Friday, 9 November 2018

The commercials in the Star Wars Holiday Special

An ad for Kenner Star Wars toys during
The Star Wars Holiday Special on CBS

On November 17, it will be time to celebrate – if that's the word – the 40th anniversary of The Star Wars Holiday Special.

I've looked before at its most excruciating moments (in a two-part blog post here and here). I've also tried to appreciate the things a young viewer in the 1970s might have loved about it (which only took one post).

In recent times, someone has posted all the commercials from a recording of the Holiday Special, and I think they deserve a post of their own. 

After all, advertising reminds us vividly of the things a culture found desirable at the time. And of course, advertisers must have been paying top dollar to have their wares displayed during two hours devoted to the biggest film of all time.

Once they saw the content of the show, those advertisers might have had second thoughts about whether they spent their money wisely.

There were 19 minutes of ads in the two-hour slot given to The Star Wars Holiday Special. 

The recording also includes some news stories. The Soviet president Leonid Brezhnev has admitted that Russia tested a neutron bomb. Former CIA clerk William Kampiles has been convicted of selling secrets to the USSR. And while there are 11 inches of snow in Minesota, a spell of bad weather nine months ago has not led to the expected baby boom, possibly because men were busy shovelling snow. 


A Lincoln Mercury commercial during
the Star Wars Holiday Special

Nothing dates an era like its cars.
The Holiday Special contains two ads for General Motors, but they focus on the culture at the factories, rather than the models themselves.
Utility man Willie Rawles, who can do any job on the production line, tells of his work. In a second ad, quality control inspector James Rock says: "We'll knock down engines for a bad paint job."
Later, there's an add for Gladding Chevrolet of Glenburne.
And there's a commercial for Lincoln Mercury. The Bobcat wagon costs $4,142, less than last year's model, we're told, while a Zephyr costs $500 than a Toyota Corona and has 23 cubic feet more space.


A Bell commercial during 
the Star Wars Holiday Special

Bell has two commercials during the Special. The first is for its phones themselves, the second (accoompanied by the song 'Feelings') is an emotional tale of the vlaue of a long-distance call.

Trailers for other TV

A trailer for Flying High during 
the Star Wars Holiday Special

One CBS trailer teases 60 Minutes, All in the Family, Alice, Lucy Comes to Nashville, and Dallas (in which Sue Ellen is pregnant – but who's the father?)
Bobby Vinton's Rock & Rollers is hailed as being "like Grease on wheels" and features two of that film's cast, Stockard Channing and Eve Arden. It looks like it could be a kitschy stablemate of the Holiday Special itself.
There are trailers for Dolly, Flying High (a show about flight attendants which looks truly execrable) and for a TV showing of John Huston's The Bible. There's a title card only for Hot City, and I've not been able to find out what that show was.

Films on the big screen

There are trailers for the R-rated The Wild Geese, with Richard Harris and Richard Burton; and for the Wizard of Oz update The Wiz ("It's joy, it's laughter, it's music, it's here").


One of the most striking commercials, for a modern viewer, is one for the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. It urges people to buy American-made clothes rather than those produced cheaply abroad, and a growing throng of workers unite in song to urge us to "look for the union label".
There are two ads for pantyhose, which you might think is not an obvious fit with Star Wars. There's Sheer Indulgence real panty pantyhose, and No Nonsense Pantyhose ("No nonsense fit, no nonsense comfort, no nonsense price"). 
There's an ad for men's underwear too, but based on the assumption that women will be doing the buying. An elderly lady, Emma, tells us "Girls, I bought a lot of underwear for my man", and recommends spending $1.30 on men's cotton briefs from Fruit of the Loom.

Food and drink

A McDonald's commercial during 
the Star Wars Holiday Special
Reggie is a long-vanished candy bar endorsed by New York Yankees outfielder Reggie Jackson. He appears in an ad to tell us how great it is.
Pillsbury Plus Yellow Cake, with pudding in the mix, is better than its competitor, we're told. "You're just a bite away from a better tasting, moister cake."
McDonald's, inevitably, is there, promoting its breakfast lines. "There's more in the midle of an Egg McMuffin than an egg in the middle of a muffin," is the tongue-twisting tagline.
Hungry Jack Flaky Biscuits, which you bake from a  mix in eleven minutes, are apparently big enough to satisfy the appetite of giant Hungry Jack himself. "Hungry, Hungry Jack, they gobble 'em down and the plate comes back," goes the jingle.
Finally, there's an ad for the Californian wine company Colony. The commercial seems distinctly under-confident in its brand; the message is to ignore received opinion, because "Taste is the best way to know if you like a wine". It urges the viewer to "Impress yourself".


