Thursday, February 03, 2011

What a Character! - Fresh Up Freddie

You will not find him in any comprehensive listing of Disney animated characters, but Fresh Up Freddie was indeed born within the walls of the Walt Disney Studios complex in Burbank, California.  Specifically, he was created in the H-wing of the animation building by a unit of the company whose history has been largely swept under the rug.  Freddie was never destined for big-screen greatness; his sole purpose was to be a cartoon pitchman for 7-Up.

The Disney Studio produced hundreds of television commercials during the 1950s, primarily ones associated with their own television programs: Disneyland, Zorro and the Mickey Mouse Club.  Commercial production was not anything that Walt Disney himself was particularly proud of, and hence it remains largely undocumented in most Disney historical texts.  Fresh Up Freddie was born out of the 7-Up company's sponsorship of the weekly Zorro television show that premiered in 1957.

Of the numerous animated characters created by the commercials unit, Freddie is of particular note due to his similarities in design and personality to two other Disney birds, Panchito and the Aracuan, both of whom originated in the 1944 feature film The Three Caballeros.  In appearance he was a rooster much like Panchito; in mannerisms he was dodge-about hyperactive in a way that often directly mimicked the Aracuan bird.  Freddie was created and designed by Paul Carlson and Dave Detiege, who were both very active with the commercials unit.  According to Carlson, 7-Up bought 26 commercials at $100,000 apiece.  The actual animation was farmed out to freelancers.  Though initially without a name, the bird was ultimately given the moniker "Freddie," a likely tribute to 7-Up bottler Fred Lutz, Jr.  Freddie was voiced by Disney vocal veteran Paul Frees, best known for his zany renditions of Ludwig Von Drake.

Freddie was used as part of a larger advertising campaign that extended to radio, print and even premium items and merchandise.  The consistent buzz-line for the campaign had Freddie saying, "Right now, you're probably asking yourself--" followed by a query relating to the subject of the ad, i.e., "What does a ghost hunter drink to quench his thirst?" or "What does a hot test pilot drink for a quick, refreshing lift?"  Magazine and comic books ads featured full page Freddie adventures.  Freddie would interview fictional celebrities on radio spots, and Freddie was often incorporated into newspaper grocery store ads thanks to 7-Up co-op advertising programs.

Freddie even got into a little hot water with the FBI in 1959.  According to a newspaper account:
"7-Up ran an amusing radio commercial that had "Fresh Up Freddie" Interviewing a make-believe film personality, Kim Schullz. Freddie uttered the following words at the end at the interview, "Thank you, Kim, we'll be seeing you in your latest picture 'I Was a Wonderfully, Terrific Teenager for the FBI'. The FBI wasted little time pulling out the law books and showing Seven-Up that you can't use the word FBI without  written permission. They killed the commercial."


FZ said...

"Commercial production was not anything that Walt Disney himself was particularly proud of..."

Really? Do you have a direct citation or quote to back up that assertion?

Disney being such a big proponent and defender of free enterprise, the idea of him being anti-commercial and ashamed of commercial production rings very false. Disney himself knew the value of promotion and advertising and it's necessity to the free market and consumer choice (after all, weren't certain Disneyland episodes derided by the ignorant as "hour long commercials?)

I think it more likely that it was not mentioned too much because in the grand scheme of the Disney studios it was a very minor (if necessary and fruitful) part of the operation. There really wouldn't be any real reason to make a big deal out of it.

Jeffrey Pepper said...

"He stormed down there and outlawed us against using any of the Disney characters in commercials. I remember at the time everybody was incensed that we couldn’t use them, and it basically spelled the end of the unit. [Companies] were coming for the celebrity, to be able to use Disney characters in commercials.”

-Victor Haboush (artist for the unit)

“One time Walt was very upset because the agency that was sponsoring The Mickey Mouse Club used Woody Woodpecker in a cereal commercial on The Mickey Mouse Club, and he didn’t like it because he didn’t have control of the animation. They dropped it right into the show after the whole show was mixed. It wasn’t sound mixed with everything else. It was dropped in by an editor later. And the sound was up. So when they broadcast it, it was obvious that the volume went up and it wasn’t smooth, and Walt didn’t like it. And he usually looked at all the shows.”

-Paul Carlson (artist with unit)

“Commercial work answered our prayers, as it supplied badly needed capital. Advertising work clearly helped keep the studio intact. But while the studio made money with this type of product (and I mean big money) it was not a field either Walt or Roy were happy to be in."

-Harry Tytle (40 year veteran on the studio)

Jeffrey Pepper said...

"Walt had already drawn the ire of other movie studios for his agreeing to produce original programming for the enemy of television that was stealing audiences from theaters. To produce television commercials was considered so beneath the status of a major movie studio that it was unthinkable."

"The success of Disneyland and Walt’s frustration at struggling with commercial clients sounded the death knell for this interesting anecdote in the history of the Disney Co."

-Jim Korkis (very well-respected Disney historian)

Also, I realize the second quote from the previous comment is somewhat out of context, but I think it still serves to demonstrate Walt's discomfort with commercials and commercial production.

Michael said...

Great post - I never knew about this...

Gator Chris said...

"RIGHT NOW, you're probably asking yourself..." Where does Jeff get all this great information? :-]

Thanks for sharing.

- Chris

Gojirob said...

We just got a vinyl figure of Freddy. We are trying to figure out why he was made - as a prize giveaway, a mail-in offer, a store advert figure, or what have you. He currently resides in a case with many other advert icons, some known, some obscure.