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The Morbid Tale of the Marlboro Man–And Others

20 Nov

by Roger White

A moment of silence, please, for Mr. Eric Lawson. Mr. Lawson, 72, died earlier this year from respiratory failure due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The real cause: smoking. If you don’t recognize the name, you’ll certainly know him by his professional moniker. Eric Lawson was the Marlboro Man. You remember? The rugged cowboy dude rode the range, ten-gallon hat on his head and a smooth Marlboro in his hand, in those iconic cigarette ads of the 1970s.

The MMGet this: Lawson was the latest in a string of Marlboro Men to expire due to “hazards of the job.” Before him, aspiring actor David Millar, who did TV spots for the cigarette company in the 1950s, smoked for four decades before dying of emphysema in 1987. Former stuntman Wayne McLaren, another Marlboro male, died of lung cancer in 1992 at age 51. Western TV actor David McLean, who appeared in such shows as Bonanza and Gunsmoke, played the MM in print and television ads—he kicked the bucket in 1995 after 30 years of lighting up. His widow sued Phillip Morris, claiming the company made him smoke five packs per ad; she lost when the suit was dismissed. And then there was Richard Hammer, a firefighter-turned-actor who died of lung cancer in 1999 after his reign as the smoking cowboy. Talk about a risky profession.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are many sordid stories of TV and magazine pitch men who’ve succumbed through the years, overwhelmed by their corporate personas. It’s the sort of thing that Hollywood and Madison Avenue have conspired to keep quiet, fearing the backlash of negative publicity. Here are just a few I’ve become privy to:

ow!Did you know, for example, that the original Pillsbury Dough Boy, young Timothy Yeastley of Bakersfield, California, died of peritonitis after being poked in the belly 417 times during a marathon attempt at a particular TV commercial? “The director was never satisfied,” one stagehand remembered. “We kept shooting it over and over. It was gruesome. Timothy gamely tried to carry on, even laughing that silly laugh to the very end. But by the 400th take or so, he was black and blue.” Outtakes have apparently cropped up on Youtube; don’t watch them unless you have a strong stomach. So to speak.

Or how about the sad tale of Gunther Sauber, otherwise known in TV land as Mr. Clean? Poor Gunther became so consumed by his on-air identity that he died of OCD in 1977. Near the end, he spent all his time cleaning, polishing, spit-shining, mopping, shaving his head. They found Gunther, dead of a heart attack, in the Flatbush Avenue Subway Terminal in New York. He was Mr Cdressed all in white, a bottle of cleaner in one hand, a filthy rag in the other. Notes found in his apartment indicated he intended to degrease the entire New York City subway system.

Then there was Lee David Squibny of Hastings, Nebraska—the original Kool-Aid Man. Although Lee went violently—he died of repeated blunt-force trauma after crashing through 46 walls during a grueling TV ad taping session—an autopsy revealed early onset of diabetes. An unsettling side note: All of Lee’s internal organs were stained a hideous grape purple.

And let’s not forget ill-fated Ike Lipshitz, the original Jack of Jack in the Box fame. Mr. Lipshitz, apparently obsessed with staying in character, met a ghastly fate when his bulbous Jack in the Box head became stuck in an elevator door on his way to his fiancée’s apartment. When the elevator Jack is Badarrived at the fiancée’s floor, she was horrified to find only the giant Jack head inside, and a bag of tacos.

I could go on. I would, for instance, tell you about the fate of the first two Mr. Peanuts, but you’d never look at a jar of peanut butter the same way. Or of the original Jolly Green Giant—oh, the endless skin grafts… Suffice it to say, it’s not all glamour and glitz.

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

Light Up a Smooth Chesterton’s and Enjoy This Column, Won’t You?

5 Dec

by Roger White

Wow. I’ve been reading lately how these crafty internet marketing types prowl the vast jungle of blog sites on this here World Wide Webby thing to see which ones are getting more and more hits as the days go by. Then they pounce, you see, and offer all kinds of payola and other goodies to the blog hosts to let them advertise on their blog sites. You see. The marketing types’ clients are happy because they get more traffic and word of mouth about their fantastic products and services, and the bloggers are happy because they get nifty payola and other goodies simply for referring their loyal readers to these guys who advertise on their sites. And the blog readers are happy, I suppose, because they get what you call “value added” bonus material (this can also be read as obnoxious advertising and teeth-clenching pop-ups) on their favorite blog sites. You see.

The only problem with this scenario is that the integrity of ye olde blog site owner comes into question. Somehow the purity of the message seems tainted when a corporate sponsor gets involved. You start wondering, now, did he write a whole column on how the Nazis were just a misunderstood political faction bent on strict law and order because he really believes it or because the Volkswagen logo is now splashed all over his web page? And kind of like how every first down the Texas Longhorns make when they’re playing at Royal Memorial Stadium is now brought to you by Taco Bell. Not that I’m implying that the makers of Volkswagen are Nazis somehow or that the only reason the ’Horns strive for every hard-earned first down when they’re playing at home is because they get a free bag of burritos with every 10 yards. But you get the idea.

So, anyway. Wouldn’t you know it? The very day I’m reading about how all this works, I get an e-mail from a guy named Mark Ettingtipe asking me if I would consider pasting some obnoxio—er, I mean, if I would consider developing some mind-nourishing value-added information for my li’l old blog site. How about that? Enough of you crazies have had absolutely nothing better to do than poke around reading my meandering streams of thought so that some crafty marketing types have been prodded to fishing in these waters for an advertising deal. I’m so flattered, you guys. (Insert Sally Field voice here.) “You like me! You really, really like me!”

I have to say, I gave some very serious consideration to the guy’s offer. I mean, jeez, an eighth of a cent per reader hit adds up over time. Let’s do the math. Say I get approximately 150 reader hits a day, multiplied by my sweet deal of an eighth of a penny per hit, and this comes out to about $1.20 a month. As one Jeff Spicoli once opined in Fast Times at Ridgemont High: “Righteous bucks.”

It was a tough call, but I turned ol’ crafty Mark Ettingtipe down. For one thing, I just can’t be untrue to my dear column—and to you, my loyal readers. My mission here is to provide those who know and love me the most with true pearls of wisdom and wit that can only come from a pure heart and a mind influenced only by the odd residual chemicals still left floating in yonder brain canals from my halcyon days of … well, let’s just call it “life experimentation” and leave it at that. I still say the color orange has a distinct sound.

And for another thing, I’m not certain I’m quite on board with the products Mr. Ettingtipe was wanting to peddle on these here pages. So you’ll be glad to know that you won’t have to ever wonder about the content on this site at least. They tried, yes sir, but they couldn’t get this old soldier to sell out to Madison Avenue. It’ll take much more than the lure of some easy money to turn the head of this ol’ keyboard banger. But this does remind me—you know what does turn my head? I’ll tell you, it’s the sweet, luxurious aroma of Chesterton’s 100s Menthol-Tipped Cigarettes. Whenever I’m tired from a long day of writing, I like to relax in my favorite easy chair with a cold drink and the silky smooth menthol tobacco flavor of a refreshing Chesterton.

Won’t you join me next week when I’ll be penning an enjoyable, light-hearted piece of humor about the wacky adventures of visiting the in-laws over Christmas? Pull up a chair, fill your best pipe with Chesterton’s nutmeg-aroma pipe tobacco, and we’ll share a laugh or two. See you then!

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.