Fred and Venida

1946 ad

Fred the Hairstylist was a “famed hairdresser to glamorous New Yorkers” from the mid 1930s to at least the late 1950s, according to several little ads I’ve found. But my attempts to delve into the mysteries of Fred have not been as successful as I’d hoped. One of his ads had the catchy line: “If your hair is not becoming to you, you should be coming to Fred the Hairstylist.”

I think what intrigues me is his name. So bland. So boring. And yet he appeals to the glamorous ladies of New York high society! Or so he says. I want to know more, Fred. Tell us more!

Happily, Retro Belles can tell us a little bit more. They are selling a 1940 issue of a trade journal called Modern Beauty Shop. I love that name, and I also love the question that they pose:

In designing a new coiffure for a patron’s new Spring bonnet, have you been stumped by a stubborn cowlick? [Haven't we all.] Fred the Hairstylist has made a special study of this problem which is well worth your attention.

Thanks for that, Fred. My cowlick and I thank you. I wish I knew what it was you’ve done, but I think it has something to do with a Cold Permanent Wave  treatment you devised

There are two pages from the Modern Beauty Shop magazine that you can take a look at over there, and
the hairstyles are all very swirly and a lot like the Venida Hair-Do of the Month.

In the 1930s his address was 18 East 49th Street which is between Madison and Fifth and about a block from St. Patrick’s Cathedral – in other words, a very fancy area, then and now.

In 1958 this ad listed his address as (still) 18 East 49th, but said that some of his “expert stylists” were in town (Fayetteville, New York) at the Hotel Syracuse. They would “adapt current coiffures in Vogue to suit your individuality” with a cut, shampoo and set for $5. The lady in this ad has a short curled hairstyle with a rather puffy top bit that doesn’t look terribly 1950s-fashionable to me, but what do I know? She looks happy enough and if it’s good enough for her and Fred the Hairstylist, then that’s all right.

photo credit: Nesster via photopin cc [for color ad]

The Worst Kept Flavor Secret of 1960

I guess this was bound to happen sometime, after almost 5 years and over 1000 posts (can you believe it? I can’t, but that’s what my dashboard says). I wrote this whole post, all the while having a strange feeling of deja vu. And guess what? I actually wrote about this ad here. Behold the power of gelatin! Not such a New Aspic after all, are you? I’ll probably post again pretty soon, because it’s Only Right, but this is what I’ve got for now…

While I’m getting together some astonishing retro holiday ads, let’s ponder the culinary arcana that went into this seemingly innocent gelatin mold from 1960. It is called, apparently, Fabulous Aspic.

It has no disturbing chunks. It does not look like an aquarium. And it is not a color “out of nature.” All good qualities, if you must enter into the world of jellied things.

But of course, like many seemingly good and normal characters in mystery novels, it has a dark side. A secret. To be precise – a Flavor Secret. And that secret is the ingredient called one and a quarter cups of ketchup. That is a ridiculous amount of ketchup. Or catsup. However you spell it, it’s too much.

And if the Fabulous Aspic wants to keep its strange, dark side well hidden, it is doing a terrible job of it. It is standing right next to the ketchup bottle that gave it its je ne sais quoi. Although it is sort of trying to hide behind the shrimps. I see you, Fabulous Aspic!

What is worse, the ketchup bottle also has a secret that it gives away at the bottom of the ad. And that secret is pineapple vinegar. Thanks for sharing, everybody. And if the pineapple vinegar has a flavor secret too, I really don’t want to know.

Tang of the Wilderness

Oh, I never knew that Tang* had staged their 1961 ad inside our old freezer. But here it is. Photographic proof.

To be fair, and for the sake of historical accuracy, my mother did defrost the freezer every few weeks with a weird sort of grill thing that you plugged into the nearest outlet and stuck in the freezer as close to magnetic north as you could get, and then about seven hours later you had three times the storage space in there.

But it never lasted.

So Tang is telling us to celebrate those vintage freezer compartments – revel in the icicles and stalactites and layers of permafrost. Because this is the perfect microclimate for brewing up some delicious Tang! Oh Tang, that I used to choke down in the mornings because, hello Vitamin C, plus also my mom liked Space Age (if not entirely palatable) things in cans and jars. If only we had stuck the Tang in the freezer! Then it would not only “taste so good” but it would be frozen solid. And then we wouldn’t even have to taste it. What a great idea.

* I never knew that they made Tang in Grapefruit Flavor. I remember Grape Tang (shudder), but not Grapefruit. Grape Tang was violently purple and it wouldn’t matter if you took it to the North Pole to drink, it was still terrible.

The title is a reference to one of my favorite novels, Margaret Atwood’s The Edible Woman (1969) – you can read the bit about “tang of the wilderness” here - it’s one of several cheesy phrases used in a beer commercial.

A Novelty Fruit Cake

Wouldn’t you love to get a fruit cake like this one advertised in the noted culinary publication, Billboard, back in 1943? Consider the following:

It is called a Florida Fruit Cake, yet comes from Chicago.

