Friday, April 22, 2016

Friday Dance Party: Wouldn't You Like To Be A Pepper, Too?

When the news came over the interwebs this week, of the demise of this fellow, I was engulfed in a flood of memories.  Turns out reports of his death were greatly exaggerated.
My father always claimed Dr Pepper must be drunk from an ice-cold bottle (no cans).  I haven't seen a bottle in years.  This week's internet hoax proclaimed that Dr Pepper had been sold to its chief rival, Coca Cola, who was planning to end production of this unique soft drink. I'm glad this was not the truth. Dr Pepper is the oldest of the major softies, having been invented in 1885. It consistently lags behind its competitors, Coke and Pepsi, but has such an unusual flavor, the rivals have driven themselves nuts trying to compete with it. Anybody REALLY want to drink Mr Pibbs?
Running across one of these was
always a treat. It meant you could
get a DP in a cold bottle. You
put your money in, then opened
the glass door and yanked out
your choice.

I have to confess I don't drink this stuff anymore, mainly because it has become too sweet for my taste buds.  But for many years as a kid and younger adult, Dr Pepper was my Go-To soft drink.  Or, as Southerners would say, my favorite coke is Dr Pepper.  (Because Coca Cola is based in Atlanta, and is such a giant of the industry, Southerners use the brand name instead of the generic word "soda."  Nobody I grew up with ever wanted a "soda," or God forbid, "pop." They wanted a coke.  Though sometimes it was a Pepsi.  But we always went out for "a coke," not a "soda." Got it?)
Dr Pepper and its most famous spokesman.
A more recent shot of our hero and the actor
he made famous, for a time.
Anyway, this week's internet hoax got me thinking about my history, particularly my teen years growing up in Atlanta.  My old friend Donna reminded me that, along with our other friend Robert (we were the three musketeers for a while), I would dash home from school to catch Dark Shadows.  
This star of Dark Shadows was not responsible for my sleep
problems, though my parents thought so. Maybe it was the
daily caffeine-filled Dr Pepper I drank while WATCHING
this guy which was the problem.
Actually, we always went to Robert's house, never to mine.  While watching, Robert and I would enjoy a Dr Pepper. This was dangerous behavior on my part for two reasons.  I have always had trouble sleeping, and during this period, my parents were convinced my chronic problems at night were caused by this silly soap opera.  So, being good parents, they forbade me to watch the program.  And being the sneaky kid I was, I simply went to Robert's house every day to catch the antics of Barnabas Collins and Joan Bennett.  (I wrote about this seminal series when actor Jonathan Frid died, go here for that report.)
See? He's drinking it out of a bottle. The can's
flavor was slightly rank. There was even a rumor
that DP's recipe included prune juice. The rumor
harmed sales so badly that the company had to
publicly deny it.

While watching this forbidden show, I was also drinking forbidden contraband.  My parents always felt that soft drinks (or "cokes" of all types) were bad for kids, so for many, many years, I was allowed only one soft drink per week.  Can you imagine such a thing today, when sodas are sold in vending machines in high schools?  But back then, even though I doubt there was actual evidence to support my parents' beliefs (as there is now: the stuff is poison), they did not believe their kids should drink cokes.  (They gave us Kool Aid instead...I wonder how healthy THAT turned out to be...).
OK, I had no idea THIS existed: DP bubble gum. yuck.
Once a week, though, I was allowed to indulge.  I was always sure to announce to my mother and/or father that I was having my "Drink For The Week" (yep, I even named the event), usually Saturday afternoons after I finished mowing our expansive lawn.  As I recall, this rule of only one soda per week became more and more contentious as I moved through my middle teens;  everybody I went to school with drank soft drinks whenever they wanted, why couldn't I?  
My Friday night TV drink of choice.
While everybody else watched the
ABC lineup of Brady Bunch &
Partridge Family, I chose adult fare:
High Chaparral & Bracken's World
on NBC. There's a reason those
shows are not remembered today.
Dear Ol' Dad compromised and allowed me TWO cokes per week.  That second event became known as my Middle of the Week Drink, though as I recall, I usually saved it for Friday nights while watching High Chaparral, The Name of the Game, and Bracken's World.  (This drink was not usually a Dr Pepper, as it had caffeine, and I was still suffering sleep issues, so I was granted a Fresca instead.)

