Monday, February 15, 2016


Advertising Features: Metropolitan Moments

When the U.S. entered World War II there came a pressing need for alcohol in various industrial capacities. Therefore the government curtailed much of the private alcohol production for human consumption. Luckily there was no immediate danger of running out of spirits entirely, because Ireland was still producing and exporting whiskey, and many American liquor companies, reading the writing on the wall, had reserved quite a bit of their production for just such a situation.

The smartest distillers stockpiled not whiskeys, rums, and other specific spirits, but instead created stores of 'neutral spirits' -- grain alcohol -- which they could use to blend with smaller stockpiles of American whiskeys and imported Irish spirits. What was produced was then termed a 'blend', and while it was universally reviled as rotgut, well, beggars can't be choosers, and so Americans held their noses, lived with pounding headaches the morning after, and kept on drinking.

Spirits were advertised heavily during the war, generally with the marketing hype trying to convince buyers that their brand was just as good as the pre-war stuff -- which of course it wasn't. Calvert was on that bandwagon, and they came up with a long-term newspaper campaign for Calvert Reserve Blended Whiskey that interests us here on Stripper's Guide. Starting in January 1942, they inaugurated a series titled Metropolitan Moments, featuring cartoons by some of the leading lights of the magazine gag cartoon world.

In the samples above, you see  a roughly chronological sampling of the Metropolitan Moments ad campaign. We start with Jaro Fabry, the great magazine 'pretty girl' cover artist, who provided almost all of the cartoons through about September 1942. Then he disappeared, and the panel was taken over by someone pseudonymously identified as "Wisdom". Wisdom's work is sort of generic New Yorker style of the day, with elements of William Steig, Charles Addams and Peter Arno. Would love it if someone could offer a positive ID on this fellow.

"Wisdom" was credited with all of the panels through 1944, then the byline changed to "Ely". Ely's work sure looks a lot like Wisdom's to me, so I'm not sure why the credit was changed. The main difference I do see is that Ely had a fondness for a clubby, tuxedoed older gentleman who became a regular in the cartoons during his tenure.

In 1945, the panel got much more interesting. All of a sudden there were other cartoonists contributing, mostly really high-end New Yorker level folks. I've found panels by Abner Dean, Chon Day and Garrett Price, as well as a lesser known fellow named Herbert Roese, and someone with whom I'm unfamiliar, who went by the moniker H. Williamson. The new star of the show, though, was the great Richard Taylor, who produced far more of the panels than anyone else.

The panel finally stopped appearing in May 1947 after a five and a half year run. In some papers the panels appeared almost daily, others got them much less often. However, don't take that to mean that somehow the cartoonists came up with 300-odd different gags concerning Calvert Reserve Whiskey each year. The panels were definitely re-used, though based on my own collection there sure were a lot of different panels to choose from -- definitely in the realm of the hundreds.


I have Taylor's book on cartooning. It's wonderful. It's fun to see his work in this advertising medium.
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