June 28, 2015

“It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature!”


The word “chiffon” started out as a French term for a rag or small piece of cloth. Several centuries ago, fabric and clothing manufacturers adopted it as the name of a light, airy fabric.

This led to the use of “chiffon” as a generic or brand name for a number of other consumer products, ranging from cake and toilet paper to margarine, as a way of emphasizing their “fluffiness.”

Chiffon margarine was first manufactured in the 1950s by the Texas-based corporation Anderson, Clayton and Company (ACCO).

ACCO had sold cotton and cotton products since the early 1900s. In 1952, the company created a food division to find uses for hydrogenated cottonseed oil.

Two years later, ACCO began selling products made with this oil, including Seven Seas salad dressing and Chiffon margarine.

Chiffon was one of the first soft, tub-style margarine products. But by the 1960s there were many brands of soft margarines and, to the dismay of ACCO executives, Chiffon lacked notable name recognition among consumers.

That changed in the 1970s, when the company began airing TV commercials for Chiffon that included a memorable character and a slogan that became a pop culture catchphrase:

      “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.”

These classic Chiffon ads featured the talented Hollywood character actress Dena Dietrich as Mother Nature.

The video at right is a typical example.

In this early Chiffon commercial (possibly the first), Mother Nature is given some Chiffon to taste.

She likes it and identifies it as “my delicious butter.”

The narrator then tells her: “That’s Chiffon margarine, not butter…Chiffon’s so delicious it fooled even you, Mother Nature.”

Perturbed at being tricked, Mother Nature responds with her signature line: “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.”

She underscores her displeasure by creating a flash of lightning and a loud peal of thunder.

A series of Chiffon ads using the tagline made it a widely known and significantly boosted sales of Chiffon.

Er, naturally, “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature” was trademarked by ACCO. According to the papers filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, it was first used in commerce on June 28, 1972.

Based on old newspaper clips I found online, I think Chiffon ads with Dietrich as Mother Nature may actually have started airing in 1971 in some media markets, possibly for test-marketing purposes. However, June 28th is the official anniversary of the famed line.

It continued to be used in Chiffon ads throughout the 1970s and was finally retired in the ‘80s.

In the 1990s, ACCO sold Chiffon to Kraft. Kraft sold it to ConAgra a few years later. Shortly after that, production of Chiffon was discontinued.

However, the now proverbial phrase “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature” lives on as a humorous saying that’s still heard today.

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June 24, 2015

“Back in the Saddle Again”


The idiom “back in the saddle again” was already in use before it was immortalized in song by the singing cowboy star Gene Autry.

It was originally applied to cowboys and jockeys who were returning to work, riding on their horses again, after taking a break or recovering from an injury.

By the late 1800s and early 1900s it was being used more broadly as an idiom meaning “a return to normal activities or duties.”

In popular culture, the most famous use is by Autry in the song “Back in the Saddle Again.” He is often credited with writing it.

But, in fact, this familiar cowboy song was not created or first performed by Gene.

Those credits go to Ray Whitley (1901-1979), another early Country Western musician and actor who was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1981.

A short version of the story of how Whitley wrote the song is included in the current page about Whitley on the Hall of Fame’s website.

An older version of that web page had some additional detail.

It said:

Whitley awakened at 5:00 a.m. (in 1938) by a phone call. Coming back into the bedroom he said to his wife, “Well, I'm back in the saddle again” and explained that RKO-Radio studio had called asking him for a new song to use in a film. She said to him “You’ve got the title for one right there...‘I’m back in the saddle again.’” He sat down on the edge of the bed and wrote one verse and went to the studio where he performed it in the film “Border G-Man” and also recorded it. Gene Autry heard it and loved it. He and Whitley rewrote it and Autry recorded it, sang it in the films “Rovin’ Tumbleweeds” [1939] and “Back in the Saddle” [1941]. It became Autry's theme song.

Ray Whitley’s film, Border G-Man, which introduced “Back in the Saddle Again,” was released to movie theaters nationwide on June 24, 1938.

The main stars of the movie are George O'Brien, Laraine Johnson and Whitley, who sings the song at a party in the film.

Of course, “Back in the Saddle Again” was given much wider fame by Gene Autry, who made it his signature song.

Autry actually sang it in three of his movies: Rovin' Tumbleweeds (1939), Back in the Saddle (1941) and Wagon Team (1952).

He also sang it in episodes of his 1950s Western TV series The Gene Autry Show and used it as the theme song for his Melody Ranch TV musical variety show, which aired California on KTLA from 1964 to the early 1970s.

When Autry wrote his biography in 1978, he used Back in the Saddle Again as the title.

You probably know the song or at least the opening lyrics.

So, come on, podner, click on the video at left and sing along with Gene...

