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Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Shocking Fates of Beloved Cartoon Mascots

Mine may have been the first truly homogenous generation, though it represented a trend that had been underway for decades before.  We all grew up eating at the same restaurants, playing with the same toys, watching the same programs and eating the same neon sugar cereals.  So multitudinous are our cultural icons that Seth McFarlane has made a career out of randomly referencing them.

Hey look, it's that town everybody from the 80s, 90s or the
2000s grew up in... except with mountains.
Among the more memorable figures in the generational collective of my youth were the cartoon characters that interrupted other cartoon characters to remind us to brush our teeth, entice us to beg our parents for more stuff or remind us which cereal stays crunchy in milk.  I speak, of course, of the cartoon mascots.

Many are exemplary members of the cartoon community.  Charlie the Tuna is personally credited with saving the lives of millions of dolphins by tasting better than dolphin.  The owl from the old Tootsie Roll Commercials went on to do ground breaking works in nano-engineering.  The Toilet Duck is a noted philanthropist and courageously swam several stranded people to safety during Hurricane Katrina.

But there are some cartoon mascots that have followed the darker road, hapless victims to the pitfalls of their fame.  These are their stories…

 #1) The Noid 

Spoiler Alert: He's no more mentally stable than he looks.

After a short lived and forgettable career on Broadway, the Noid followed a traveling show west and earned a paltry living showing off his freakishly elongated ears.  He described this as the lowest point in his life and was rarely seen without a bottle clutched to his chest.

After more than a year of what friends described as “suicidal alcoholism” he caught a break.  He wandered into an audition thinking it was a bar and when the casting agent refused to give him a beer on credit he became irate and threw one of history’s most successful temper tantrums.

The casting agent loved his energy as did the representative from Domino’s Pizza that was present that afternoon.  Since he clearly lacked the sobriety necessary to realize he’d just been given a high paying job, his new agent was careful to write the pertinent information in reverse on his forehead.

What followed was more than a decade of troubled success.  His drinking persisted despite his newfound fortune and fame and, like many famous people from Detroit, he eventually got busted with enough cocaine to, as the arresting officer put it, “speed up the rotation of the earth”.

His lawyer unsuccessfully challenged the alleged street value of the contraband by arguing that he didn’t make the delivery in 30 minutes and thus it was free.  The judge dismissed the motion and eventually the Noid pled guilty and was sentenced to 13 years in prison.  He will be up for parole in 2016

 #2) Boo Berry 

Boo Berry spent much of his career far from the spotlight often lost in the shadow of tabloid favorites Count Chocula and Frankenberry.  His relative translucence did not aid in his quest for fame nor did the fact that Boo Berry cereal pretty much just sucks.

Is it just me or could he totally be the
ghost of Buster Keaton?  Porkpie hat,
deadpan expression... think about it...

Publicly he joked about his relative anonymity but friends reported that he was deeply angered by the way that the press overlooked him.  This frustration, common amongst ghosts, became an increasing part of his private life until it all but consumed him.  The cartoon world was rocked when allegations arose that he tried to hire a hit man to take out Chocula but those reports were later retracted when a grand jury declined to indict.

Eventually Boo Berry would marry and this seemed to largely tame him.  He grew complacent with his position in the trio and even began spending some of his time working in homeless shelters and lending his celebrity to a number of causes.  As Frank and the Count’s philandering ways fell out of favor with the press Boo Berry’s image became all the more sparkling in contrast.

That image would come crashing down in a single rendezvous with a lovely young Parisian ghost who performed a risqué act under the pseudonym “Misty”.  Boo likely would have escaped from the affair unscathed had it not been for an unfortunate taping of the program Ghost Hunters, which caught the two together in a haunted house in Northeastern New Hampshire.

 #3) Joe Camel 

I know, I know, you know about the cancer.  And how could you not?  As a shill for the RJ Reynolds Company for more than ten years, Joe Camel consistently smoked as many as eight packs of cigarettes a day.  Despite his unrivalled success, even the best medical coverage money can buy could not save him from the inevitable.

But it is the strange turn that his life took after the terminal diagnosis that makes his story so worth telling.  In 1997 RJ Reynolds was ordered to drop him from their advertising since cartoons appeal to children and teenagers.  In the spirit of the ruling, RJ Reynolds switched to a much less youth-oriented advertising theme that included retro swirls of bright colors and “collector” packages since grown ups like to collect stuff so much.

Joe rightly felt used by the corporation that had given him cancer and rather than suffer in silent rage, he fought back against the company that he represented.  He organized a number of rallies and testified about the dangers of second hand smoke in front of cartoon-congress (like real congress with less expletives and more anvils).

Before his death, his path would take a more sinister turn and when he eventually gave in to his impending fate he did so in a prison awaiting trial for charges of environmental terrorism.  While no conviction ever came, he was strongly suspected in a number of ELF activities including a string of SUV bombing in Idaho between 2004 and 2005.

He was buried in his hometown of Enid, Oklahoma.  His tombstone reads, “Here lies Joe.  Six feet under and cooler than ever.”

 #4) The 7-Up Cool Spot 

Proof that someone was once paid to say "How
about a little red dot with shades?"

Few mascots have ever achieved the echelon of fame and notoriety that Cool Spot reached.  In only a few commercials this charismatic circle wowed the world and wooed the women with a wink and a winning smile.  Within a few months Cool Spot had secured parts in the ads for his entire entourage and 7-Up happily paid the exorbitant salaries Cool Spot demanded without complaint.

Cool Spot truly was a marvel of the advertising world.  Long after everybody had given up on the California Raisin “anything is cool if it’s wearing sunglasses” advertising paradigm, 7-Up took a chance on an underweight farm boy with slick moves and an innocent look.  The results were astounding. 

Before long Cool Spot merchandise was outselling the beverage he peddled.  He starred in countless commercials and even had his own video game series.  His live shows drew audiences in the tens of thousands.  He became the hero of damn near anything with a circumference.  But as anyone who has ever watched a biographical film about anyone who did anything knows, what goes up must come down.  Preferably in the third act and in such a way as to garner the lead actor an Oscar nod.

Cool Spot expertly navigated many of the hazards of the rock star life.  He was a notorious womanizer but even many of his more public conquests spoke well of him long after they separated.  His public escapades with Madonna got a lot of play in the tabloids but nothing rose to the level of a real scandal.

In 1997 Cool Spot shocked the world by refusing to renew his 7-Up contract citing artistic differences.  He foresaw a future beyond television commercials and convinced himself that he could achieve fame in the movies.

He was applauded in his ’98 debut as the beeper light in the Coen Brother’s Big Lebowski, but he found little work over the next few years.  He began slowly gaining weight and losing his 360-degree figure and Hollywood had little use for ovals.  Critics lambasted his portrayal of Arnold Shwarzenegger’s robotic eye in Terminator 3: The Rise of the Machines, characterizing his performance as flamboyant and self-indulgent.

In 2004 he gave up on his film career altogether and returned to the world of advertising once more.  He was far too big to go back to his role as the 7-Up spot but it 2005 his rotund figure and willingness to have the word “easy” tattooed across his chest landed him a successful job with Staples that he continues to this day.

Aaron Davies

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