The 1960s was an interesting time for the iconic Jam Handy Organization. While the studio kicked off the decade with a great start and several notable films, by the mid-1960s it was declining in terms of quality and production values due to a number of changes pertaining to the studio, Jam Handy’s clients, the changing American lifestyle, etc. all of which would contribute to its closure in the early 1970s. Despite this though, the studio was still rolling out a few cinematic gems and wonderful productions that were just as noteworthy as several earlier films such as The Master Hands (1936), Auto-Lite On Parade (1940), the four Chevrolet Superscope ‘American’ films to name a few. One of these 1960s extravaganzas is 1962’s The Ballad Of Soup Du Jour, an award winning theatrical Technicolor cartoon and live action documentary sponsored by Campbell Soup Company.
This fun animated gem combines everything from colorful modern animation to beautiful live-action Technicolor cinematography, all accompanied by a fun music score to show viewers the history of soup. The film was distributed theatrically and non-theatrically by Association Films and is credited as being the first theatrical film sponsored by Campbell Soup Company. When it was released in October of 1962, it received raved reviews from Business Screen Magazine and a couple of years later it was even highlighted in a Wall Street Journal article written by Ronald G. Shafer entitled “Soft Sell Movies: Entertaining Approach Helps Firms Promote Their Products on Film”. That article published on October 14, 1964, stated that the “Ballad Of Soup Du Jour” had been seen by 15 million patrons at 5,100 theaters since it’s 1962 release. Along with the positive reception, the cartoon won several awards and received nominations at various international film festivals.
The Ballad Of Soup Du Jour, as contemporary viewers will see, was produced to entertain theater patrons and briefly, subliminally promote Campbell’s different soups. The film begins with a balladeer, portrayed by Broadway actor Gordon Dillworth, singing a variety of food themed songs and then introducing viewers to a song about soup. This leads into an animated history of soup, followed by a lavish live action montage of how people enjoy and appreciate soup in the early 1960s, all narrated by Marvin Miller. Not once does Dillworth or Miller mention the name Campbell Soups and with the exception of a couple of Supermarket shots, the red and white branded Campbell soup can is never seen. (The advertising technique put to use in the cartoon was pioneered by Jamison Handy, and frequently used in his studio’s films made for public exhibition throughout the 1930s through the 1960s
The Chevrolet “Direct Mass Selling” Program is an excellent example of this technique at use). Overall the film is a fun venture that was produced by several talented individuals at the Jam Handy Organization. The slick modern animation was created by Fleischer/Famous studios animator Thomas Moore, who was a Freelancer for Jam Handy. As indicated by former Jam Handy employee and Fleischer historian Ray Pointer, Moore began his work as a freelancer for Jam Handy in the 1940s with the arrival of Max Fleischer. While he never officially became an employee of Jam Handy (as he was employed by the New York based Famous Studios), he did a number of freelance animation sequences and filmstrips in between Famous Studios’ projects. Bob Kennedy the director of Jam Handy’s animation department is said to have had a lot of respect for Moore, as he was able to finish projects quickly and efficiently.
Other notable individuals credited on the film consist of cinematographer Pierre Mols and musical director Samuel Benavie, both employees of Jam Handy who worked on a large number of notable films throughout the 1930s and into the 1960s. Their involvement gives the production an extremely lavish and heavenly feel through it’s musical score and cinematography, very reminisce of other Jam Handy Technicolor films such as American Harvest (1951), American Engineer (1956) and American Look (1958).
Reception of The Ballad Of Soup Du Jour was positive as it received raved reviews, several nominations and awards. CINE (Council for International Non-theatrical Events), an organization founded in 1957 and devoted to accrediting documentary and industrial films for submission into international film festivals, awarded The Ballad Of Soup Du Jour a Golden Eagle. (It should be noted that it was not the first Jam Handy production to receive this award, as the studio’s films frequently received awards from CINE.) The film was an award winner in the Columbus International Film festival and also a NAM selection for the Fourth International Industrial Film Festival. In terms of reviews, Business Screen Magazine sang praises of it describing it as an “appetizing entree for theater goers” and mentioning there ‘is a lot of fun and very little Campbell’ in the production.
Perhaps the most positive and noteworthy reception for the film was in Ronald Shafer’s October 14, 1964 Wall Street Journal article that highlighted the cartoon along with other sponsored theatrical short subjects as examples of sponsored shorts being mass produced to entertain and quietly promote products to theatre patrons. This trend, as described by Association Films’ Vice President Robert Finehout in the Wall Street Journal Article, was caused by theaters “running out” of new cartoons and newsreels, etc. due to the major Hollywood studios cutting back in the production of such films. Finehout even made a prediction that within the coming years audiences would be seeing more sponsored films as short subjects due to this cutback.
The success of the cartoon, prompted Campbell Soup to contract Jam Handy in 1964/65 to do a second animated short, similar in nature to the The Ballad Of Soup Du Jour, entitled “America The Bountiful”. The film, animated only, was registered for copyright on May 17, 1965 and was a take off on incidents throughout American History and how soup inspired them. Like its predecessor, it received several awards and nominations from film festivals. Unfortunately as of February 2018 it is unaccounted for and a single still showing Tom Moore’s artwork published in Business Screen Magazine is all that is available.
So, with all of these achievements and recognitions in mind here is The Ballad Of Soup Du Jour. Heat up a nice cup of ‘the spirit of good living’, (the author will be indulging in creamy tomato!) and enjoy this fun thirteen minute Jam Handy gem:
(A special Thank you to Mitchell Dakelman, Ray Pointer, Don Yowp and Steve Unkles for their assistance with this article.)