March 4, 2014

Frankenstein's Vodka

The classic, flattop Frankenstein Monster has been hawking Heineken, Twizzlers, Shinola and all manner of products for some 50 years by now. Here’s an early pitch, from Halloween of 1967, advertising the Smirnoff Bloody Mary.

The Smirnoff brand, originally produced by a Russian immigrant in Bethel, Connecticut, effectively introduced vodka to North American consumers. The small-scale outfit was taken over in 1933 by Heublein’s, a distiller that had survived through Prohibition by selling A1 steak sauce, but vodka, rebranded as “white whiskey”, was a tough sell and it would take another twenty years before it caught on. Heublein’s innovative president, John Gilbert Martin, repositioned vodka as a cocktail ingredient to be mixed with anything and everything from beef bouillon to ginger beer and launched a now legendary series of glossy magazine ads featuring a who’s who of contemporary celebrities such as Groucho Marx, Julie London, Robert Goulet, Benny Goodman and Della Reese. The most celebrated ads included one with Buster Keaton, and repeat appearances by a young standup comic, Woody Allen.

A late entry in the long-running campaign, the Frankenstein ad stars Paul Ford as “the friendly monster”. A character actor with a long list of choice screen credits, Ford was best known for his stint as the clueless, long-suffering Colonel Hall opposite the flimflamming Sergeant Bilko of the hugely popular Phil Silvers Show (1955-59).

The heavily retouched photo has Ford wearing a high forehead and wig, with the green color most likely painted on top of the still. In fact, the head may have been patched on — dare I say Frankenstein-like — to a body double. A similar trick appears to have been pulled in an ad for the Smirnoff Screwdriver featuring Vincent Price, seen reflected in a small mirror, otherwise sitting with his back (or perhaps the double's back) to the camera. 


Craig said...

Great stuff, Pierre!

Considering the date, I think there's as much Herman there as Boris...

And yes, I'd bet there was a body double used - I think Ford was thicker in the middle than that.

Normand Bastien said...

The Smirnoff campaign also owes a lot to its art director, Hershel Bramson, who was then working at the Lawrence C. Gumbinner advertising agency. To help him work on the account, he brought in his friend Bert Stern, who had been his assistant and apprentice at Look magazine, where Stern started out as a mailroom delivery boy at age 17.

At some point, they went looking for a photographer to shoot the campaign, but as both Irving Penn and Erwin Blumenfeld turned them down, Bramson said to Bert Stern “You know what I want. You shoot it.” And the rest, as they say, is history. Bert Stern went on to become one of the great American photographer.