Also it is made by a novelty concern called the Goldwyn Company who tell us that they are noted for their “Fine Chocolates, Cedar Chests, [and] Novelties” – a motley assortment of items. And they don’t mention baked goods as one of their specialities. That’s no good.

Oh, and also, there is “no other cake like it.” Why is that? Perhaps this cake is really made of plastic, or recites bad jokes when you press the secret green pineapple chunk that activates its voice box.

The December 4th, 1943 edition of Billboard has a little review of the Florida Fruit Cake which states that it “seems to be a delicious, appealing addition to the Goldwyn line of confections and re-use containers.” I don’t think this comes with a re-use container, though. Anything else? Well, it weighs 3 1/2 pounds. So it might make a good paperweight.

The Aspic Ratio

Soon it will be time for lots of fun retro holiday ads, but I just found this amazing gelatin extravaganza from 1960, and I knew I had to let you in on this idea that will add a certain je-ne-sais-quoi to any entertaining you might want to do.

Yes, imagine what the guests will say when you surprise them at your next party with an Aspic Aquarium.

If you want to make this Aquarium, this is how you’re supposed to do it. Unfortunately the ad does not give any proportions or ingredient specifications.* You take some clear Knox gelatin, add a touch of lemon juice and sugar and blue food coloring and pour it into – um, an oblong Tupperware box, I guess. And before it gels you put in shrimp, cauliflower bits and cooked pasta shells on the bottom. Then drop in some fish that you made out of strips of green pepper. Also, sprinkle in escarole, parsley and scallions to look like seaweed.

Finally, you must garnish it with lashings of Hellmann’s mayonnaise. And place many bowls of the same around the aquarium, in tribute to the culinary masterminds who gave you this idea.

Do not be put off by the fact that your guests are all clustered at the other end of the room, and are trying desperately to ignore the Aspic Aquarium. Or that a silhouette/shadow man is lurking nearby, who will stare creepily at everyone until someone approaches the snack table.

In my desperate search for a mildly amusing title I have nabbed the term aspect ratio which you can learn about at the link; basically it means the relationship between height and width of something, in an image. That could sort of apply to an aquarium made out of gelatin, right?

*They may have sensed that no one will actually want to do this.

Shoe Sole Asylum

Avonite Soles are slippery smooth
And made of synthetics, not leather;
They are 50s perfection in every way
And slide fearlessly into bad weather.

And every customer grins with delight
To behold this shoe-rific exhibit,
As if they’d been given a cake stuffed with gold
Or a prize-winning lottery ticket.

Yes, women in hats and young fellows in suits
Whose lives must be sparse on excitement
Are totally thrilled by a shoe sole held up
By a salesman who’s bent on enticement;

And even a baby (whom you will agree
Lives a life that just borders on boring)
Is laughing and clapping and making it seem
Like she is enraptured, adoring

An afternoon spent making eyes at these soles;
So would you like these Avonite jewels?
You can, if you shop while dressed up to the nines
And as long as you follow these rules:

Make sure that you only go into Good Stores
For Bad Stores will only confuse;
And as soon as you get to a Good Store, insist
That you only will look at New Shoes.

The Recurring Pream

So here we have the Coffee Mate of the 1950s – or one of them, anyway, I’m sure there were others but I’m not going to go look it up right now, I’m on such a roll writing this I don’t want to stop…The term Pream is, I guess, what Lewis Carroll called a portmanteau word – Powdered + Cream = Pream. I get it. And I also get that you can put it in coffee. That’s all right with me, and it’s all right with the tiny disembodied gal in the upper left hand corner there. That is Sally Ross. She is the Pream Home Economist – the Betty Crocker of Powdered Coffee Addenda.

But Sally is actually going a little bit loopy up there in the corner. Her excuse is that she is telling us “why Pream is a joy to cook with, too!”

Uh oh. Cook with? Are you serious, Sally?

She is. She wants us to put it in Cream Sauce. That would make it Pream Sauce, right? And also Sally tells us that it is a joy to put Pream in gravy, to make it smooth. And hey, why not stick some in the tomato soup too – it will make it creamier. Or Pream-ier. And Sally has cooked up a whole “Recipe Folder” of this sort of strangeness that she wants to send to you and me. Over here at you can see a 1956 Pream ad from Collier’s (this ad is from 1955) which features (down at the bottom) a strange, black-and-white mess of a photo that claims to be Eggs à la Pream with Never Lump White Sauce – which is possibly one of the most off-putting recipe names I’ve ever seen.

Thanks but no thanks, Sally.

You’re So Vano

Oh dear. Grimy woodwork. Greasy walls (greasy? what has everyone been up to?). And worst of all, dirty blinds. Well, wait – don’t start cleaning yet. First thing you should do is put on your favorite striped blouse, and do your hair and makeup. Then sit down, put your hand on your chin, and make some faces. That’ll help.

Oh, I’m kidding of course. What you really ought to do is hurry down to the store and buy yourself some Vano. No, not Drano (though I guess you might as well get some of that too, heaven knows what the bathroom looks like). Vano. As in the phrase “you will not be cleaning in Vano!”

