Cinderella Lives Happily Ever After in Advertising Ephemera

East of the sun or west of the moon, Cinderella is probably the best known fairy tale in the world and her story has been co-opted by shrewd businessmen eager to sell products.  Three creative examples of advertising ephemera from the collection which exploit the cinder wench are highlighted here.

Ida Rentoul Outhwaite (1888-1960)  is not a household name in America, but she is one of the Southern hemisphere’s most beloved children’s book illustrators.  Famous for having created distinctly Australian fairies and elves, Outhwaite was not above drawing pictures for advertising brochures. “Cinderella’s Dream and What it Taught Her” (ca 1931; Cotsen 86877) is one of her rarest works.  A Fairy Queen visits Cinderella’s dreary room late one night, saying sweetly,  ‘I am here to cheer you dear, / For you work like a drudge all day: / But listen to me, and you soon will see / How your work will become mere play,” as soon as she purchases all the versatile germ-killing products manufactured locally in Melbourne by J. Kitchen & Sons.  (Several will be essential in cementing her power as princess.) No longer will her ugly, fault-finding sisters complain of shrunken woolens once they are washed in Kitchen’s Merino.   Her glass slippers, filthy from running home from the palace through the streets, can be disinfected like the drains and sinks with Kitchen’s strong Phenyle, a deadly poison sold in  glass bottles marked with molded Xes  Her dressing table in the palace will have bottles of Kitchen’s Velvet Salts, talc for the bath, and medicated soap to keeping the fair complexion fresh.  The flame of the prince’s love will burn true as long as she discreetly stocks Kitchen’s Velvet Shaving Stick.What must it have taken for mild-mannered Will Keith Kellogg to break away from his brother Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, of Battle Creek Sanatorium fame, and start his own cereal company in 1906? After improving the recipe for their flavorless corn flakes by sweetening them with malt syrup. There being few things to distinguish one breakfast cereal from another, Will set out to vanquish his competitors through the stream of premiums designed to create customer loyalty.  Between 1910 and 1940, Kellogg Co. produced lines of blotters, paper dolls, radio shows, souvenir postcards, and pamphlets mostly aimed at children.

A 4-volume set of Story Game Books featuring characters famous in children’s literature copyrighted in 1931 are now collectibles.  The “Sunshine Fairy” offered general instructions for play and noted that each one in the volume would have individual directions that would need to be learned. The first story in the first volume was Cinderella’s rise from dirty rags to silken gowns (Cotsen 22579).  The prosaic retelling was accompanied by a board game designed by Bess Devine Jewell, a commercial artist who also illustrated Pansy Eyes: A Maid of Japan (c.1922).  This twelve-square adaptation of the classic game of the goose sets players on a quest to find the maiden whose foot will slide into the glass slipper, which cannot be stretched to fit.  The back cover was covered with information from Kellogg’s Home Economics Department on meal planning for growing children.  Mothers were advised that if their little ones did not like milk,  “Cereals are especially helpful in getting milk into the diet.”  A box top from any of Kellogg’s five nutritious cereals and 10 cents glued to the inside of the letter mailed to the company would send a copy of Cinderella and friends to anywhere in the US except for Wisconsin, Washington, Nevada, and Kansas.

Mrs. Cinderella  (Cotsen 21954) has a very complicated origin story, compared to the previous two pamphlets.  For its pavilion in the 1939 World’s Fair, General Electric commissioned William Duncan and Edward Mabley, co-principals of the famous puppet troupe Tatterman Marionettes, to write and perform a piece promoting the wonders of electricity. After the exposition, the show was taken on the road and performed hundreds of times across the country.  Programs for the original production have survived, but this colorful pamphlet illustrated by North Carolina artist Corydon Bell seems to have been printed  for distribution in retail outlets: the name of Herr’s Garage in Landisville, Pennsylvania is stamped on the rear cover.

