Wednesday, December 2, 2020

"Booby": Curious 1950s novelty ads in Billboard

In 1950, Billboard magazine ran a number of curious advertisements for a "soft, fleshlike" rubber doll called "Booby: The Bouncing Bombshell Queen of Burlesque."

Although Billboard came to be exclusively associated with music in later years, it also used to be a trade magazine for carnival operators and vendors of novelties and gaming devices such as pinball machines. During this time in the late 1940s and early '50s, it carried advertisements for some surprisingly adult-oriented novelties.

Seeing these risque ads in the music trade magazines is surprising not only because the ads are explicit for their time but also because the music trades would periodically rail against smutty records (typically in reference to double-entendre R&B singles), so it seems hypocritical that they published ads that could also be accused of being smutty.

The text of the Booby ad at the top of this post says: 

The Hottest Selling Novelty Item of the Season!


The Bouncing Bombshell Queen of the Burlesque

Delightfully realistic, made of soft, fleshlike plastic rubber. Looks lifelike and feels lifelike . . . with DELICATE MOULDED CURVES and LOTS OF OOMPH!! 6" in height. She WIGGLES, she SHIMMIES, she SHAKES, she BUMPS and GRINDS! A real burlesque THRILLER! You make her do all these fascinating movements with a cleverly concealed mechanical device. This item is copyrighted and any infringement will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. $7.20 sample dozen. $72.00 per gross. Send $1.00 for sample. 

ORDER NOW . . . be the first in your territory. 

The Harris Mfg. Co. that marketed this compelling novelty item was previously known as the Harris Novelty Company. The company might have changed its name to avoid being confused with another Harris Novelty Company that operated out of Philadelphia.

Billboard reported in July 1950 that the company's Johnny Harris said that Booby was "becoming one of the hottest items on the market." The article also said that the company was adding carnival merchandise to its product line. 

Another product that the company allegedly would soon market was Pete the Poodle, "a fur covered dog that runs in circles and sits up and begs." I haven't seen any ads for this product and don't know if it was ever manufactured.

The following month, Billboard reported that Harris Manufacturing Company had hired additional staff to accommodate the flood of orders for Booby. As a naturally cynical person, I assume that Billboard's ongoing coverage of Booby during this brief time in 1950 was related to Harris Mfg.'s constant ad buys in the publication. 

Also in August 1950, Billboard ran another item that reported on Harris Mfg. Co.'s introduction of "Salome, a two-inch-high soft rubber plastic item." This new novelty promised to be so enticing that Harris expected it to "run close to the Booby, Queen of Burlesque item that hit top sales." 

The Salome figure was a similarly risque "harem dancer" who, ads proclaimed, "WIGGLES and SQUIRMS." 

The address for Harris Mfg. Co.—5864 Hollywood Blvd. in Hollywood, California—was the same address as that of Heinz Distributors, a company that advertised other risque products in Billboard. Heinz sold a 40-page pictorial magazine of "Hollywood's best figure models" that included so-called "Art Nudes." Billboard ran an item about this product too, describing it as a "magazine that is complete with photographic data," which presumably means "photos of naked ladies." Billboard added that the magazine provided instructions "for taking Hollywood glamour photos." Hm. Interesting.

In October 1950, Harris introduced Fifi the Fan Dancer, a "flesh-like soft, plastic rubber . . . realistically molded" figure with a "feather fan." The illustration in the ad was fully nude. Clearly, Harris was marketing its products to the audience that would later make the
RealDoll a viable business endeavor.

Longtime readers of Billboard—at least those who are familiar with the magazine's moralizing stance regarding "smutty" content—might be astonished to see that in 1950 the magazine ran ads that featured illustrations of fully nude women. Just a few years earlier, in 1944, the magazine ran an article about the inability of radio to tap nightclub performers for on-air performances because "the night club guys ... have been entertaining with smut so long their thinking along lines of showmanship is not clean."

Yet Billboard itself didn't hesitate to run illustrations of nudes in its magazine in 1950. It just seems kind of weird. 

Also in 1950, the 5864 Hollywood Blvd. address of Harris Mfg. Co. appeared in ads in Modern Screen magazine for lists of personal home addresses of Hollywood actors and in The Elks Magazine in ads for Hollywood Film Exchange, a seller that suggestively offered "home movies (all types)." 

In 1951, the address appeared in ads by Zusser Mfg. Co. in Popular Photography and Home Movies magazines for 8 and 16 mm film. That same year, Hollywood Film Exchange also ran an ad for its enigmatic "home movies" in The American Legion Magazine

There seemed to be a common thread between these risque businesses that all operated out of the same Hollywood street address. And although the Elks and the American Legion are perceived as conservative social clubs, it's not hard to imagine them as potential audiences for illicit stag films, if that's what these "home movies" actually were. The website of the Museum of Sex in New York says that "screenings of stag films ... were clandestine events that ... would gather together in American legion halls."

Bringing things back to music, the 5864 Hollywood Blvd. address was also used for Crystalette Records in 1953-54, presumably after Harris moved out, but who knows? The address still exists to this day and has been the home to a number of businesses over the years, but it will always be remembered, at least by me, as the home of Booby, the Bouncing Bombshell Queen of Burlesque.

No comments:

Post a Comment