Boomers Saw Their Favorite Characters Run for President

Now that the presidential nomination conventions of the two major parties have finished, the hard work of campaigning in the run-up to Election Day has begun. During boomers’ formative years, TV shows, magazines, ad agencies, PR firms and marketing companies all saw the potential of promoting their characters in fake political campaigns to a generation whose oldest members were just beginning to reach legal voting age.

The voting age was 21, as noted in the song, Eve of Destruction, when Barry McGuire sang, “You’re old enough to kill, but not for voting.”  The earliest boomers were angry that they could be drafted into the army yet could not take part in the voting process. It would not be until July of 1971 before the 26th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified and the age was changed to 18.

Many comics, writers and actors saw that 1968 battlefield as a theater of the absurd, so it was a natural evolution that popular characters would be paraded out to run for president. There had already been a tradition of fake campaigns dating back to the 1920s, when there was a Betty Boop for President campaign for the cartoon character, and the 1930s, when humorist Will Rogers mounted his faux run for the presidency.

Here are some favorite TV, comic book and cartoon characters who ran presidential campaigns in the Boomer Generation’s formative years of the ’60s and ’70s:

Howdy Doody, 1948
For many boomers, their first television memories are of the puppet Howdy Doody. In 1948, when the first boomers were just three years old, Puppet Playhouse Presents Howdy Doody ran a TV episode that featured a Howdy Doody for President theme.

Huckleberry Hound, 1960
The year John F. Kennedy was elected president, Huckleberry Hound had a running storyline in a comic book outlining his campaign for president.

Yogi Bear and Magilla Gorilla, 1964
In a crossover attempt in two comic books, Yogi Bear and Magilla Gorilla “ran” against each other for president. Buttons and campaign memorabilia were printed and distributed through the comic books. Each purchase was considered a vote for the candidate. Yogi’s vice presidential pick was Huckleberry Hound. Dozens of these buttons and pins are still available online today.

Pat Paulsen, 1968, et al
You can’t mention presidential candidates, real or not, without mentioning Pat Paulsen. He is perhaps the most persistent non-candidate in election history. Paulsen ran for president in 1968, ’72, ’80, ’88, ’92 and ’96. These were official attempts, though his campaign speeches were all tongue-in-cheek. He “ran” on the Straight Talking American Government (STAG) Party, but got on the ballot as a Republican and Democrat in many state primaries. Paulsen actually finished second to George Bush in 1992 in the North Dakota Republican Primary, and finished second to Bill Clinton in 1996 in the New Hampshire Democratic Primary.

It all began in 1967, when Paulsen, a comic and musician, was singing parodies of folk singers in comedy clubs. His friend, Tommy Smothers, caught his act one night and offered him a job writing songs for his TV show, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.

Paulsen started on-air appearances on the show as a befuddled and disgruntled editorialist with deadpan humor. Tommy Smothers suggested he take his character into a presidential campaign and the rest is history. In our era of sound bites, we can recall that in political campaigns, the tag line served as the sound bite of its day. Paulsen had favorite tag lines used in his campaigns. In 1968 he had one printed on buttons that pictured his head on the body of a bald eagle. The tag line read, “I’ve upped my standards … Now up yours!” In live appearances and TV interviews, he was fond of saying, “If elected, I will win.”

In 1970, Paulsen was given his own show, Pat Paulsen’s Half a Comedy Hour. It only lasted 13 weeks, but on the very first show, former Vice President Hubert Humphrey was a guest. It was a testimonial to the influence of comedy on elections.

Dick Gregory, 1968
Comedian and Civil Rights activist Dick Gregory launched his campaign in the 1968 election. He had fake dollar bills printed with his face on them. The headlines above and below his portrait said,  “For President of The United States of America — Gregory — One Vote.”  The satirical implication was obvious — he was buying your vote.

Snoopy, 1968
The popular Charles Shultz comic character had a storyline of the dog running for president, but the campaign went up a notch when The Royal Guardsmen released a song called, Snoopy for President. It sounded suspiciously like The Royal Guardsmen’s Snoopy vs. Red Baron and other Snoopy Christmas songs. In fact, we recall The Royal Guardsmen today only for their Snoopy songs.

Alfred E. Neuman, 1968
In Mad magazine’s 11th Annual Edition of More Trash From Mad the cover features a drawing of LBJ stepping out of the presidential limousine. His car sports an Alfred E. Neuman for President bumper sticker and the gate post, with the address 1600 visible, had a poster for candidate Neuman. The bumper sticker and poster came with the issue.

Again in 1972, a Mad cover featured Alfred E. Neuman for President. This time, the candidate himself was pictured with a straw convention hat that had been smashed over his head. The band around the hat held the pitch, Alfred E. Neuman for President.

Archie Bunker, 1972
Though his “campaign” was not part of the All In the Family TV show itself, Archie Bunker seemed a natural to run for president, with his over-the-top opinions on everything. The Archie Bunker campaign was a PR move, complete with campaign buttons. You’ll find the buttons for sale online.

These are just a few, since there were many more before, during and after the ’60s and ’70s.

Do you recall a favorite cartoon, comic book or TV character who ran for president, boomers? Did you obtain campaign memorabilia back then?