       “I’m back in the saddle again
        Out where a friend is a friend
        Where the longhorn cattle feed
        On the lowly jimson weed
        I’m back in the saddle again.

        Riding the range once more
        Toting my old .44
        Where you sleep out every night
        And the only law is right
        Back in the saddle again

        Whoopey-tie-aye-oh
        Rocking to and fro
        Back in the saddle again
        Whoopey-tie-aye-yay
        I go my way
        Back in the saddle again”

Now check out the updated use of the phrase “back in the saddle” in the steamy novel series by bestselling author K.F. Breene. She appears to have popularized it with a whole new audience.

Yee-Haw!!!

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June 16, 2015

“A boy’s best friend is his mother.”


When Alfred Hitchcock’s film Psycho was first released to movie theaters on June 16, 1960, it wasn’t immediately embraced by critics.

For example, in a review published the next day by the New York Times, film critic Bosley Crowther sniffed that the ending “falls quite flat.”

“But,” he added generously,the acting is fair.”

Of course, in the decades since then, Psycho has been recognized as one of the greatest and most influential films ever made.

The performance of Anthony Perkins as the shy but homicidal schizophrenic Norman Bates has become legendary, as has the famed “shower scene” in which Janet Leigh’s character is stabbed to death with a butcher knife.

Leigh’s performance garnered her an Oscar nomination and a lifetime supply of interviews about the film.

Psycho also includes one of the most famous movie quotes of all time:

       “A boy’s best friend is his mother.”

In context, the line is a witty double-entendre, as are many others in the script.

The saying “A boy’s best friend is his mother” is actually an old proverb of uncertain origin.

It wasn’t coined by Psycho scriptwriter Joseph Stefano, or by Robert Bloch in his 1959 novel that inspired the film.

And, it had been used less memorably in previous movies, such as The Awful Truth (1937), and later ones.

But in Psycho the creepy relationship between lead character Norman Bates and his mother gives the saying an especially dark, drily humorous significance that is apparent once the plot unfolds.

It’s spoken by Perkins to Leigh early in the film. Perkins added his own quirky verbal stamp on the scripted line, which is why you sometimes see it quoted as “A boy’s best friend is his mother” (as written) and sometimes as “Well, a boy’s best friend is his mother.”

To be precise, what Perkins actually stammers out is “Well, uh – a boy’s best friend is his mother.”

The scene starts when Norman brings Marion a tray of food and invites her to eat it in his back room behind the office, where the walls are covered with dead birds he has stuffed.

Here’s a transcript of the conversation leading up to the famous quote.

MARION: I’ve caused you some trouble.

NORMAN: No. Uh – Mother – m-my mother, uh – what is the phrase? – she isn’t quite herself today…

MARION: (Indicating the tray) You shouldn’t have bothered. I really don’t have that much of an appetite.

NORMAN: It’s all for you. I’m not hungry. Go ahead. (Delightedly watching her eat) You – you eat like a bird.

MARION: (Nodding to the stuffed birds) You’d know, of course.

NORMAN: No, not really. Anyway, I hear the expression ‘eats like a bird’– is really a fals- fals- falsity. Because birds really eat a tremendous lot. But I don’t really know anything about birds. My hobby is stuffing things – you know – taxidermy...

MARION: A man should have a hobby.

NORMAN: (Sitting back) Well, it’s – it’s more than a hobby. A hobby’s supposed to pass the time – not fill it.

MARION: Is your time so empty?

NORMAN: No, uh – well, I run the office, and uh, tend the cabins and grounds, and – and do little, uh, errands for my mother – the ones she allows I might be capable of doing.

MARION: Do you go out with friends?

NORMAN: (Pause) Well, uh – a boy’s best friend is his mother.

Once you’ve seen Psycho and know how it ends, watching this scene makes it even more clear just how amazingly smart and subtly funny it actually is.

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June 13, 2015

“Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.”


Baseball Hall of Famer Satchel Paige (1906-1982) is considered one of the greatest pitchers in history — despite the fact that he only played for teams in the major leagues for about five years. 

Paige actually had a very long career in baseball that started in 1926.

But from the mid-1920s to the late 1940s he was limited to playing for teams in “The Negro League,” due to the strict racial segregation that continued to be imposed in America during the first half of the 20th century.

In 1947, Paige’s former Negro League teammate Jackie Robinson finally broke baseball’s color barrier.

The following year, at age 42, Paige was recruited as a pitcher by the Cleveland Indians.

That simultaneously made him both the first Negro pitcher in the American League and the oldest major league “rookie” ever.

In 1951, Paige moved to Missouri to play for the St. Louis Browns. (I once owned a Topps baseball card showing him in his Browns uniform, with his name misspelled as “Satchell.” Looking at the prices that card fetches now on eBay, I wish I still had it.)

In 1953, a magazine story about Paige included what became a famous quote that’s included in many books about quotations and baseball:

      “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.” [Sometimes given as “…may be gaining...”]

