Tuesday, June 21, 2022

TV Quote of the Day (Mel Brooks, With a Script for a Lucrative Commercial)

“Don’t write with a peach. If you write with a peach, you’ll get a very wet letter. Don’t write with a prune. Words will come out wrinkled and dopey. Let’s face it: The only fruit you can write with is a banana. The Bic Banana. A fine-line marker. Not to be confused with a ballpoint. Writing a letter to your son, right? Right. Usually, I write, ‘Dear son, how are you? I’m fine.’ Write that same letter with a Bic Banana and you’ll get: ‘Dear Sonny, I miss your face, Mom.’ See what a nice letter it writes? And it comes in colors. Most fruits only come in one color, except grapes, which come in two colors and, of course, pits and pitless. Look, if you’ve got to write with a fruit, write with a Bic Banana! It’s only 29 cents. Your best buy in writing fruit. The Bic Banana. A different way to write!”—Script for the “Bic Banana” commercial, included in Mel Brooks, All About Me! My Remarkable Life in Show Business (2022)

There are some commercials engraved in my memory from constant repetition in my impressionable youth. It’s far more unusual for me to recall an ad that did not air too long. It always helps if the latter kind of commercial is insane.

Enter Mel Brooks. In his new memoir, the Oscar-winning screenwriter, director, and actor recalls how, in a financially fallow period in the 1960s when he was courting future wife Anne Bancroft, commercials helped him pay the bills.

The one TV ad he cited was for the Bic Banana. He gave no exact date for his voice-over work for this, but left the impression it was in the 1960s. It could not have been in the early 1960s, as I wasn’t old enough to watch TV regularly then. As it turned out, it was in 1973—after his Oscar for The Producers, but just before his huge success with Blazing Saddles.

I don’t know how much input Brooks had in the actual script for this one-minute ad. I suspect, from what I’ve read on his interactions with show-business collaborators in Patrick McGilligan’s Funny Man, that he may not have been easy to get along with the ad men who worked on this.

But if the makers of the Bic Banana wanted their product to get noticed, they sure picked the right person. Just watch this YouTube clip—or rather, because his face is never shown, listen to it. The demented intonation of certain words is classic Brooks. In fact, it can only be Brooks.

(This crazily voiced commercial for a crazily named product would be followed by an even more insane ad, with actor/game show fixture Charles Nelson Reilly dancing and singing--dressed up as a bright, yellow Bic Banana, promoting these markers to similarly dressed schoolchildren.)

If you want an even more unusual Brooks commercial—this time, a 1960s radio ad, with Dick Cavett serving as straight man—then listen to him play “The 2500 Year Old Brewmaster” (a variation on the “2,000-Year-Old Man” character he had played with friend Carl Reiner) for Ballantine Beer.

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