Anyway, my buddy Robert's parents did not ration soft drinks, so I had an illegal Dr Pepper almost every week day while watching the adventures of Barnabas Collins.  Sorry, Mom...

I have surely wandered off into Me-Land here...
Conventional Wisdom claims men won't drink "diet" soda, so DP has come up with this purposefully sexist version. It's not calorie free, so men can still maintain their masculinity while drinking it. Who dreams up this stuff?
This week's Dance Party comes from the most memorable (at least to my generation) ad campaign Dr Pepper ever presented.  And this is saying something, since my research has unearthed the fact that Diet Dr Pepper is even now in the midst of a hilarious ad campaign starring American Idol loser Justin Guarini.  
Justin Guarini, then and now.

Playing an elfin cross between Little Richard and Michael Jackson, "Lil Sweet" pops up various places to convince people (usually men) that they deserve the "sweet, sweet" taste of Diet Dr Pepper.  Take a look:

This campaign, though enjoyable, will never top the most famous Dr Pepper ad campaign ever.  
This old gal is 104. Somebody asked her this week to
explain the secret of her longevity. She answered that she
drinks 3 Dr Peppers every day.
In the early 70s, Coke hit the jackpot with their jingle "I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke," which was so successful it spawned an actual hit song ("I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing").  It was almost a decade later that Dr Pepper came up with their own ubiquitous jingle.  
David had good looks and a non-
threatening sexuality which appealed
to everybody.
An unknown actor named David Naughton was plucked from Joe Papp's Free Shakespeare in the Park, where he was carrying spears, to headline a series of toe-tapping commercials to celebrate our product.  Our guy was an immediate hit.  Naughton became a star from these commercials, a star which flamed for about four years, and included headlining a sitcom and releasing a disco tune which hit the Billboard Top 5 in 1979. 
These days you can buy a Coke with your name on it, or a
Dr Pepper with an Avenger. Give me back the bottle.
Take a look at the opening credits for his sitcom, which flopped after about 9 episodes. Trying to capitalize on Saturday Night Fever, the show centered on a poor shlub who worked in an ice cream parlor by day, and partied at the disco by night. John Travolta's sister Ellen was in the cast, but that did not help. The theme song, however, rose to #5 on the charts, months after the show was cancelled:
I remember this disco hit but never made the connection that
it was the DP dude who was singing it.

David Naughton's career was on the rise.  In addition to starring in a string of snappy Dr Pepper commercials, he snagged the leading role in a motion picture.  He will be remembered fondly for this film, which was an unexpected smash but which caused his career to stumble.
This horror flick laced with humor was directed by John Landis, who had made his name with comedies such as The Blues Brothers and Animal House.  The budget was about 10 million;  everyone was surprised when the film garnered critical raves.  The box office exploded, earning the movie $30 million in its initial release.  David Naughton was now a movie star.
 The fact that their spokesman was now a movie star should have been good news for the Dr Pepper folks.  But it wasn't, because of this:
When somebody turns into a werewolf, aren't they wearing clothes?  Or does the animal tear them off during the transformation? John Landis addressed this question head on.  A good bit of the humor of the film comes from the fact that, when our hero reverts to human form after a night howling at the moon, he's naked.  Hilarious fun for everyone.  Dr Pepper was not amused. 
An American Werewolf in London actually won an Oscar:
the first ever award given for make-up and hairstyling.
The Pepper people were not pleased that their star had performed in the nude, and he was sacked from the advertising campaign.  Naughton's celebrity began to slide, and though he has maintained a career since, he never regained the momentum which the Dr Pepper ads gave him.

Time to take a quick look at one of these commercial spots.  Forgive the grainy quality and enjoy instead the wholesome, fun energy which Naughton projects.  And be thankful, as I am, that the rumors are false: Dr Pepper is here to stay.