This the best known of the six rules attributed to Paige in that article, which was written by sports journalist Richard Donovan and published in the June 13, 1953 issue of Collier’s.

The six rules, (variously known as Satchel Paige’s “Six Rules for a Long Life” and “Rules for Staying Young”) were featured in a sidebar of the article and recorded as follows:

      “1. Avoid fried meats, which angry up the blood.
       2. If your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts.
       3. Keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move.
       4. Go very light on the vices, such as carrying on in society. The social rumble ain’t restful.
       5. Avoid running at all times.
       6. Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you.”

The Collier’s article made Paige’s rules famous.

Paige enhanced awareness of them by reciting the rules to fans and reporters throughout the rest of his life. He even had them printed on the back of his business cards.

However, over the years, questions arose about whether Satchel’s rules had actually been created by him or by Richard Donovan.

The truth seems to be somewhere in between.

In Paige’s 1962 memoir, Maybe I’ll Pitch Forever, he said he did have a system of personal rules that helped him be one of the best — and eventually oldest — pitchers in baseball.

“Some sports guy on the East Coast heard me talking about them once and then he went and turned them into a bunch of rules for me to stay young,” Paige recalled.

Regarding the most-quoted rule about not looking back, Paige said: “That last one that fellow wrote was my real rule. When you look back, you know how long you’ve been going and that just might stop you from going any farther...So I didn’t.”

In the excellent biography SATCHEL: The Life and Times of an American Legend, author Larry Tye concludes that the rules were based on things Paige said to Donovan during hours of interviews, but the exact wording was probably Donovan’s.

Paige retired from major league baseball not long after Collier’s published his “six rules” in 1953. But he remained a popular celebrity until his death from a heart attack in 1982.

His heart problem may have had something to do with the fact that — by his own admission — Satchel regularly violated Rule #1.

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Further reading and viewing about Satchel Paige and the Negro Leagues


June 12, 2015

The origin of the proverbial political “smoke-filled room”


Although smoking is either banned or not tolerated in most meetings today, the idea of a meeting of power brokers making deals behind closed doors “in a smoke-filled room” is still a well-known political image and metaphor.

The now-idiomatic “smoke-filled room” was embedded in our language by an Associated Press article filed on June 12, 1920 by reporter Kirke L. Simpson.

That story dealt with the nomination of former Ohio Governor Warren G. Harding as the Republican Party’s candidate in the 1920 Presidential election.

My grade school and high school history books didn’t delve into the backroom machinations leading to Harding’s nomination.

But like other fans of the HBO television series Boardwalk Empire, I learned a bit about the real life characters involved and the wheeling and dealing that went on from watching some of the show’s Season 1 episodes. 

Those episodes suggest that Atlantic City political boss Enoch “Nucky” Thompson (played by actor Steve Buscemi) was instrumental in swinging the nomination to Harding.

While that may be one of a number of fictionalized plot elements in the series, Harding’s nomination was the result of some hard-nosed political deal-making.

In the days leading up to June 12, delegates to the Republican Convention in Chicago had reached an impasse.

Neither of the two leading candidates — former U.S. Army General Leonard Wood and Illinois Governor Frank O. Lowden — could gain a majority of delegate votes.

So, on the night of June 11, a small group of top Republican party officials held a private meeting in Suite 404 in Chicago’s Blackstone Hotel.

Smoke from their cigars filled the room as they discussed the latest ideas on how to break the deadlock.

Sometime after midnight, they decided to push through the nomination of Harding as a compromise candidate who could win in the key state of Ohio and would be friendly to the Captains of Industry.

The AP story filed by Kirke Simpson that morning famously said:

      “Harding of Ohio was chosen by a group of men in a smoke-filled room early today as Republican candidate for President.”

Simpson is often credited with coining the phrase “smoke-filled room,” at least in it’s political sense.

Some sources say that he got the phrase from Harding’s campaign manager, Harry Daugherty (played by actor Christopher McDonald in Boardwalk Empire).

Daugherty allegedly predicted in remarks to reporters:

“The convention will be deadlocked, and after the other candidates have gone their limit, some twelve or fifteen men, worn out and bleary-eyed for lack of sleep, will sit down about two o'clock in the morning, around a table in a smoke-filled room in some hotel and decide the nomination.  When that time comes, Harding will be selected.”

Safire's Political Dictionary, written by the late, great political quote maven William Safire, notes that Daugherty denied saying this.

Either way, the Kirke Simpson’s news story usually gets credit for making “a smoke-filled room” a common political term.

Simpson went on to win the Pulitzer Prize two years later for his series of articles about the burial and tomb of “The Unknown Soldier.”

Harding went on to be elected President of the United States, though he died in office a few years later, after a series of scandals made him a frequent nominee for lists of the worst presidents in history.


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