The classic Dove Beauty Bar has been a staple of women’s beauty regimens since it was first introduced in the 1950s. For decades they’ve touted their classic little white bar “with one-quarter moisturizing cream” as a less-drying alternative to soap (Dove is technically not soap, since they remove the glycerin that is a natural by-product of soap and replace it with other moisturizers). Dove was also a staple in my family’s house when I was growing up. I remember seeing the boxes of Dove in my mother’s linen closet. I’ve always loved soap, and those bars had a special allure for me. I couldn’t wait until it was time to open a new bar, because then I could tear off the paper wrapper, rip open the box, and release the white, creamy, scented goodness that lurked within. I also loved the curved shape of the bar. It fit perfectly in the hand, making it more fun to use.
Dove has come a long way since that little white beauty bar. Today Dove is the Number One cleansing brand in America. They offer not only the classic beauty bar, but a variety of skin, hair, and body care products. In 2004, Dove pioneered their “Campaign for Real Beauty” campaign. For decades, skincare and makeup companies had been promising to make women look more beautiful if they purchased their products. Dove went against conventional advertising practices, and began to celebrate women for who they really are, no matter how young or how old they are. They also set up the Self-Esteem Fund to promote self-esteem among young women. Today Dove teaches young girls that beauty has no conventional standard, nor an age limit. And I still wash my face with that little white beauty bar.
Remember when there was only one phone company? And you had to rent your telephone from them?
For almost a century, Bell Telephone was the only phone company in the country. Of course, they invented the telephone. So consumers had no choice of who to go with for their local, long-distance, and local-long-distance needs. And in those days, people couldn’t buy a telephone like they can today (I know, young’uns, seems hard to believe). My parents, like everyone else, rented their phones from the phone company. We had the same telephone for sixteen years! These telephones didn’t plug easily into a phone jack like they do today. They were wired into the jack in the wall, and the telephone man had to come to your house to do it.
In 1982, the United States government decided that Bell Telephone had a monopoly. Using an anti-trust lawsuit, they forced Bell to separate into several smaller companies. Today the former Bell Telephone is known as AT&T, one of several telephone companies offering consumers a choice. And we’re free to go into any electronics store, or even Target for that matter, and buy a telephone that we can easily plug into the wall ourselves. Which in a way, is kind of a shame, because when I was young I really wanted a Sculptura phone (see ad above). Vintage Sculpturas are available online, but they’re not compatible with today’s phone jacks. Which means I’ll just have to reach out and touch someone with my boring modern phone.
One of my current obsessions is with the fashion illustrations of Rene Gruau. The French artist is most famous for his advertisements for the perfumes and fashions of the House of Dior. He was the quintessential mid-century artist in that his illustrations are sparse and stylized but perfectly convey the subject. His drawings had a depth and soul to them that transcended mere commercial art. Dior was a major innovator of fashion after World War II, and Gruau was the artistic equivalent. They complemented each other perfectly.
Gruau’s most iconic work is from the Forties and Fifties, but his artistic collaboration with the House of Dior continued through the 1980s. His work from the Seventies maintains his distinctive illustrative style, but the sophisticated gowns and elaborate hairstyles that epitomized Fifties glamor have been replaced by long hair and (gasp!) trousers for women. In a decade where commercial photography overtook illustration in beauty and fashion ads, Gruau’s work during that era is a reassuring and perhaps wistful holdout of a more innocent time.
Gruau passed away in 2004 at the ripe old age of 95. Somerset House in London recently recognized Gruau’s place in the world of commercial illustration with an exhbition, Dior Illustrated: Rene Gruau and the Line of Beauty.” Today, the fine art of commercial illustration has taken a back seat to digital photography and manipulation. Whereas once upon a time illustrations could create what photographs could not, such as surreal or fantastic scenarios, today Photoshop can recreate almost anything. Thus, the need for illustrations is not as urgent as it perhaps once was. Which is a pity, because illustration in vintage advertisements is an art form in itself, one that is increasingly becoming lost in today’s digital world.
In the Seventies, you could find me glued to the television set every Friday night at 8:00, the manual dial turned to Channel 7. That was when The Donny and Marie Show was on. The wholesome, toothy brother and sister singing act and Dancing with the Stars alums had their own variety show that ran on ABC from 1976 to 1979.
My dad at the time worked for a company that manufactured, among other things, tape cassettes. He would bring home the latest album releases. Once he brought home “Layla” by Derek and the Dominoes. I didn’t know who Eric Clapton was back then, and the album didn’t really appeal to a nine-year-old. So I never listened to it. But one day my dad brought home “Songs from the Donny and Marie Show.” It was a couple of weeks before the album was released in stores, and my sister and I were thrilled. It was the best gift my dad ever got us (without my mom’s help or input, that is).
I listened to the album on my portable Radio Shack cassette player. My favorite song was “Deep Purple,” which I played over and over. To play a song over, I had to hit the rewind button and keep stopping the tape until I got it at the right spot at the beginning of the song. If I went too far back then I had to hit the fast forward button, and if I went too far forward I had to hit rewind again. You kids with your iPods don’t know how easy you have it these days.
I also had the Donny and Marie dolls from Mattel. They were like Barbie and Ken but with the faces of Donny and Marie. Marie borrowed the bent arms and microphone in hand from Superstar Barbie. The Donny and Marie dolls’ outfits paid homage to “Deep Purple.”
Variety shows were big in the Seventies, but you don’t see them on t.v. anymore. Sadly, it’s a dead format. Donny and Marie made a brief return to television in 1998 with their own talk show. It was just one of a slew of celebrity talk shows in the Nineties that tried to capitalize on the popularity of shows like Oprah, and it lasted only a couple of years. But this week it was announced that Donny and Marie are coming out with a new album, their first in thirty years. Say what you will about Donny and Marie, but no one can harmonize like those two.
Superstar Barbie, or as I like to call her, “Disco Barbie,” debuted in 1976. I remember getting mine at A&S in February of 1977. Superstar Barbie was different from the Malibu Barbie and Quick Curl Barbie and Ballerina Barbie in my collection. Superstar Barbie was fierce. Superstar Barbie was a singing disco diva, and looked like she could be a guest on any one of the variety shows popular during the era, such as The Donny and Marie Show or The Sonny and Cher Show. I guess that’s what the microphone in her hand was for. She shunned the usual frilly and floral Barbie fashions in favor of a hot pink satin designer gown, with matching boa. And her shoes! Don’t get me started about her shoes. Instead of the standard slip-on shoes that Barbies usually wore (which more often than not wouldn’t stay on her feet), Superstar Barbie came with strappy high-heeled disco sandals. But what made her truly unique was her face. Superstar Barbie was the first new Barbie face in 10 years. The previous face, which debuted in 1967, had large eyes with prominent colored eyelids and heavy mascara and liner. It was very Twiggy and Yardley of London. But it was outdated for the disco era. Superstar Barbie was also different in that, unlike earlier Barbies, her arms were bent, allowing for a greater variety of poses, especially with that mic in her hand. Superstar Barbie also came with jewelry for her owner to wear, so little girls could feel like disco queens too.
Although Barbie has undergone many transformations since she debuted in 1959, Superstar Barbie wil always hold a special place in my heart as a symbol of childhood memories and growing up in the Seventies.