Hollywood: Buy Me, Be Me

Marilyn Monroe with camera, photo by Bert Stern

Ever since there were movie stars there have been star product endorsements.

Corporations and their advertising companies were quick to understand that those larger than life figures floating like angels on the silver screen were potent persuaders. Thus, the synergistic relationship between one product, the movie star, and a consumer product — cigarettes, perfume, makeup, whatever — was born, and continues with increasing power and sophistication to this very day.

The idea is simplicity itself: Buy me, be me.

Remember fountain pens? Well, for every fountain pen there were ink stains. Lillian Gish promotes The Main Real Estate company via their ink blotter, 1924. Notice the ad line at the top, “The Home is the Foundation of a Nation.” This country actually used to believe in such a quaint notion. The Obamanation believes that condoms and abortions are a nation’s foundation.



From Photoplay magazine, 1932, the great Jean Harlow pitches for Lucky Strike cigarettes. In the unPC past, cigarette smoking in movies served as a powerful metaphor for sex.


Dorothy Lamour is best remembered for wearing the hard-to-wear sarong in several films. It was something of a nightmare for her costume designers because Lamour had heavy thighs and wide hips. Lamour, a real pro, endured the indignities and discomfort of the costume and even managed to get several advertising gigs out of her image. Here, in a 1938 ad, Lamour is spokeswoman for Lux Toilet Soap.


Robert Cummings was rather a colorless leading man. But here, the man and the product make a perfect fit, Jeris Hair Tonic, 1949.


Tony Curtis (b. Bernard Schwartz) in 1955 for Van Heusen shirts. I like that Tony is wearing pink, the manly color pioneered by Brooks Brothers.


Okay, I’m no expert in the psychology of advertising. But I do know something about movie iconography and Rita Hayworth selling spark plugs leaves me baffled. Seriously, did one man ever see this ad and then rush out to buy Auto Lite spark plugs? An image as mysterious as string theory.

Karen and I wish all our friends and relatives a peaceful and hopeful Shabbat.

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  1. kishke
    Posted November 11, 2012 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    They might not run out and buy spark plugs, but when they needed them, the name Auto-lite would pop into their heads, most likely.

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    • Robert J. Avrech
      Posted November 11, 2012 at 9:34 am | Permalink


      You’re right!, I have the sudden urge to run out and buy Auto-lite spark plugs:-)

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  2. Larry
    Posted November 9, 2012 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    Colorless. Hmm. That’s not a bad one-word critique for Robert Cummings. He struck me as light, not funny (“The Devil and Miss Jones”) and even a serviceably youthful lead on which to hang a plot but for which things happened to him not hardly driving events (“King’s Row”). I never found him objectionable, just interesting.
    Rita Hayworth holding a giant spark plug? The puns and double entendres that sparks ricochet in my mind. Makes me wonder if this image had anything to do with “The Body Electric” that inspired Bradbury’s title. “Shocking! Simply shocking!”

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    • Robert J. Avrech
      Posted November 9, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Permalink


      Bob Cummings best role was in his TV show The Bob Cummings Show, in which he played a callow photographer/playboy. He tried, really tried in his Hitchcock’s “Saboteur” but we keep wanting Cary Grant or Jimmy Stewart. In “Dial M for Murder,” again for Hitchcock, he just fades into the scenery. He was really a character actor.

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      • Larry
        Posted November 9, 2012 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

        I remember watching “The Bob Cummings Show” when I was little and enjoying it. Never saw reruns broadcast. Also remember “My Living Doll” that introduced Julie Newmar. Other than “7 Brides for 7 Brothers” and, of course, the 1960s “Batman” series, I don’t remember seeing her in anything else. Cummings was good in that show, too.

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        • susruta
          Posted November 10, 2012 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

          Julie Newmar was in an episode of star trek tos . She played a pregnant princess whom someone was trying to kill and Kirk and nimoy had to save her 

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          • Larry
            Posted November 10, 2012 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

            That’s right, Susruta. I remember that now. She was a Klingon and only McCoy could touch her if I remember right.

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      • Barry
        Posted November 11, 2012 at 7:42 am | Permalink

        In addition to King’s Row I thought Cummings effective in You Came Along, The Lost Moment and The Black Book. His choices were unfortunate in Dial M For Murder, but while My Hero (TV) ws not so hot, The Bob Cummings Show deserved its success and so did he. Grand suppporting cast.

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  3. Bill Brandt
    Posted November 9, 2012 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    i am wondering today with such outspoken stars do they still have the commercial allure? Could say a George Clooney sell shirts today?

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    • Posted November 9, 2012 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

      I don’t know, Bill. When I was younger, Jim Palmer made a living out of pitching Jockey Underwear.

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      • Robert J. Avrech
        Posted November 9, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Permalink


        Big stars will do product endorsements for big names such a Louis Vuitton and Chanel. Also, quite a few stars do commercials in Japan and Europe, footage that never appears on American TV and cheapens the brand. Woody Allen does tons of endorsements in Japan.

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