 1949. (Remainder of the ad budget is spread over newspapers, magazines, motion pictures, cooking schools, demonstrations, luncheon services, cooperative advertising, conventions, and publicity.)
Here's what motivates UF's wholesale use of Chiquita, as explained by R. C. Partridge, advertising manager of United Fruit: 1) long-range vision and planning; 2) a refreshing advertising philosophy; 3) a conviction that education can be fun for teacher and pupil.
"We aren't trying to sell bananas in place of other fruit." says Mr. Partridge. "We're trying to do a job for the entire industry. The cooperation we have received from other fruit and food industries, in return for our own, is one of the most satisfying results of our entire campaign. Too, we aren't thinking just of today, but of tomorrow. Chiquita and I are having so much fun, that even if I had an independent income, I could still enjoy doing this job for the sheer love of it.
All during the years when the Great White Fleet was in war service, long-range thinking was going on in the United Fruit conference room at Pier 3, North River, New York. Ships were not available to move the banana crop, but the far-flung plantations were kept free from jungle growth against the day when they could produce again.
Bananas are an excellent baby food. The baby crop would sprout after the war. UF reasoned that the demand for bananas would top the normal pre-war volume of 100,000,000 hunches a year. (That is still the volume shipped, but improved agricultural methods have increased the weight.)
“By mid-summer of ‘44,” Mr. Partridge said, “the war clouds were lifting and we felt that we should get started on our educational job. We all agreed people hate to do things because 'it’s good for you.' But it was important that consumers know two things: bananas make best eating when they are flecked with brown: to get them that way they should be allowed to ripen at room temperature.
“We had done radio advertising previously. Before, and during the early part of the war, we sponsored 'The World Today', a 15-minute newscast on the CBS network. We had also sponsored sporadic spot campaigns and, particularly, participation in women's homemaking programs— always on an educational basis. This time we were prepared to make our educational approach more personal, and to spend more money than ever before to back an extensive, highly integrated and hard-hitting campaign.”
UF took its problem to BBD&O. In September, two slightly groggy young men emerged from the music room with Chiquita Banana. Garth Montgomery, lyricist, handed the script to a vocal office girl, swept a handful of paper clips into a Dixie cup to simulate a maraca, and composer Len MacKenzie whammed out the catchy score.
The agency went overboard. So did UF when orchestra leader Ray Bloch and Patti Clayton, the original Chiquita, put on a dress rehearsal and gave out with:

"I'm Chiquita Banana and I've come to say
Bananas have to ripen in a certain way . . .
Bananas like the climate of the very, very tropical equator,
So you should never put bananas in the refrigerator . . ."

Listeners to the jingle, aired on 75 stations, were more reserved. “For six months,” Partridge recalls, “nothing much happened. Then a woman phoned, begging for a record of the jingle, even a cracked one. She was worn out dialing around all day trying to catch Chiquita for her youngster.”
After that, things began to happen in the volume indicated at the beginning of this article.
By November, 1945, the jingle was being heard over 138 stations in the U. S. in 55 markets: and over 24 stations in Canada in 21 markets, five of which used a French version which the agency produced and Chiquita learned and recorded in Montreal.
Peak radio advertising was reached during 1945 and 1946 when the jingle was aired in the U. S. and Canada over 300 to 400 stations on a budget exceeding $1,000,000. Currently, it is scheduled over the Keystone Network, plus 12 major markets for a combined total of approximately 150 stations. There is no guarantee, however, that this schedule will still be in effect as you read this. Both UF and BBD&O demand flexibility, and markets are constantly changing.
Chiquita's effect has been wide-spread: she's even influenced the comics. When Frank King, creator of Gasoline Alley, showed a baby sitter raiding the refrigerator — which contained bananas — he was deluged with indignant letters. “You don't do that to bananas,” howled his readers. A chagrined King hadn't time to pull the faux pas out of the dailies, but the Sunday strip had no bananas in the refrigerator.
By this time, Chiquita had rung up another first in an increasingly long list. Recorded by at least nine different companies, the tune was being played on juke boxes all over the nation. By popular demand, UF published the song in sheet music form in the American Weekly.
Now came the problem of showing what Chiquita looked like. “As part of our long-range program,” says Partridge, “we wanted eventually to go into television, too. But it was a costly proposition, and we had a valuable property. What if the transition from vocal to vocal-visual was a let-down to viewers who might have their own mental picture of Chiquita? We decided an actual person wouldn't do; it would have to be a drawing.”
Over 155 designs were considered. Most were gay and ingratiating, but somehow they all looked like a Latin lovely you'd seen somewhere before. They weren't Chiquita. Then Partridge had a happy thought. "Look," he said, “we’re trying to make Chiquita look like a person. She's a person, all right, but she can't look like anyone else: she's a banana. What's wrong with a banana in human form?”
Obviously, nothing. With the final cartoon approved. UF plunged, not into TV, but into the toughest market of all . . . commercial films.
“We knew film houses generally don't go for commercial movies, and it's understandable. After all, a customer pays his money to be entertained. But we thought we could make it light and amusing enough so that the educational part would be fun, too.”
The education was designed to teach the audience new uses for bananas. As a vegetable, for instance, in broiled, fried, or baked form. Forty percent of the 80-second film is devoted to recipes, John Sutherland was contracted to produce the so-called "minute" movies; Monica Lewis (Chiquita number three) was to be the voice. Altogether. a series of 23 experimental films were produced. All followed the same pattern. The opening, an amusing situation. Then enter Chiquita who saves the day with a suggestion. After a graceful exit, two or three voices break in with the recipe. In some scenes dishes are shown being prepared with real ingredients by human hands because food loses its appeal when shown in cartoons.

