Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, June 30, 2005


Page 15



Chubby Bear Competes With Six Shapely Models




I’m not a beer drinker. To my taste buds, the difference between beer and Alka Seltzer is negligible.

Nonetheless, beer is a source of nostalgia for me, as I would suppose it to be for many. Beer commercials were numerous in the 1950s, and memorable.

Blatz Beer sponsored Amos ’n’ Andy on television. The announcer spoke of the “Blatz Brewing Company of Milwaukee, Wisc.” in stentorian and reverent tones as if it were a cherished institution.

It was Budweiser that sponsored Damon Runyon Threater. Each show began with a scene of eight sturdy Clydesdale horses pulling a beer wagon.

Local programming was interrupted for spiels for Brew 102, a beer produced near the Los Angeles Civic Center (and not advertised on national television). The Santa Ana Freeway is said to have been so constructed as to avoid a dismantling of the distillery. Production of the beer was halted in 1972.

I remember the annual “election” in which attractive young women vied for the title of “Miss Rheingold.” Six finalists were submitted to the public to be voted upon. Ballots were available in grocery stores and bars—but only ones, naturally, where Rheingold Beer was sold.

The finalists emerged after hundreds of applicants were passed upon at sessions in Hollywood and New York, with names of celebrities mentioned as being among those involved in the process.

The contest began in 1939. The Miss Rheingolds of 1940 and of 1941 were chosen without public participation. Then the company had the brainstorm of balloting, with Miss Rheingold 1942 and 22 of her successors being popularly selected.

Competition was originally open only to models. However, it was announced in 1956:

“The chance to be next year’s Miss Rheingold is now open to every pretty girl who can qualify. Although you do not have to be a model now, to become a candidate for Miss Rheingold you must register. Arrangements have been made with licensed New York City model agencies to register those girls whom they consider Miss Rheingold possibilities.”

The modeling agencies were thus able to recruit “clients,” no doubt with some consideration flowing to the beer company.

The frequent Rheingold TV commercials sought to create a sense of mounting drama over which “girl” would be selected.

There were, in the 1950s, reportedly millions of votes cast—the number in 1952 was said to have been 25 million—rendering balloting for Miss Rheingold second in numbers only to that for the president and vice president of the United States. Of course, there was no monitoring of the voting for Miss Rheingold so it was possible to vote more than once.

Production of Rheingold Beer, which began in Brooklyn in 1883, came to an end in 1976. (It’s been resurected in New York, with a “Miss Rheingold 2004” having been chosen among Big Apple bartenders.)

While Rheingold offered female pulchritude, Hamm’s relied on an obese cartoon bear who made his debut in 1953. Although his name was never revealed in the commercials, he became a beloved TV figure, dancing around, sometimes stumbling, in picturesque settings among friendly critters as this jingle was sung, to a tom-tom beat:

“From the Land of Sky Blue Waters, Waters,

“From the land of pines, lofty balsam,

 “Comes the beer refreshing,

 “Hamm’s the Beer Refreshing.”

The beer was first marketed in 1865 with distribution limited to the area around in St. Paul, Minnesota, where Theodore Hamm brewed it. His wife, by the way, was named Sascha—which is what the folks at Hamm’s called the bear.

It’s been decades since Hamm’s commercials have aired. Nowadays, Hamm’s is owned by Miller which is marketing the brand only in a few areas and, in any event, Sascha has been fired. It seems the beer-maker doesn’t want to be accused of trying to peddle its brew to kiddies the way R. J. Reynolds was charged with seeking to promote smoking among children by using Joe Camel.

On Wednesday nights in the early 1950s, my father would turn on the fights, broadcast from Madison Square Garden.

This jingle was featured in the commercials:

“What’ll you have? Pabst Blue Ribbon!

“What’ll you have? Pabst Blue Ribbon!

“What’ll you have? Pabst Blue Ribbon!

“Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.”

The Washington Post reported on April 20, 2003:

“Pabst Blue Ribbon, a forgotten if not forsaken brand, once the solace of the beleaguered working man, and, regrettably, a beer often associated with what people in polite company call ‘trash,’ has staged a surprising comeback. The resurgence is mostly among young adults, led by colleagues such as snowboarders and indie filmmakers.”


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