It’s unclear how faithful the story in verse here is to the original script for the puppet show that played at the World’s Fair, but the outlines were probably identical.  The prince carries his bride over the threshold of their starter palace and leaves her the next morning to explore the premises.  After a morning of dusting and mopping, Cinderella discovers that the goblins in residence whose delight is undoing her work.  With a stiff upper lip and sore back, she tries to bake in the ancient kitchen and do the laundry in a wash tub while they wreak more havoc.   Surely her fairy godmother can help her with the gnome problem… She recommends calling General Electric at G-E 1939.  No sooner had she hung up the receiver when a host of elves in tip-top physical condition and dashing uniforms.  Armed with guns, they shoot at the goblins and force a retreat.The elves have just begun to work.  The inadequate kitchen and laundry room are completely modernized, from the plumbing to the cabinetry.  Within hours they install the entire range of GE labor-saving appliances–refrigerator, dishwasher, garbage disposal, toaster, coffee maker, washing machine, water heater.  The powerful new vacuum cleaner makes the disgraceful living room carpet look like new in sixty minutes.  And they thoughtfully prepared a hearty, heartwarming meal for her charming prince when he comes home.The moral is too obvious to bear repeating, but here it is anyway:

The General Electric Co. is able / To sell you, thru a plan that’s all its own, / ADDED HOURS OF FREEDOM,/ And for happiness you need them,/ Cause there’s nothing so important as your home.

Someone–a woman–who owned of this copy left a tart note inside. complaining about a woman of her acquaintance who swallowed the message whole before learning that “all men are rats.”

How the Leopard Got His Spots Tangling with a Strong Female: An Ashanti Folk Tale Retold by Verna Aardema

Years ago I found this picture book of a West African folk tale at the going-out-of-business sale of a children’s book store.   Half-a-Ball-of-Kenki (Frederick Warne, 1979) may not be as popular as Verna Aardema’s other retellings of African stories such as  Who’s in Rabbit’s House, Why Mosquitos Buzz in People’s Ears, or Bringing the Rain to Kaputi Plain, but it’s impossible not to laugh at a story about a leopard, a fly the girls can’t get enough of, a dainty peanut, a cautious banana, and the righter of wrongs, a ball of cornmeal mush.  Half a ball, to be precise.

“I do not really mean that this story is true, “ the Ashanti storyteller begins, as if to prepare the audience for the absurd plot culminating in an epic battle.  Leopard invites Fly to go look for girls to marry, ignoring his friend’s warning that they will like him better.  He oils up his fur, puts on gold ornaments, and gives his dirty old sleeping blanket to Fly to carry, figuring no one will pay him any attention.  But Fly is greeted warmly when entering a village, while Leopard is driven out.   The mat must drive the girls crazy for Fly, Leopard supposes, so he shoulders the bundle and gives Fly his jewelry.  His luck does not improve in the third village, where he hears the girls whisper that Fly is so handsome they’d run away with him in a minute if their fathers wouldn’t beat them.

The spurned Leopard takes back his ornaments, then grabs Fly and ties him to a tree.  He guards his prisoner concealed in the bushes close by.   Nkatee the peanut comes down the path pip pip pip and calls out to the fly, who replies, “It’s I, the Fly, tied / By Leopard to this tree, / Because the girls hated him, / But they loved me.  / Oooo! Please come and set me free.”  Nkatee has no intention of letting Leopard making her into peanut soup and runs off. Tuk-pik, tuk-pik, Kwadu the banana passes by  and won’t help for fear of Leopard mashing her to a smooth paste.  (In the version Aardema retold from Akan-Ashanti Folktales (1930) collected by the early Africanist Captain R. S. Rattray, every vegetable in the garden passes by and ignores Fly’s plea for help, making the prospects for release nearly hopeless.)

Then Donkonfa, the half-a-ball of kenki comes rolling down the path singing her song.  She doesn’t waste any time setting Fly free, and the infuriated Leopard bursts out of his hiding place and challenges her to a fight.  She accepts and they build a big fire in the middle of the path so they will be able to see if the struggle goes on after dark.  When Leopard fails to get the better of his shapeshifting opponent after two rounds of wrestling, she gets serious and uses all her strength to pick him up and throw him in the fire.  He concedes and emerges from the fire a changed beast.  His once beautiful yellow coat has been transformed by black scorch marks where the burning wood touched it and white where the ashes settled.  To thank Donkonfa for saving their ancestor, flies never sit on balls of kenki, only the leaves in which they are wrapped.   The Ashanti storyteller closes with “This is my story.  If it be sweet, or if it be not sweet, take some and let the rest come back to me.”  Half-a-Ball-of-Kenki would not be half as sweet or nearly as funny without Dianne Stanley’s vibrant illustrations  in which she took on the challenge of bringing to life a highly unlikely heroine—amorphous, powerful, and deliciously absurd at the same time.  And that’s that!