Adcult Usa: The Triumph of Advertising in American Culture

by James B. Twitchell; Columbia University Press, 1996

With television the process became more complicated still, because the celebritized monotony of voice or face was replaced by the entire celebritized persona. Perhaps another solecism— celebrity —is in order to separate the tiny screen actor from the movie star. The movie star may be typecast; the television celebrity has to be. The nature of weekly revivals of the same show means that a series must be coherent. The first such advertising celebrity was Gertrude Berg who, in the 1960s, sold S.O.S. pads in the Yiddish-inflected language of her television character Molly Goldberg. "With soap, it's loaded," came from Molly, not Gertrude. Better known were commercials in which Chris Robinson and Peter Bergman, actors who portrayed doctors on soap operas, sold cold medicine by acknowledging, "I am not a doctor, but I play one on TV." Better yet was Robert Young. A film star who played various roles to an earlier generation, to us he was a celebrity father—first as father-father on Life with Father , then as father-doctor on Marcus Welby, M.D . When he later prescribed decaffeinated coffee for upset nerves, we got the patriarchal double whammy. Sometimes the mix is so powerful that the ad creates its own reality. By the 1980s James Garner and Mariette Hartley were so successful in a Polaroid campaign that many believed they were indeed husband and wife. And by the late 1980s matters were so thoroughly confused that we had a political leader who most of us knew not as an actor in B movies but as a celebrity employed by General Electric. What better qualification for the presidential host of Adcult?

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