Cinderella and the Admen Live Happily Ever After

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.”

Dove Soap Admen Could Learn About Stereotyping from Children’s Books

In observance of Black History Month, this 2013 post about a Dove Soap advertising campaign that fell completely flat (and for excellent reasons) which explores the concept of cleanliness is intertwined with cultural connotations of blackness and whiteness seems worth revisiting.

The week in business was a reminder that those who know little history are condemned to repeat it. Whether it was inadvertent or deliberate, Dove’s allusion to the ancient topos of turning dark-skinned people white to advertise soap, a product with a tradition of exploiting race in its promotion, was a public relations nightmare.

As CEO of Neutrogena, Mr. Cotsen accumulated ephemera about the product his company made that documented the history of its promotion.  As a children’s book collector, he looked for illustrated pamphlets about soap that were either directed at children or featured child sponsors. Over the years he selected examples that offer really interesting insights into the way literature and the concepts of blackness and whiteness have been used to encourage cleanliness in the early twentieth century. Here are some of the most interesting ones…

Cotsen 12917.

Under the direction of advertising immortal Artemas Ward, Sapolio Soap drove old-fashioned general household cleaners like bath-brick and rotten-stone out of the cupboards of modern housewives. Among the brand’s sponsors were the precocious Gemini Twins, Luck and Pluck, featured here on a two-sided accordion-folded strip. Once they have cleaned all their friends and relations, the two chubbins mount a ladder into the sky and scrub the moon’s face shiny bright. So bright that the amount of light radiated increased exponentially.

Gemini: A Sapolionic Tale . New York: Enoch Morgans’ Sons, Co, ca. 1900?. Cotsen 17195.

Their boyish antics contrast sharply with the pictures on the other side of the strip showing female servants hard at work keeping the household’s silverware, dishes, metal, bath tubs, and marble mantels spotless with Sapolio. But only the African-American woman sings the product’s praises in dialect on her hands and knees scrubbing the floor.

Princeton Department of Rare Books and Special Collections has an archive of the Enoch Morgans’ Sons business papers, if you want to learn more about the early history of Sapolio Soap…

Other soap manufacturers hired well-known author-illustrators to design promotional brochures that incorporated their iconic characters. Palmer Cox, the creator of the Brownies, was more than happy to let his little elves pitch all kinds of merchandise. Neither Cox nor the executives of Oakley’s American Glycerin Soap had any reservations about the Brownies breaking into the company’s premises to steal quantities of product to wash their faces.

Oakley’s American Glycerine. N.p., n.d. Cotsen 8099.

Chicago firm N. K. Fairbanks commissioned E. W. Kemble, whose stereotypical illustrations of African-American children were considered adorable then, to draw those “dear little, queer little Gold Dust Twins” with their “rolling black eyes and roguish grins” making their work into play as if they were circus performers. Dressed only in their trademark short skirts, they romp bare-chested through the laundry, ironing, dish washing, pot scouring, mirror polishing, stair scrubbing, etc. in record time. The ugly old stereotype of the happy-go-lucky darky makes an appearance at the end of this ostensibly delightful brochure when the two break into a celebratory clog dance.

E. W. Kemble. The Gold Dust Twins at Work and Play. Chicago: N. K. Fairbanks Co., c. 1902. Cotsen 61770.

Here is a 1908 reimagining of the Gold Dust Twins by an uncredited artist for comparison. More submissive than the Kemble’s little imps, the ones here sign the text to the lady of the house as “your servants” and they are depicted as bald with coal black skin and big red fleshy lips.

Who are We? N.p.: N. K. Fairbank Company, c. 1908. Cotsen 28337.

One of the most intriguing brochures in the collection is this one published by Larkin Soap. It contains a heartwarming story of girlish entrepreneurial spirit: Fannie admires the Chatauqua Desk at Margaret’s house and learns that if she sells just $10.00 of Larkin Soap to friends and family (just two afternoons’ work, according to Margaret), she too can purchase her own solid oak desk! The second story on the back panel which brings us back full circle to this week’s misfired Dove advertisement. Three Turkish princes are spurned by three “white Caucasian maids” until they agree to try and “erase the dark disgrace with the help of Sweet Home Soap.” The bars of soap works their magic and turns the boys’ faces milky white, removing all obstacles to immediate marriages.

Cotsen unprocessed item 7160339.

This story is a variant of the Aesopian fable, known as “The Ethiopian washed white” or “The Blackamoor,” in which the master foolishly believes that the dark skin of his new enslaved man is simply dirt and filth. He orders the man to be washed clean, but of course, his servants can make no “progress” and succeed causing the poor man’s death from cold. Obviously, this fable cannot be included in anthologies for children and probably only older adults remember it. Below is one of the less objectionable illustrations of the fable by William Mulready that appeared in William Godwin’s Fables.At the turn of the nineteenth century, however, children were still being exposed to the trope of washing a dark-skinned person or thing skin white.

May Byron. The Poor Dear Dollies. Illustrated by Rosa C. Petherick. London: Henry Frowde and Hodder & Stoughton, ca. 1905. Cotsen 19786.

Rudyard Kipling’s “How the Leopard Got His Spots” also plays with the idea that skin color can be altered and the resulting transformation is life changing. To survive in a new environment, the Ethiopian must change his skin from “greyish, brownish-yellowish” to black. In order to help his hunting companion the leopard, he stamps spots on his coat using the excess pigment on his fingers…

Rudyard Kipling, The Just So Stories. Color plates by Gleeson. New York: Doubleday & Co., 1949. Cotsen 9736.

There’s some profit in knowing a thing or two about the history of children’s books, even if for titans of business…