Boomers Wanted to Buy the World A Coke

The Boomer Generation grew up with commercial jingles being the norm. In contrast, much of today’s TV and radio uses existing songs (even from the boomer era!), but in our day, music in commercials was composed specifically for the product or service. Many boomers will recall several of these classic jingles to this day. One jingle that reached the ultimate pinnacle of success during the boomer era was written for Coca-Cola.

It was July 1971 when Coca-Cola released their I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke commercial in the U.S. The commercial featured hundreds of people from around the world on a hillside, singing about buying the world a Coke as a way of promoting world harmony. The company had first aired the jingle on the radio in February of that year, but it failed to catch attention of the Coca-Cola bottlers. On TV, though, the entire message was immediately embraced.

The story of how the commercial and jingle came to be is a fascinating one. Bill Backer, ad agency McCann Ericson’s creative director for the Coca-Cola account, was flying to London to meet with Billy Davis. Davis was the musical director for the account, and they were to discuss ideas for a jingle that was to be recorded by the New Seekers, a group popular in Britain at the time. Fog forced Backer’s plane to land in Shannon, Ireland, where the passengers were required to deplane. Backer said he observed how angry the passengers were at the lack of accommodations during their impromptu stay; they were required to remain close by in case the fog lifted. It would be twenty-four hours before that would happen.

The next day Backer saw the same group of people from the night before, only now, having been brought together under the circumstance, were talking and laughing among themselves as they munched snacks and drank Coca-Cola. It was at that moment when Backer sparked the idea that a Coke could be more than “the pause that refreshes,” the previous tagline for the soft drink giant. A world-wide product such as Coke, in his estimation, could become a symbol for a universal commonality among people.

When Backer met Billy Davis, he told him about the scene at the airport and Davis was not impressed with the notion. After further discussion Backer asked Davis what he might do for the world if he could. Davis talked about making sure everyone had a home and would share peace and love. Backer asked him to write a song that expressed those sentiments.

Roger Cook and Roger Greenway were enlisted to assist Davis in composing the song. The trio already had a reputation for hit songs, having written This Golden Ring, Long Cool Woman (in a Black Dress), You’ve Got Your Troubles, I’ve Got Mine, Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling Again, and more.

The two Rogers played a melody they had been working on for Davis, that they had called Mom, True Love, and Apple Pie. They played the melody for Backer, who recommended it become the basis for I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke. The New Seekers recorded the jingle and it made its debut on American radio in February 1971. Though spurned by the affiliate Coke bottlers, stations began getting requests for the jingle. DJs told Coke executives they should record the song for public release. Coke got Bill Backer involved in trying to come up with a way to add a visual to the song so it might air on TV, and the hillside singing chorus concept was formulated.

Coke approved the idea and set a budget of $100,000 to film it. The original attempt was to be on the cliffs of Dover, with 65 schoolchildren lip-synching the song. However, it rained for three straight days, so the shoot was cancelled.

The second attempt was moved to Rome, where it also rained. The shoot was delayed but when the rain cleared, the final helicopter view of the 500 singing stand-ins was filmed. When Backer and his team reviewed the film, they discovered the rain had ruined the scene and lighting, and the shoot was scrapped again.

Backer convinced Coke that the concept was a winning one, so the budget ballooned to $250,000 — an unheard-of amount for commercials in 1971. The third try would be the charm. Close-ups of some of the 500 young people hired for the shoot were actually shot separately at a Rome racetrack. The commercial’s message of hope and peace, first aired 45 years ago this month, was a giant success.

In conjunction with the airing of the commercial, Billy Davis wanted to release a record of the song, retitled, I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing (in Perfect Harmony). He approached the New Seekers to record it, but their manager intervened and said there were schedule conflicts that would preclude the group’s involvement in the project. Instead, Davis gathered a group of studio singers under the name of “The Hillside Singers” to record his song. Two weeks later, the New Seekers came back and recorded the song, which immediately became a Top 10 hit. Davis followed the successful New Seekers version by releasing the studio Hillside Singers rendition. That version climbed to number 13 on the pop charts.

All told, the commercial became an instant classic. It was the first instance where a commercial jingle birthed a Top 10 pop hit, instead of the other way around. It was recorded in several different languages, and became popular the world over. The sheet music for the song sold more than any other song from the previous decade.

The Coca-Cola Company signed an agreement with UNICEF that they would donate the first $80,000 in royalties from their writers and publishers — it was a work for hire and not the property of Davis, Cook and Greenway. In one tiny way, Coke was lending a helping hand to the world, yet still profiting from it.

Mister Boomer remembers the original appearance of the commercial. His opinion did not fall in line with the majority. He felt the song was sappy and overly optimistic. In his estimation, the message subverted a vision of world harmony by interjecting a capitalistic subterfuge that the sixties had fought so hard to break, man. But what did he know? People liked it. A lot. And certainly, Mister B enjoyed many a Coca-Cola in his days, especially icy cold 8 oz. bottles on hot summer days from the machine at the corner gas station.

In 2015, the commercial resurfaced as part of the finale for Mad Men. This TV show was, depending on your point of view, an homage or condemnation of the very type of ad agency that produced the Coke commercial. Using the real thing — the original ad — in a fictional story emphasized the impact this commercial had on the world, both at the time and now forty-plus years later.

Did you or someone in your family buy the I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing (in Perfect Harmony) record, boomers?