Boomers Watched Kids and Animals on TV

If you are a boomer, you probably watch your fair share of network TV. In that non-streaming venue, there are nearly as many commercials as there is time for program content. So Mister Boomer, as a student of our culture, takes note when he discovers a pattern among the commercial ad offerings. For example, a couple of years ago, there were several Little Red Riding Hood references in commercials.

Lately, Mister B noticed there were three commercials running concurrently that use the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Though it is a children’s story, two out of the three commercials portray Goldilocks as an adult or teen, still looking for the “just right” in her life. In one of these ads, Goldilocks, while living with the three bears, searches for the perfect home online at Redfin. In another, a teenage Goldilocks breaks into the home of the three bears as per the story, but chooses between three cold-brewed Dunkin’s coffees on the counter instead of porridge. It’s only in the third one where a young Goldilocks, apparently living in the home of the three bears, is eating a sandwich made with Nature’s Own bread. Mama Bear turns to Papa Bear and says, “If you keep feeding her like this, she’ll never leave.”

It has been said in multiple circles that our culture turns to animals and kids in times of change and stress; it’s evidently an instinctual need for some warm fuzzies. While the economy boomed after the War, social change was imminent, disrupting what came before. Perhaps that is one reason there was a preponderance of kids and animals in TV shows, movies and TV commercials throughout the boomer years.

TV broadcasting was expanding and included a great deal of children’s programming as well as family fare. Animals and children were featured in many.

Between 1950 and ’56, there were seven successful movies that featured Francis, the Talking Mule. An Army mule, Francis mainly spoke to the soldier he befriended (but rarely to others). After the war, Francis went to live with his soldier friend in civilian life.

Mister Ed, the talking horse follow-up to Francis, had its TV moment from 1961-66.

Children and animals were teamed in several shows. In Rin Tin Tin (1954-59), an orphaned boy named Rusty, taken in by soldiers at the Fort Apache outpost in Arizona, is accompanied by a German Shepherd. Though the dog does not talk, he is loyal and wise enough to assist whenever there was trouble.

Even more than Rin Tin Tin, Lassie (1954-74), the title dog character that also only barked on occasion, appeared to more than understand and help the humans around him. This time the boy, Timmy (also orphaned), seemed to always get into some trouble and needed Lassie’s help.

Of course, cartoons in movies and on TV were filled with talking animals right from the start. When TV came around, cartoon characters became the spoke-characters for numerous products, most notably sugar-coated cereal.

National TV commercials were filled with kids or animals, or both. For many boomers, one of the most memorable was for Red Rose Tea. A group of trained chimpanzees performed as the Marquis Chimps in England and on U.S. variety TV shows, like The Ed Sullivan Show. In 1960, the animals were given instruments to appear like they were playing in a band and singing the jingle for Red Rose Tea. The commercial and jingle were so popular that in 1968 the jingle was licensed by two Pittsburgh DJs and released as a 45 rpm record.

As for lovable kids, there may not be a more memorable TV commercial boy than Mikey. Little Mikey made his debut on Life cereal commercials in 1972. The premise was the kids did not want to try the health-focused cereal. They get the notion that Mikey can try it for them, because Mikey did not like anything. Of course, Mikey liked it.

The boomer years were filled with animal characters and kids doing amazing as well as mundane things. Maybe it was a way to grab a wider audience or product market share by showing kids themselves on TV. Maybe it was piggybacking on the post-war years of talking animals that originally were aimed at adults before children. And maybe, in some small way, it was a societal balm intended to heal wounds and connect commonalties among our differences.

Do you have a favorite animal or kid commercial, boomers?

Additional reading: Talking Animals Sold Cereal to Boomers

Boomers Grew Up With the Hess Truck

The tradition of the annual Hess toy truck at Christmas is a ubiquitous promotion on TV these days, but its origin occurred in the boomer heydays. Hess started as a home heating oil delivery service in 1933, but has morphed into a worldwide crude oil and natural gas exploration and production company currently owned by Chevron.

For boomer children in certain states, the story begins in 1960 when Hess opened its first gas station in New Jersey. By 1964, Hess gas stations formed a regional chain spanning several eastern and midwestern states. That was the first year Hess offered a toy truck, and the tradition began. The original toy was a tanker that kids could fill with water. Through a hose attached to the tank, the water could be emptied — delivered — where the child wanted. The truck was sold exclusively at Hess gas stations. It was meant to be a replica of the type of tankers that Hess used to deliver fuel.

Eventually, the gas stations could be found in most states east of the Mississippi. The annual sale of a toy truck continued for 16 more years, with each year offering a different style of vehicle. Hess released a new truck each year, except for 1973, 1979 and 1981, when the Middle East oil embargoes interrupted the new truck releases. Up until 1979, the annual toy sale was only advertised in local newspapers and at Hess gas stations, but then the first TV commercial aired in 1980 (according to the company; others on YouTube claim to have uncovered TV commercials from the late 1970s). That is where the story gets interesting for boomers.

The Hess TV commercial from 1980 used a rock instrumental version of Deck the Halls. That soundtrack appears to have been used in Hess truck commercials throughout the 1980s, but Mister Boomer was able to discover a 1989 TV commercial that used an extended version of the jingle we hear on Hess truck commercials today. The distinctive TV commercial jingle intoning, The Hess truck’s back and it’s better than ever… is immediately identifiable by boomers. The song melody that became the basis for the commercial jingle is none other than My Boyfriend’s Back, made popular by The Angels in 1963! Hess has continued to use the jingle, including this year.

In 2014, Hess sold its gas station business to Marathon Petroleum. As a result, Hess stations were closed in 2015. However, the toy continues to be sold online at the Hess truck website. Boomers, who may have received a Hess truck when they were children, may have also continued the tradition with their children and grandchildren. Those longtime buyers will be happy to know that Hess continues to supply the batteries for the toys, the same as it has since 1964.

How about you, boomers? Did you ever receive a Hess truck as a gift? Did you ever purchase one for your own children or grandchildren?