DFHC 9/29/2011

Ask Cool Daddy Goes Iconic

Dear Cool Daddy:  I know that you know that I know that you know that Forrest Gump didn’t invent the Smiley Face…but do we know who did?  …from Grumpy, in Guam

Dear Grumpy:  It’s certainly true that the exact origins of many common icons are lost in the swirling mists of time. And since Mr. Smiley is such a simple graphic symbol…2 eye-dots and a woosh for a mouth…there are numerous supposed precursors cited, dating back probably to cave drawings. But in this case, we do have the absolute 100% correct and air-tight story, and this is it…

In 1963 (yes!!) Worcester Mutual Insurance in Massachusetts, a subsidiary of State Mutual Life, merged with Guarantee Mutual of Ohio. Because of the resulting reorganization, employee morale was low. Joy Young, assistant director of sales and marketing, contracts with a local commercial artist named Harvey Ball to come up with a “friendship campaign.” He originally drew just a smile, but thought it needed more, so added the eyes to create a face, and made it sunny yellow.  That’s him above with his creation. The original buttons are on the bottom right…the names of the insurance companies are on the inside. He purposely made the drawing rough and casual, to evoke a friendly tone. Thus, graphically more “perfect” renditions, as the red one below, seen contrasted with an original 70s button, are not kosher, if you’re Old School…

Ball was paid $45 for his design. The company originally ordered 100 buttons to give to employees…but they were so popular with both staff and customers that they were eventually giving away thousands. But neither Worcester Mutual nor Ball copyrighted the Smiley…it was just an internal company promotion, nothing more. That is until the fall of 1970, when Philadelphia Brothers Bernard and Murray Spain rolled out a novelty line of buttons, mugs, t-shirts, etc, with the smiley and the saying “have a happy day,” which of course morphed into “nice day.” By 1972, they were selling 50 millions bottoms a year. Below are some authentic pins from back in the day….the “pink” one is actually bright Day-Glo red, but scanners are weird. Like anything else, the fad eventually faded, but not before S. Face was named “Person of the Year” by Rolling Stone Magazine in 1973.

Now all of this is well-documented…but what is less well known, at least as far as i can tell, is when the Smiley Face resurfaced, and went from being a corny souvenir of the pre-disco Seventies to a global icon that is still flourishing today…maybe because we need it, you think? But I’m gonna take a stab at it…

The above appeared in Seventeen Magazine, dated January 1989…and when they say “Welcome Back, Happy Face!” it’s obvious that in their view, it’s not something seen around any more, and a girl can get an iconoclastic retro look going by sporting them…altho notice the eyes and mouth have been “centered.”  The mainstream breakthru that I’m aware of came in October of 1989, when this Jim Beam ad ran in national magazines…BTW, we used to wear WIN buttons upside down as NIM, as I recall…

And for whatever reason, Smiley was off and running. By 1991, Women’s Day was one of the first to adopt it as a continuing logo, seen below next to the Smirky Face chosen by Rhino Records to front their “Back to the Seventies” CD series, starting in early 1990.

By 1993, as demonstrated by the below ad for the Simpsons, Smiley had recaptured its former cultural ubiquity, which as I said has yet to abate. But the Rhino Records logo illustrated a new facet…that of playing around with take-offs and variations on the theme. An early one of those is seen below in this TV Guide Preview for the show “Good Grief,” a sitcom set in a funeral home, dated 9/15/1990. If you can read it, it says “Casting was still in progress when this issue went to press.” The show lasted just half a season, featuring Howie Mandel and Tom Poston.

Some of this was done in the 70s too, but not nearly with as much gusto…I mean, people back then were perfectly content with a plain ordinary Smiley Face! But in the last 20 years, there has been an endless parade of versions…the few shown below are typical…

Wicked Ballsy

Re the Return of the Smiley Face…all that having been said, there is a curious precursor…andt that’s Purina Happy Cats…not a “pure” Smiley, for sure, but a Smiley nonetheless. The coupon expires on 2/28/1986, but it does say © 1985, and it has Xmas ads on the back…so maybe Nov/Dec ’85?

shameless plugs having a nice happy day…

Podcasts at http://stolfpod.podbean.com  and   http://thewholething.podbean.com

Other Daily blog at http://stolf.wordpress.com  (the legendary Stolf’s Blog)

More bloggage at  http://travelingcyst.blogspot.com  and  http://www.examiner.com/retro-pop-culture-in-watertown/mark-john-astolfi

Resume at http://travelingcyst.blogspot.com/p/resume.html

NEW!   >>>>>   Audio samples at  http://stolfspots.podbean.com/   <<<<<<


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