Robert Adler died last week. He was an engineer for Zenith, and was in on one of the biggest inventions of our time, as I see it anyway. As the Associated Press obit notes:

Various sources have credited either [Eugene] Polley, another Zenith engineer, or Mr. Adler as the inventor of the device. Polley created the “Flashmatic,” a wireless remote introduced in 1955 that operated on photo cells. Mr. Adler introduced ultrasonics, or high-frequency sound, to make the device more efficient in 1956.

That’s right, this guy helped invent the clicker. Where we would we be without our clicks?

Dearfoams: The tank helmet connection

I was intrigued by the headline of this obit for Florence Z. Melton, which identifies her as “Creator of Slippers.” Meaning what?

Meaning Melton, and I guess her husband, created Dearfoams. Here’s the story the obit tells. Shortly after World War II, “fashion still had a military look: women wore double-breasted suits with padded shoulders.” Shoulder pads, however, had to be removed when a garment was machine-washed. Melton read about the foam rubber that Firestone had apparently come up with during the war , “as a helmet liner for World War II tank crewmen.” She thought it would be smart to adopt this for use in shoulder pads. Then she thought it would also be smart to adopt it for use in slippers.

And thus: Dearfoams. The obit says the number of such slippers sold by her company and others since 1968 is around 3 billion.


Yesterday the Times ran its obit on Momofuku Ando, who died last Friday. He was the inventor of instant Ramen noodles. The company he founded, Nissin Food Products Company, “sold 46.3 billion packs and cups around the world last year, earning $131 million in profits.”

Ramen noodles are of course associated with college students, and I had a very brief Ramen moment in my college days. But I never really cared for them. One interesting tidbit in the obit about the product’s global success:

Chicken was the prime ingredient in Nissin’s global success. “By using chicken soup, instant ramen managed to circumvent religious taboos when it was introduced in different countries,” Mr. Ando wrote. “Hindus may not eat beef and Muslims may not eat pork, but there is not a single culture, religion or country that forbids the eating of chicken.”

Pointed Copy

In Consumed: The Ginsu. His ads were followed by a phone number and an exhortation to “act now!” And people did. Isn’t that amazing?

In the annals of completely ridiculous advertising, the original commercial on behalf of Ginsu knives has a special place. More than a quarter-century later, anyone old enough to remember it and many people who aren’t old enough to remember it will know the highlights — the guy karate-chopping a tomato, the knife sawing neatly through a tin can and the kind of hard-sell language we tend to associate with the most blatant forms of hucksterism. It’s a knife that will last forever. It’s a product no kitchen should be without. It’s the most incredible knife offer ever. And after the superlatives, the inevitable: But wait, there’s more

Continue reading at the NYT Magazine site via this no-registration-required link. This is part of the magazine’s annual “The Lives They Lived” issue.

Additional link: The original Ginsu ad, on YouTube.

How to offend a Canadian?

I paused this morning over the obituary of Chris Hayward, because the headline said he created The Munsters. What a curious legacy. But it turned out the most interesting thing was related to his work as a writer on the Rocky/Bullwinkle cartoons:

Mr. Hayward worked on all the segments but was most closely associated with “The Adventures of Dudley Do-Right,” which followed the hapless royal Canadian Mountie in his ceaseless pursuit of Snidely Whiplash, a very naughty man.

Because the Dudley Do-Right segments were deemed harmful to the national esteem, the Rocky and Bullwinkle shows were initially not broadcast in Canada.

Peril & Hygiene

The obits today bring the news of the death (last month!) of Sid Davis, “considered one of the foremost practitioners of the social-hygiene film.” The Times says:

The Sid Davis universe is fraught with peril. Every transgression — a swig from a bottle, a drag on a cigarette — leads to swift and certain doom, usually in under a half-hour. Among the series of unfortunate events to which Mr. Davis’s young protagonists fall victim are these: abduction, murder, rape, stabbing, robbery at gunpoint, falling off a cliff, suffocating in an abandoned refrigerator, being burned to a crisp, being stuffed into the trunk of a car, being run over, pregnancy, venereal disease, unemployment, time in pool halls, time in prison, myriad auto accidents, heroin addiction (a direct result of smoking marijuana), prostitution (ditto) and bad hair (ditto).

