As I have despaired of before, I am often asked to appraise dolls — and, of course, they don’t agree with me. I had a scary doll experience at five years of age, which you do not want to know about.
But H.G. sent me rather an interesting doll, a little Pillsbury Doughboy, and wonders what it’s worth.
What it is worth is tied up with our country’s creation of advertising icons, back in the 1960s.
The toy’s original name was Jonathan Pillsbury, aka “Fresh,” or aka “Poppin” — and he goes by the phrase “say hello to Poppin Fresh!” Then, of course, he gets poked in the belly and has that strange haunting laugh. Poppin Fresh has a birthday: Nov. 7, 1965.
How did this happen? Back in the 1960s Rudy Perz, head of Leo Burnett Chicago (a great ad agency), was given the charge. Find a lovable icon for our clients, who were the major commercial firm of Pillsbury …. and Rudy began to ponder, ‘“What shall I create?”
And sitting in this kitchen, with his young daughter, in the suburbs of Chicago, holding one of those cylindrical tubes of Pillsbury dough, he did create an idea, which turned out the be remarkable for its sweetness and simplicity.
The rest was history. An American advertising icon was engendered, that little fat blue eyed marshmallow of a creature. The Pillsbury Doughboy was born.
From 1965 to 2005, Pillsbury used this doughboy icon in all their ads, and the image of this little icon was so BIG that “Poppin Fresh: had dinner in other commercials with other icons, such as the Jolly Green Giant, the Morton Salt Girl, the Vlasic Stork and Count Cholula — in more than 600 commercials, in fact, which ran hundreds of times.
And previous to that, he was an icon for American Kids, who wrote fan mail to him in the 1960s. At least 200 letters were received addressed to “Poppin Fresh” a day.
Not to mention that his image, white and spectral, blown up HUGE, had floated for years over the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.
Famous magazines, when they did not see “Poppin Fresh” float over that parade later than the date of 2014, said he had died of a yeast infection.
The geniuses who created him, “made” him in stop motion clay animation in the 1960s, crafted by George Pul. His image was designed by Milt Schaffer, and his voice was by Paul Prees.
Geigo picked up the loveable image for their commercials in 2009-2017, after the Doughboy was retired from Pillsbury, and I would be remiss in mentioning that so did Hollywood in the original “Ghostbusters” movie. We will call that appearance in that movie the “shadow side” of “Poppin Fresh,” shall we?
So successful was the little Doughboy that in the 1970s, a toy figural family was unveiled around the little guy, created by Pillsbury’s ad agency, and the names are hilarious.
Poppie Fresh was his wife, or girlfriend, or siste r(how pristine!), depending on if you believe the Doughboy was “married.” Then of course, he had loveable grandparents, named Grandpopper and Grandmommer.
If the marriage — in the public’s mind — had “legs,” there were two babies, somehow, Baby Popper and Bun-Bun.
If Poppin Fresh had a wife and kids, he must, by rights, in the 1970s, have had a family dog and a cat. The new additions were Flapjack the dog and Biscuit the cat.
Every family has an irritating uncle, so, enter stage right, was Uncle Rolle.
Yes, all of these toy figures today have a fan base, and all of these have value.
But I would suggest to H.G. that he hangs onto his Pillsbury Doughboy, because since his “creation” in 1965, he has grown more and more iconic.
The Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago premiered an exhibit, “A Salute to Advertising’s Great Icons,” which featured Tony the Tiger, the Jolly Green Giant, Morris the Cat, Mr. Clean and Ronald McDonald.
And of course, the headliner was the Pillsbury Doughboy. And the exhibit also honored his creator, Rudy Perz, who had died a month before the exhibit.
What a company to be amongst!
I find the value of the little rubber doll to be $50.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart’s “Ask the Gold Digger” column appears Mondays in the News-Press Life section.
Written after her father’s COVID-19 diagnosis, Dr. Stewart’s book “My Darlin’ Quarantine: Intimate Connections Created in Chaos” is a humorous collection of five “what-if” short stories that end in personal triumphs over present-day constrictions. It’s available at Chaucer’s in Santa Barbara.