Thursday, September 5, 2013

Patent medicine trade cards; Hollywood rivalries

Noodling around on some vintage photo and graphics sites, I found the doozies left and below. Feel free to add captions! First up (in the "anything you can do, I can do better" department) is Bette Davis, killing time on the movie set with her stand-in, 1940. (Scroll to end for Davis vs. Crawford & other Tinseltown rivalries.)
The brand name caught my eye on this ad card for the old patent medicine, used for stomach ailments. It's referenced in the classic Dorothy Fields lyric from "A Fine Romance" (introduced by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in Swing Time):
A fine romance, with no kisses
A fine romance, my friend this is
We two should be like clams in a dish of chowder
But we just fizz like parts of a seidlitz powder
Yes, a fine romance, with no glitches
A fine romance, with no hitches
You're just as hard to land as the 'Isle de France'
I haven't got a chance
This is a fine romance

Another old concoction I'd wondered about is named in the song "Trouble" from The Music Man. Lo and behold:
Now I know all you folks are the right kind of parents
I'm gonna be perfectly frank
Would you like to know what kind of conversation goes on
while they're loafin' around that hall?
They'll be tryin' out Bevo, tryin' out Cubebs,
tryin' out tailor-mades like cigarette fiends
And braggin' all about how they're gonna cover up
a tell-tale breath with Sen-Sen
A rather licorice-y tasting pellet, so they say, and still being manufactured. I also found out that Bevo was a kind of near-beer and that cubebs are a type of berry.
This trade card just begged me to assign the caption "Ralph Lauren's fantasy of himself as a boy." Maybe it's seeing those gargantuan, self-serving logos on the clothes he designed for the U.S. Open tennis tournament. Left: "Someone's going to have a very big stomach ache!" Below: What kookaburra thought up that name?
I have my suspicions that the "milk of the poppy" might be the operative ingredient in the medicine advertised so prettily at right. The next one has everything: baby, dog, great name, preposterous claim! I love the free-spirited graphics of the following two as well.

I'll drink to that! (This little joker has all of the bases covered.)
Back to Davis and Astaire for a moment if I may. Both of them had fellow performers who were considered "rivals": Joan Crawford or Miriam Hopkins in Davis's case and Gene Kelly in Astaire's. A collator of such phenomena has put together a show-and-tell DVD series on the subject, which looks intriguing, called Hollywood Rivals. Maybe I will construct a little poll to ascertain which icons of the silver screen are preferred by Gleaners (although what to do, given that many sensible people will appreciate both!) Choose one or the other (or both) and report in the comments!
Chaplin/Keaton; Dietrich/Garbo (see our Signature Collection of films by the latter); Astaire/Kelly; Pacino/De Niro; Davis/Crawford; Sinatra/Crosby; Cagney/Bogart (see Tough Without a Gun: The Life and Extraordinary Afterlife of Humphrey Bogart). Any other rivals you can think of?


  1. Astaire vs. Kelly? No contest! Astaire was a dancer, and Kelly--a lumberjack who knew a few steps. Jack Paar once compared him to an albatross trying to take off by running along the shore with his wings flapping. Athletic, yes. But graceful?
    Astaire, on the other hand, was the summit of elegance.

    1. I'm with you all the way on this one! I just don't find Kelly's dancing interesting by and large. Very funny Parr line: never heard that!

  2. These ad cards may be complete nonsense, but I couldn't help smiling at the over-the-top claims and ridiculous illustrations. If only medicines really could work the way that they are advertised! Oil of Gladness? Sign me up! Pond's Extract Vegetable Pain Destroyer? Two please! I think that these remedies might be just what the doctor ordered!

    1. I'm so glad you love their quaint charm as much as I do!

  3. I don't think of Cagney and Bogie as rivals, because they each have a different appeal. Cagney was intense, vibrant, and urban--one imagines him as a child of the slums.
    Bogart was laidback, calmer, someone who might take a slow river boat to make a getaway (The African Queen) or spend two days holding a family hostage (The Desperate Hours). I couldn't imagine Cagney in either role.
    And no, I couldn't see Bogart yelling "Top o' the world, Ma!" as everything blows up around him, (while seeming to enjoy it!)

    1. I don't either. Don't know who made that up. Cagney was energy personified, while Bogie was a slow burn.

  4. Where are all the good Gleaners, on vac?
    In the contest for foreign femme fatale, Garbo and Dietrich were beautiful rivals. But I'd give the edge to the Swede, because of the German's unfortunate tendency to try to sing, when she had a voice that sometimes mimicked a half-clogged drain.

    As for Bette Davis vs. Joan Crawford, one might rent "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?", in which both gave extravagant performances, and decide for oneself.

    And I, quite frankly, have trouble telling DeNiro and Pacino apart without checking the cast.

    1. Except for the singing, I would have to call it a draw. Both were femme fatales yet had their androgynous sides. Garbo stepped away, while Dietrich really hung in there. And what she did for the war effort was phenomenal.
      "You're never gonna get out of that chair, Blanche!!"
      Both of them had to fight tooth and nail for good roles.

  5. JP

    Incredibly enough, I've had my share of Tinseltown tiffs, though by far the worst was around 1981, when I got into a barroom brawl with the late Johnny LaRue, after he started making a play for my date, Lola Heatherton.

    Aahhh... Lola. What a woman. I quit Hollywood and Show Biz entirely after losing her.

    Still Bereft Baron