I found a very chatty newspaper ad from 1953 that extols the wonders of Vano and its ability to cut “gummy, greasy dirt” (gummy? no one said a thing about gummy). It “cleans instantly – dries instantly!” Basically it is hard to get the stuff on fast enough, that’s how fast it works. You barely even see it on the greasy, grimy, gummy surface. It’s there and then it’s gone! Ideally, taking the grease, grime and gum with it. In the 1953 ad it is claimed that “8 out of 10 praised new Instant Vano” – OK, I want to know what the other two thought about it. I really do. It’s always, always 8 out of 10 people who love a new product, isn’t it? What happened to the 2 out of 10 who hated it?

But further down the page (it is here if you want to see, it is a really big, long ad) they say 7 out of 10 people said Vano was “faster, easier, better” – so wait a minute. There must be one person who praised Vano but didn’t think it was easier, faster or better….right? Now there’s someone I want to hear from! Want to bet it’s the gal in the ad? That would explain the grumpy confusion on her face.

….And speaking of grumpy confusion – this is the look that will be haunting my face much of November (though I am not wearing a striped blouse or a faceful of makeup) – because, yes, it is NaNoWriMo time and I am jumping in yet again. last year I only lasted a few days (I have finished it in previous years, though). I will be updating my blogs (in no particular order) though, because retro holiday ads are so much fun. Plus if I don’t write here in my NaNo breaks, I might have to go clean the blinds.

A Retro Grocery Poetry Slam

So you’re in the grocery store, pushing the cart with the wobbly wheels, trying to find everything on your list, and if you’re like me, really wishing you were somewhere else (preferably a beach resort) – and you suddenly realize that you really, really need a break (preferably any sort of resort).

And that is because the items on the shelves are starting to talk to you. In verse. Yup, everybody’s a poet in the produce section. Especially the produce. And they’re beyond economy size – they are giants. With little Noddy-esque heads and little waving hands. And spindly legs wearing elf boots. Why are they wearing elf boots?

The frozen peas lean forward. The 1941 Grocery Poetry Slam begins with an ominous couplet:

Lady, end your hurry-scurry
We’ll help solve your menu-worry!

Ah, but it isn’t the menu I’m going to be worrying about if I hear an enormous package of frozen peas beg me to let him and his friends come home with me and “help” with dinner.

Eventually they all chime in. This is the creative effort from a package of egg noodles that thinks it’s pasta’s answer to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:

Our flavor’s safe, we’re clean and handy
Appetites will find us dandy!

Dandy  isn’t the word that will spring to mind when you see these cellophane-wrapped supermarket monsters – look how much bigger they are than the people. And flavor safety isn’t something I’d worry about, either. Mind you, those little people don’t seem one bit fazed. I don’t know why. I do know I won’t be shopping wherever that is, though.

Plumbing the Depths of Victorian Pipes

This charming plumbing advertisement is from 1906 (not quite Victorian, but close) and appeared in the Daily Californian to alert people to the benefits of having the Bakersfield Plumbing Co. ensure that the water pipes in your house were not only “clean and sweet,” but working perfectly. The lady in the picture must be a contented customer – and she must surely be contented with such a magnificent bathroom. I like it very much, and am making a note of the design details for future renovation projects. I like the frieze near the ceiling, and the fancy light fixture and mirror in particular.

1857 advertisement (Wikimedia Commons)

Plumbers are important, no doubt about it, particularly when something goes wrong with the pipes – and as I was looking around in old newspapers, I found this item in an 1881 edition of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle*, as reprinted from the Detroit Free Press, entitled “That Frozen Pipe.” Not something that the 1906 California lady was worried about, but back East, it was a different matter entirely. Plumbers building new houses in 1881, the piece begins, made “provision for freezing of water pipes under the house.” But imagine that you are not in a newly built house, and when you go home to dinner the cook remarks “I guess the water has all run out of the river, for I can’t get a drop to cook with.” Of course, at this point, you ought to call in a plumber. But the hero of this article tries to fix matters himself – and it is a fearful business indeed:

All you need to do is get a candle, a hammer, a nail, a pine stick and a hot flat iron. After you have crawled under and bumped your head on the brick columns and raked your back on the joist, and barked your knees on the old iron hoops which always take up lodging under a house, you put the flat iron to the cold water pipe. It’s no use to try to iron the wrinkles out of a water-pipe. 

The do-it-yourself hero of the piece then tries driving a nail into the pipe to see how frozen the pipes are, and of course soon gets drenched with the contents of a burst pipe. He then inches back out of the crawlspace for rags to make a tourniquet for the pipe, and “whoop[s] for the water to be shut off” and tries putting glue on the pipe. In short, he makes a mess of things. And in the end, he sends for a plumber – which is really what he ought to have done in the first place. A professional, in other words, equipped with – perhaps – something like Hanson’s Hydraulic Ram (pictured in the 1857 ad above right) – much more effective than pine sticks, rags and glue.

*Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Jan. 23, 1881, p. 1.

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