The good taste of the films helped them crack 375 (out of 850) theatres which had never before shown a commercial film.
Chiquita was ready for TV at long last. Or so UF and BBD&O thought.
A screening of the Technicolor shorts over a closed video circuit disclosed that the recipe scenes did not televise clearly. It was difficult to distinguish, for example, the various items used in a salad plate. On the screen, the salad appeals rich and appetizing in color: on TV it transmitted as a dark mass with little or no definition between ingredients.
To improve matters, the agency decided to make a black and white print from just one of the three color negatives used in printing the movies. The green negative was chosen because it was the predominant color in the majority of the playlets. Results are excellent. The live food sequences, in particular, are bright and clear.
In the middle of November, Chiquita Banana started a 13-week test campaign on all New York and two Boston TV stations (these cities being home offices of UF, and among their largest selling areas.) Because of its unorthodox 80-second length, the spots are placed primarily in participation periods, mostly around the dinner hour, and in several instances in one-minute periods where the preceding program can he cut to accommodate it.
In the middle of January, additional TV spots were added when UF bought twice daily participation for Chiquita in the 15-minute human interest program “Stranger than Fiction” via WNAC-TV. Boston.
United Fruit has never offered a premium itself. But the Kellogg Company, in conjunction with UF, used six color transfer pictures of Chiquita and a rag doll version of the young lady, as a premium to help sell its corn-flakes.
There's no guarantee that UF won’t handle a premium itself in the future.
“Chiquita’s an unpredictable personality,” says Mr. Partridge, whose offices are overflowing with premium ideas.
“We operate,” he concluded, “on the idea that if we can create sales and good will for ourselves and allied concerns, were doing the job we set out to do. Flexibility and mobility in our own advertising, and the feeling we are contributing something to the overall advertising picture which will educate the consumer to a healthier, happier life, just about covers it.
“What Chiquita has done for sales is, of course, impossible to say because of the great demand. As for what she has accomplished in the wax of good will, the record speaks for itself.
“We are firmly convinced that every medium serves a purpose; that one does not detract from, but rather strengthens, the power of the others. There is no set allocation of our budget to any one of them. That is why our radio-TV figures for 1950 are arbitrary and preliminary, subject to change at any time. We're like an organist who pulls out the stops that will make the tune sound best.”
Right now, after five years of Chiquita, the tune still sounds mighty good.

Let’s look at some of the Chiquita cartoons (alas, in low resolution). The late ‘40s Sutherland character style is evident in these. Someone at the studio loved drawing wide-V shaped toothy grins; you’ll see one here. George Gordon and Carl Urbano seem to have been Sutherland’s key artists and True Boardman the main writer around this time, but no one (as you might expect) is credited on the animated commercials. I’d love to see these cartoons restored and made available on home video but I’ve been saying that about all the Sutherland shorts for a long time.

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