I became familiar with some of Davis’s films years ago, through Rick Prelinger, who made a convincing case that it was worth looking at these things as more than just laughable camp — there’s a “secret history” here, as he has put it. He has in the past noted that, viewed a certain way, Davis’s films are “wonderful documents of L.A.’s underside in the fifties.” I wrote a little article about Prelinger’s work as a “media archeologist” back then, and would go to these parties he would have every so often where he’d show a bunch of industrial or educational films from his massive collection, which has since become part of the holdings of the Library of Congress. I continue to admire his work.

The obit mentions “Boys Beware” (in which Davis himself apparently has a cameo as a “predatory” homosexual”) and “Age 13;” these and a bunch of other Davis films can be viewed online here.

Petra Cabot and the Skotch Kooler

Until reading her obituary yesterday, I had never heard of Petra Cabot, or the “Skotch Kooler.” Cabot invented this item, which she described as “the best-looking bucket anybody ever saw.”

The Skotch Kooler, copyrighted in 1952, was made by the Hamilton Metal Products Company of Hamilton, Ohio. It could keep ice cream firm for two to three hours without ice and was handy for a fishing trip: it kept groceries cold on the way to the lake and fish cold on the way back.

The container held four gallons and had three layers of insulation: one of fiberglass, one of inert air and a heat-reflecting outer surface. It was airtight and waterproof and, long before the practice was common, it carried the signature of its designer. (Knockoff versions, without the signature, were made as far away as Thailand.) The coolers are now popular collectibles.

In fact, the image above is something I swiped from an eBay listing. Looks a bit chavvy, doesn’t it?

One other note about Ms. Cabot from the obit: “From 1938 until 1950, she worked for the designer Russel Wright, who brought modernism to the American home with his inexpensive, mass-produced dinnerware, furniture, appliances and textiles.”

House Partisan

Tastes change. I know it, you know it, Bob Dole knows it. (What? Never mind.) Anyway, although we all know tastes change, I was still a little startled by the obit for Evelyn Orton, “booster of Brooklyn brownstones.” Well, who isn’t a booster of Brooklyn brownstones these days? It’s one of the most prestigious forms of housing I can think of.

But in 1963, that apparently wasn’t the case. The obit said:

Victorian homes had fallen into disfavor and many middle-class New Yorkers were moving to the suburbs by 1963, when Mrs. Ortner and her husband bought a four-story 1886 brownstone on Berkeley Place in Park Slope.

Mrs. Ortner, an interior designer before she became a preservationist, was so enchanted by that house, with its original mahogany woodwork and papier-mâché and linseed-oil wallpaper, that she began a campaign to save thousands of other brownstones from neglect or the wrecking ball.

Many of the graceful 19th-century single-family homes in Park Slope were owned by absentee landlords and had been cut up into rooming houses. In other parts of New York, old homes were being lost to federally sponsored urban renewal projects.

Among other steps she and her husband took:

In part because of their own difficulty in getting a mortgage for their $32,500 house, the Ortners were prominent in the anti-redlining campaigns beginning in the mid-1960’s, when many banks were reluctant to finance mortgages in declining neighborhoods like Park Slope, Cobble Hill and even Brooklyn Heights…

“Declining neighborhoods like Park Slope”! Tastes change….

There’s more…

The Washington Post today has an “appreciation,” written by Paul Farhi, of Arthur Schiff, creator of 1800-plus infomercials or “long form” ads, and, evidently, creator of the phrase “But wait, there’s more!” Schiff died last week.

“But wait, there’s more!” was Schiff’s signature creation, his “Hamlet” and “Moby-Dick.” It eclipsed his other immortal catchphrases: “Isn’t that amazing?” “Now how much would you pay?” and “Act now and you’ll also receive . . . ” He wrote “Wait, there’s more” for a spot for Ginsu knives (a product Schiff himself named, supposedly in his sleep), which has become one of the best-known commercials ever, and surely one of the most parodied.

Ginsu, incidentally, is a nonsense, made-up word. My fondest memory of those ads is the announcer saying, “In Japan, the fooot can split wood” — here they showed a guy in a karate outfit kicking a board in half — “but it can’t split a watermelon!” And they’d show the guy kicking a watermelon. Hilarious.

Farhi describes a variation of this, with a hand chopping a board, but merely squashing a tomato. I remember, that, too, but I’m pretty sure they did this watermelon bit as well — or else I’ve somehow invented it along the way.