It's November, so we get two ads for cold remedies: Comtex and Contac.
Then there's one for Anacin, in which a worried woman confides to a friend that she needs a stronger headache pill but is worried it could be dangerous. A male pharmacist hands her Anacin and reassuringly endorses its message "safety with strength".

Laundry detergent

Clothes washed in Woolite become "Clothes that deserve a second look", we're told.


Revlon Cream On Blush enables the user to shade and tone and "baby, it's waterproof", so "it stays on when you carry on".

Federal publications

One of the oddest ads, for today's audience, is that for the Consumer Information Center of the US General Services Administration. 
We're urged to write to Consumer Catalog in Colorado for a catalogue of all kinds of useful consumer publications, many of them free.


FTD Wishing Well bouquets make all the difference to a hopsital patient and come "complete with penny for good luck".

Air freshener

Twce as Fresh air freshener works twice as hard, which is good news for the hands-on dad who opines: "Love the baby, hate the wet diapers". 


Possibly the most striking ad in the collection is for appliances from the Whirlpool Coporation. 
It doesn't bother giving us details of any appliances. Instead, we see a bird of prey catching a fish, while a voice that seems to be Kojak's Telly Savalas reads some narration which could have come from a politcical ad:
"This country may be in danger. We could be losing something we can't afford to lose. Once in this country, when a man produced a product, it was the best he could possibly make. He stood behind it with pride. He lived a simple idea do it right or don't do it at all. Nobody told him that, no government agency dictated it, and it built a standard of living for the world to aim at. Now that idea is threatened by the slipshod, the second rate..."
Fortunately, "some are fighting this threat". Yes, it's the Whirlpool Corporation with its quality appliances.
"If we can't keep this simple idea alive then indeed we are the endantgered species," the commercial concludes.
As one YouTube commenter notes, it's an ad that could have been written by Ayn Rand.


The ad for Kenner Star Wars toys during 
The Star Wars Holiday Special 

Finally, the products that young viewers might have wanted to see advertised.

It's surprising that there are only three toy ads in this recording.
The first is for Trailtacker, a Kenner toy which involves a van following the lines you draw on a mat.
The second is for Tobor (it's robot backwards, did you know?). It's a 'telesonic'  remote control robot which can go forwards, circle or pick up a "support module".
Finally, there's an ad for Kenner Star Wars toys that would have been hugely exciting for kids at the time. (It's fairly exciting for an adult now, especially with the knowldge of how valuable these toys have become.) 

The ad for Kenner Star Wars toys during 
The Star Wars Holiday Special
We see a TIE fighter, an X-wing, a radio-controlled R2-D2, a landspeeder, action figures, the Death Star (with "four floors of action" and a trash compactor), and an electronic laser battle game. To make things even more thrilling, it's narrated by C-3PO himself.

Kenner may have seen the Holiday Special and wondered whether anyone would want Star Wars toys again after watching it.

Fortunately, it would take more than some lamentable comedy, some bizarre musical sequences and a lot of nonsense about Life Day to put young peopel off Star Wars.


Chris said...

The Union Label commercial is an artifact of an era when labor unions actually mattered in the American economy. Pre-Reaganomics.

Steve H. said...

Reggie was right. The Reggie candy bar was effin' great. It shocks me the Yankees have never capitalized on that and sell it at Yankee Stadium. It would sell like crazy to the fans even today.

Darren Slade said...

Chris, thanks for that. It does seem like a relic of a very different time.

Darren Slade said...

Steve, thanks very much for the comment.
Being UK-based, I've never had a Reggie bar, and hadn't even heard of them until these ads.

Anonymous said...

Hot City is actually short for Hot City Disco. There are 8 episodes of it on YouTube.