Hinky, dinky…parley voo…cheer up face…the war is thru…Burma Shave From 1930 Burma-Shave signs found along the roadside
I just saw a FaceBook post, one of those that have become too frequent. “In the last week have you seen….” It was about advertising some good or service and it caused me to think about advertisements from the past.
A unknown poster asked the question, “What Ever Happened to Burma Shave?” I had no clue but a twisting pig trail led me from Burma Shave to “See Rock City” to the Eagles’ song, “Hotel California”, and back again. Yes, it twisted but for some reason, the path made perfect sense to my twisted mind.
It was about advertising methods before there were slick, computer generated commercials. It was about low-tech jingles that included “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” or croaking frogs saying “Bud…wise..errrr“ or stomachs jiggling to “No matter what shape your stomach is in.” You might have to do a bit of research on those. It was when beer, liquor, and cigarettes were sold in prime time. It was about a simpler time but my thoughts went further back,…some might have been a little dark.
“On a dark desert highway…Up ahead in the distance, I saw a shimmering light.” In my fragmented brain, the light was shimmering in gaudy neon. Red and green, it flashed, maybe flickered as if a neon tube was going bad, “Welcome to the Hotel California.” Below would be another sign advertising “Vacancies” or “Rooms to Let.” “You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave,” sings in my head.
For some reason, I’m drawn to the gaudy neon. Old signs flashing in green, pinks, yellows, and red. “Cold Beer”, “Cigarettes Here”, red and green Coca Cola signs. Seems you could advertise better with neon…or more brightly.
I associate neon with the hole-in-the-wall places where I spent too many hours during the misspent youth portion of my life. There seemed to be a bit of the nefarious associated with neon…if not criminal, wicked at least. If I were creating a scene it would be in a backroom of a pool hall or a bar advertised by harsh neon. Hard men with fedoras pushed back on their heads and Pall Mall unfiltered cigarettes hanging on a lip. They squint to see their cards as smoke circles their heads. Women that Andy of Mayberry would have considered fast “fun girls” in tight shimmering gowns watch the game. Maybe a bit past their prime…trying to hang on for table scraps.
Maybe it was the signs that advertised cold beer and live music, “Girls, Girls, Girls” or the martini glass with a naked young lady in it. I never liked martinis but girls were another thing as was cold beer and music. Somehow they seemed to be related in the dim light of my past.
I am reminded of late-night road trips through small towns with darkened streets except for flashing neon. The themes of Perry Mason and Peter Gunn reverberate in my mind in black and white but I see the neon flashing in color.
In a “lighter” time, I remember family vacations, rolling through the twisting and narrow roads in the Blue Ridge and seeing barns on hillsides. Slab barns with metal roofs with “Visit Rock City” or “When You’ve Seen Rock City, You’ve Seen it All” painted on them. Sign painter Clark Byers painted over nine hundred barns advertising Rock City after it opened in 1932.
Some thirty years after it had opened, I found Rock City atop Lookout Mountain, Tennessee, and remembered standing in line to step to a spot where I could see seven states, Tennessee, Virginia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, and Alabama. I might have been ten or so. I also remember a rope bridge I wanted no part off.
On other trips, roadside signs ranged from professionally done to hand-lettered. The hand-lettered ones, the work of someone who felt strongly about his religion or his politics. Strongly enough to pound them into the ground on the side of the road.
Weathered red paint on whitewash. Single words or phrases spaced over the road’s shoulder. Many foretold of doom, “Repent…our…time…is…nigh” or “The…end…is…near…REPENT.” Quite ominous for a pre-teen raised in a strict home.
Others advertised Alligator Farms, the best fried chicken, Stuckey’s Candies, or Big Gulps. Sometimes all four could be found in one building.
Then there were the Burma Shave signs and the post that began my wanderings.
The Burma Shave signs weren’t as ominous and were professionally done but many displayed lessons to be learned. More than a few displayed bullet holes as if someone took offense to them.
Burma Shave, at one time the second-largest producer of “brushless shaving cream”, was famous for its advertising gimmick of posting humorous rhyming poems on small sequential highway roadside signs. The company sold out to Philip Morris in the early Sixties but their signs lived on and were culturally impactful in TV, movies, and literature. They were culturally impactful to me it seems.
One of their advertising sequence of signs read, “Cheer up face…The war is past… The “H” is out…Of shave…At last…Burma-Shave”, another “A shave…That’s real…No cuts to heal…A soothing…Velvet after-feel…Burma-Shave.” I don’t know what the “H” in the first one stood for. I know the war it referred to was the First World War.
During World War Two they joined the war effort with rhymes like, ‘Let’s make Hitler…And Hirohito… Feel as bad…as Old Benito…Buy War Bonds…Burma-Shave’ and “TOUGH-WHISKERED YANKS…IN HEAVY TANKS…HAVE JAWS AS SMOOTH…AS GUYS IN BANKS!” Oh the humor.
A lesson to be learned, hopefully before a crash occurred.
The last Burma Shave rhyme landed in 1963, well before I began the daily scrapping of my facial skin. “Our fortune…Is your…Shaven face…It’s our best… Advertising space…Burma-Shave”.
Until my next pig trail please remember, “Train approaching…Whistle squealing…Stop…Avoid that run-down feeling…Burma-Shave.” Here are three more on the signs that adorned many roadsides. The one on the right fits me perfectly.
Don Miller’s newest release, “Pig Trails and Rabbit Holes” is live on Amazon. It may be purchased in paperback or download. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09GQSNYL2