Suspended Animation #378
In the 1950s, almost all television advertisements were live performers extolling the virtues of the products sponsoring the television show.
In fact, sometimes the actors in the sponsored show were required to do the actual advertisement themselves with Desi Arnaz not only loving Lucy but Phillip Morris cigarettes, as well and George “Superman/Clark Kent” Reeves chowing down on Kellogg’s Corn Flakes with a smile.
Walt Disney never really had to do those live product endorsements for his weekly Disneyland television program (though he did on rare occasions). Instead, since Tinker Bell appeared on every show, she was quite literally Walt’s co-host so it was only natural that she would be the one to promote the company products sponsoring the show.
As Disney historian Mindy Johnson wrote, “She became the pitch pixie for a wide range of sponsors’ products. From the American Dairy Association to the American Motors Corporation, sponsors clamored for Tink’s magical endorsements. She touted Kelvinators, Hudson and Nash automobiles and even a new line of frozen dinners from the Swift company.”
However, she was most prominently showcased in a series of one minute commercials for Peter Pan Peanut Butter that in the 1950s was advertised as “America’s favorite…outsells all others.”
The primary director for these commercials was Charles “Nick” Nichols. Nichols, who began his Disney career as an animator on the Disney shorts, had most of his recognition as a director on the Pluto cartoons from 1944-1951. He also had his Screen Directors Card so he could also direct the live action in commercials.
According to records at the Disney Studio, Roy Williams, Don Luske, Bob Carlson, Bill Justice, Phil Duncan, and Xavier Atencio among others were all assigned at one time to work on the Tinker Bell cartoons.
They were produced by Hurrell Productions run by photographer George Hurrell and his wife Phyllis who was Walt Disney’s niece and the company established in 1951. It closed up shop in 1959.
The agreement was that the television production company would function on the Disney Studio lot itself and be able to use the talent and resources of the studio but basically keep the Disney Studio name out of any connection with television.
Legendary Disney storyman Bill Peet had a run-in with Walt Disney when Peet didn’t make a change Walt wanted in a scene on Sleeping Beauty where the prince and Aurora are dancing in the forest.
“The next day, I was sent down to the main floor to work on Peter Pan Peanut Butter TV commercials, which was without a doubt my punishment for what Walt considered my stubbornness,” wrote Peet in his autobiography. “I toughed it out for about two months on peanut butter commercials, then stubbornly decided to return to my room on the third floor whether Walt liked it or not.”
“Yes, he worked on some on some Peter Pan commercials,” animator Paul Carlson remembered. “And he had some input on those. I don’t remember what he talked to Phyllis about, but yeah, Peet did make some comments or some suggestions to story.”
Tinker Bell was mute in those days and had to pantomime her delight at the peanut butter that could be put on hot toast because it melted like butter and was so smooth that it could even be “spread on crackers and even crispy potato chips.”
A lively background chorus would sing that “your eyes know and your tummy knows; best of all, your taster knows, Peter Pan Peanut Butter is so grand — the smoothest peanut butter in the land.”
Cliff “Jiminy Cricket” Edwards and Sterling “Winnie the Pooh” Holloway often narrated the commercials. At the time, Holloway had finished doing the voice of the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland and Edwards was doing the voice of Jiminy for segments on the Mickey Mouse Club television show and on records.
Reportedly, Josh Meador, who was the head of the Disney Studios animation effects department, did some work on the Tinker Bell commercials especially with the combination of live action and animation.
In one commercial, Captain Hook has tied up little Tinker Bell to force her to tell him where the Peter Pan Peanut Butter is and when she refuses, he makes her walk the plank.
She is rescued by Peter Pan who battles Hook and tosses him to the hungry crocodile who is already consulting a recipe book for “Hook Stew” and “Baked Hook”. However, a kindhearted Tink rescues the Captain from the jaws of death with a jar of peanut butter because “it certainly is true Peter Pan Peanut Butter is the favorite of people and crocodiles, too!”
Tink appeared in a commercial where she uses her hands to make hand shadows on a nearby blank wall for viewers to guess the figures, including the easiest of all, her miming the opening of a jar of Peter Pan Peanut Butter.
Often times there were enthusiastic off-camera children’s voices, like when Tink played a game with live-action hands and another where she interacted with a set of three different pairs of animated hands.
In one commercial, Tink even plays a game of connecting the dots to reveal a jar of Peter Pan Peanut Butter and in another plays with a large storybook of words and pictures. (“Let’s play a word and picture game!” although all the pictures are of jars of Peter Pan Peanut Butter and Tink.)
One commercial has a peanut butter machine with the voice of Paul Frees making crunchy peanut butter for Tink. (“I’m the one who puts the crunch in Peter Pan. My work to me is fun because you know I’m the one…who puts the crunch in Peter Pan.”)
In another commercial, Tink is momentarily startled when a jar of Peter Pan Peanut Butter comes flying out of a jack-in-the-box and demonstrates its new easy opening lid. It may not have been as easy-opening as advertised because the narrator had to explain to twist it to the right to open and then twist it to the left to seal it up again.
In yet another commercial, Peter Pan himself shows up. He and Tink have hidden a treasure of Peter Pan Peanut Butter in a treasure chest in Never Land. “A treasure more precious than gold!”
Captain Hook and his pirate crew have a map that lead to the treasure. Pan tricks them and captures the pirates in a fishing net and when Hook opens the treasure chest “his old friend” a hungry crocodile with bib and fork and knife is waiting inside. The crocodile chases Hook out to the beach. Pan and Tink celebrate their victory with Peter Pan Peanut Butter on bread.
Tink’s character design was very similar to the version that was used for the opening of the Disneyland television show and in fact at the end of that show, Tink might do an animated sequence to remind viewers to get some Peter Pan Peanut Butter or that the American Dairy Association recommends three glasses of whole milk a day just as live action television stars who were promoting their own sponsors in commercials.
Tinker Bell no longer appears in commercials promoting non-Disney products although her iconic trail of swirling pixie dust has been used in commercials advertising everything from cereal to cars in recent years.