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 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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June 07, 2015

“Never let them see you sweat” was launched into our language on this day in 1984…


In 1984, the Gillette Company launched a new series of TV commercials for its Dry Idea antiperspirants that introduced what eventually became one of the famous ad slogans of all time:

     “Never let them see you sweat.”

According to the Gillette’s trademark registration for the slogan, it was “first used in commerce” on June 7, 1984. (Given as “19840607” in the official listing in the United States Patent and Trademark Office database.)

The TV commercials and companion magazine print ads featured celebrities who each mentioned three “nevers” for their profession — the last of which always included “never let them see you sweat.”

This highly catchy slogan is credited to veteran ad man Phil Slott.

Slott was especially hot at the time, having also recently coined the Navy recruiting ad slogan: “It’s not just a job, it’s an adventure.”

The Dry Idea commercials were memorable not only for their tagline, but also because they were witty and well-performed by the celebrities who were featured.

In case you missed them, here are the scripts for some of the commercials in the series that have been posted on YouTube (click the links to view the ads)...

DONNA KARAN (Fashion Designer): [NOTE: This ad is in the clip at about the 3 minute mark.] There are three nevers in fashion design. Never confuse fad with fashion. Never forget it’s your name on every label. And, when showing your lines to the press, never let them see you sweat.  ANNOUNCER: That’s what new Dry Idea solid is all about. Maximum control. It keeps you drier than any other solid.  KARAN: Feeling tense is understandable. Looking tense is unfashionable.  ANNOUNCER: Dry Idea. Never let them see you sweat.

DAN REEVES (Head Coach, Denver Broncos): I think there’s three nevers to being a winning coach. Never let the press pick your starting quarterback. Never take a last place team lightly. And, really, no matter what the score, never let ‘em see you sweat.  ANNOUNCER: That’s what new Dry Idea aerosol is all about. It keeps you drier than the leading aerosol.  REEVES: Everyone feels pressure. Winners don’t let it show.  ANNOUNCER: Dry Idea. Never let them see you sweat.

LAUREN HUTTON (Actress): There are three nevers to getting older in Hollywood. Never audition first thing in the morning. Never try to play a character half your age. And, even if your leading man is prettier than you are, never, never let ‘em see you sweat.  ANNOUNCER: When the spotlight’s on, no other solid keeps you drier than Dry Idea solid.  HUTTON: Believe me, Dry Idea handles sweat a whole lot better than some people handle birthdays.  ANNOUNCER: Dry Idea. Never let them see you sweat.

ELAINE BOOSLER (Comedian): Well, there are three nevers in comedy. Never follow a better comedian. Never give a heckler the last word. And, no matter how bad a joke bombs, though it’s never happened to me personally, never let ‘em see you sweat.  ANNOUNCER: When you're center stage, new dry Idea roll-on is the best roll-on there is.  BOOSLER: In comedy, being nervous is natural. And, looking nervous is deadly.  ANNOUNCER: Dry Idea. Never let them see you sweat.

By mid-1990s, the ad series had run it’s course.

Eventually, Gillette let its trademark for the famed slogan expire and sold the Dry Idea line to the Dial Corporation (now a US division of the German consumer goods conglomerate, Henkel).

But the line “Never let them see you sweat” is still quoted, repurposed and parodied today.

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