Friday, March 15, 2013


Another vanishing trace of "Pre-tech" America are the roadside billboards which dotted (some would say littered) the landscape from Hwy 101 through Route 66. On my family's occasional long road trips from California to Michigan, reading all the billboards was something to do to keep boredom from forcing my sister and I to get rambunctious, the result of which was inevitably at least a verbal smackdown from Mom or Dad.

Among the multitude of billboard advertising was one by Coppertone suntan lotion. The iconic image of the little girl having her bathing suit bottom between pulled halfway down by the family Cocker Spaniel was an evocative and memorable example of how deep a Coppertone tan went if you used it.

The original product was developed by a pharmacist n 1946 and Coppertone's first logo was -- believe it or not -- a picture of an Indian (that's Native American to you youngsters and other PC-ers) chief! In 1953 a Tally Embry Advertising artist by the name of Joyce Ballantyne Brand created the now-famous image. It is said that her inspiration for the little girl was her own daughter. 

One of Coppertone's ad campaigns was to use a photo of a Hollywood personality in a bathing suit, endorsing the product as the suntan lotion to slather on. In the June 1960 issue of PLAYBOY, a full-page ad showed Jo Morrow, a bright young starlet currently starring in William Castle's 13 GHOSTS, in her Catalina swimsuit and sporting a Coppertone tan. I think the ad men missed the boat by not capitalizing on using the comparison of "ghostly" skin to a Coppertone tan. But then again, maybe it was subliminally implied.

When the present century hit, it was deemed by ad execs (and possibly one or two special interest groups) that the Coppertone ad be, ahem, toned down. By then the cute little girl with her pants pulled down was no doubt viewed as more perverse than playful, so a less provocative image was designed. I, for one, will have a hard time forgetting the motorized billboards that showed a little black dog in the act of tugging at the surprised youngster's bathing suit bottom to reveal the best tan that money could buy.

A publicity shot of actress Jo Morrow.

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