Stay Tuned: New Orleans’ Classic TV Commercials

They are just snippets from television commercials that often ran 30 seconds or less. But almost every New Orleanian of a certain age will remember them. What’s at 1825 Tulane? Who sang “Seafood City, very pretty…?” Who are Rosemary and Anna Mae, and what products did they pitch? What furniture store employs “The Special Man?”

Almost as entertaining as the TV programs they appeared in, many Crescent City commercials have become classics over the years – quoted and fondly remembered by thousands of local viewers. From television’s earliest days, these commercials’ value was in more than just entertainment — the messages helped to sell many different products – from cars and furniture to po-boys and doughnuts.

Stay Tuned: New Orleans’ Classic TV Commercials is a one-hour retrospective of favorite television advertisements, featuring the stars, jingles and catch phrases that became legendary. This latest local production from WYES-TV/Channel 12 pays homage to the classic commercials and their creators.

A companion piece to WYES’ successful production NEW ORLEANS TV: THE GOLDEN AGE (which was nominated for a 2004 Suncoast Regional Emmy Award), the new program includes clips from local commercials that pitched Jax Beer, Rosenberg’s Furniture, Seafood City, D.H. Holmes, Time Saver, McKenzie’s, K&B, Maison Blanche, Pontchartrain Beach, Frankie and Johnnie’s Furniture and many more.

Jingles and slogans like “Hello, mellow Jax, little darlin’,” “Seafood City. Very pretty. 1826 North Broad,” and of course, “Rosenberg’s, Rosenberg’s. 1825 Tulane,” and many others help to tell the story of TV advertising in New Orleans. Interviews with retired seafood retailer Al Scramuzza (Seafood City), actresses Becky Allen and Shirl Cieutat (“Rosemary” and “Anna Mae” for Time Saver) and furniture store owner Frank Trapani (Frankie & Johnnie’s Furniture) paint a colorful picture of local advertising “characters,” some imaginary, and many larger than life. Local songwriter Benny Grunch helps recount the unforgettable commercials of one of them – TV pitchman Dick Bruce, best known for his McKenzie’s bakery advertisements.

Documenting the earliest days of local television advertising, which often went hand-in-hand with programming are retired meteorologist Nash Roberts, WDSU-TV anchor/reporter Alec Gifford and former WDSU-TV personality Terry Flettrich Rohe.

Behind every clever concept and idea were local TV advertising pioneers, who used their creativity and market savvy to convince consumers to buy the products – and in so doing, etched the commercials’ characters and jingles into the community’s collective memory. Sharing their stories will be Peter Mayer, local advertising legend and founder of Peter A. Mayer Advertising and Public Relations; Laura Lee Killeen and Ron Thompson, advertising executives with Beuerman Miller Fitzgerald advertising agency; and advertising executive Barbara Elliott Wedemeyer, whose real-life daughter provided the voice that became so famous in Rosenberg’s Furniture’s commercials.

Humor was often used to deliver the commercials’ intended messages. Some of Jax Beer’s most memorable commercials used animated characters, which were created and voiced by the 1950s and 1960s comedy team of Mike Nichols and Elaine May. New Orleans’ own set of Ninth Ward personalities were brought to life by Becky Allen and Shirl Cieutat, Rosemary and Anna Mae of the Time Saver commercials. Some of the most homegrown and humorous spots in recent memory feature crawfish king Al Scramuzza, whose Seafood City jingle and one-of-a-kind characters are legendary.

Other favorite icons included Universal Furniture’s “Chairman,” and later a “Chairwoman” (played by Becky Allen); LAS Enterprises’ “Oscar,” – viewers were urged to “Put this man to work;” Miller the Killer, the icon for the exterminating company of the same name; and Trader Joe Paretti for Paretti Pontiac. K&B and McKenzie’s Pastry Shoppes, Pontchartrain Beach, and the department stores D.H. Holmes, Maison Blanche, Godchaux’s and Labiche’s all had memorable commercials. A 1950s commercial for Luzianne featured actress Betty White selling coffee.

The program documents an era of live television that is long gone today. But “stay tuned” – the next classic commercials may just be a click of the remote away.

Ronnie Virgets narrates the program, which is produced by Dominic Massa, and edited by Larry Roussarie. Funding is provided by the Producers Circle, a group of viewers dedicated to supporting quality local programming on WYES.

Contact Aislinn Hinyup, WYES-TV/Channel 12 – 504-587-9464 ahinyup@wyes.org