Are you feeling old these days? Is that what’s gotten you down, bunky? It’s understandable. If you watch TV or read the news, glimpses of boomer days past come rushing into focus. Memories of getting a polio or swine flu vaccine, to watching space launches, have been brought to the forefront with today’s headlines. Once you realize these memories are from 40, 50 or even 60-plus years ago, our currently sequestered minds can wonder, where have the years gone? Mister Boomer’s moment of suddenly feeling old arrived this past week when he heard and read news about two pop culture icons ever-present in the boomer years: Tom and Jerry cartoons and Mr. Potato Head toys.
TV commercials are informing us that Tom & Jerry: the Movie has been released in some theaters and specific streaming platforms. Tom and Jerry cartoons predate the Boomer Generation by a few years, but there was not a time when boomers didn’t have a chance to see these cat-and-mouse chases. From 1940 to 1957, Tom and Jerry cartoons were created by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera as movie shorts for MGM studios. In 1963, MGM licensed the cartoon to the legendary Chuck Jones (Looney Tunes, Road Runner), who had left Warner Brothers. His Sib Tower 12 Productions company created Tom and Jerry cartoons for MGM until 1967. Various Tom and Jerry movie shorts were then broadcast on TV beginning in 1965. The first new Tom and Jerry cartoons produced for TV didn’t arrive until 1975, and have pretty much been around ever since.
While Mister B can’t say he is familiar with any Tom and Jerry cartoons beyond the 1960s, he does know it gained the reputation as among the most violent ever produced. Tom, the cat, was ever in pursuit of Jerry, the mouse. Despite the size differential, Jerry often had the upper hand. Whacks and wallops with various mallets, frying pans, boards and more, were regular occurrences. Explosions, fire singes, plus meat cleaver amputations and bisectional knife slices and dices of Tom were part of the vernacular. There was never any blood in Tom and Jerry, and the two characters would be at it again in the next cartoon.
Commercials indicate some of the same slapstick violence is present in the new movie, but Mister B wonders how the entire premise will hold an audience today. It was not among his favorite cartoons, as Mr. B preferred his violence as portrayed in The Road Runner. This new movie won’t be on his view list.
In business news this past week, it was revealed that Hasbro decided to drop the gender-specific title of “Mr. Potato Head” on its packaging, to just “Potato Head.” A true boomer-era toy that was invented in 1949, Mr. Potato Head was manufactured and distributed in 1952. While Hasbro claims to want to “promote gender equality and inclusion,” Mister B thinks it was merely a marketing exercise to avoid having to make more than one package for Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head; the company had already said it was going to continue to produce both of the toys, only now it will be packaged as “The Potato Head Family.” The toys themselves are and were, by societal norms, leaning extremely gender-specific. Mr. Potato Head still has a clip-on mustache, not usually associated with female potatoes. And Mrs. Potato Head still has longer eyelashes attached to her clip-on eyes, a feature not regularly associated with males outside of glam rock or Goth. However, boomer children were never required to use specific parts in their potato creations any more than they were required to color the sky blue. Well, that may be a bad analogy and a story for another time, but Mister B thinks you get the idea. The whole point of toys like Mr. Potato Head, like a lot of boomer-era toys, was that the child creates the play scene, using the toy parts (in this case) as the platform for personal creativity.
What does that have to do with feeling old? Think back to your first Mr. Potato Head, boomers. There was no “potato” in the box, only plastic eyes, ears, noses, mouths, arms and legs, plus accessories like hats and glasses. The potato in Mr. Potato Head was a REAL potato boomers had to get from their moms. Kids could use other vegetables or fruits soft enough to receive the plastic parts as well, like peppers, zucchini, cucumbers, peaches or apples. Hasbro first introduced a plastic potato in the box in 1964.
Multiple internet sources repeat the pop history claim that Mr. Potato Head was the first toy advertised in a TV commercial, but Mister B has not been able to independently verify the claim. Nonetheless, the toy was there, advertised in the early days of TV and the Boomer Generation. Mister Boomer had the version that required real fruits or vegetables. There were several versions of the kit available, with or without Mrs. Potato Head. Mister B’s kit came with Mr. Potato Head’s car. That, my boomer friends, was more than 60 years ago.
Do Tom and Jerry cartoons and Mr. Potato Head bring back happy memories, boomers, or are they reminders of how much water has flowed under the bridge?