The story of “not your father’s Oldsmobile.” Or how some really bad advertising changed the culture forever!
October 14, 2008
Time for a story boys and girls. It’s a tale that requires we go back 20 years, before copywriters had Macs, before email, before I lost my hair. This story harkens back to a day when Oldsmobiles roamed the earth. And their commercials filled the airwaves. I should know; I made some of them. Including the campaign that served as Olds’ final and famous (infamous?) death gasp: “Not Your Father’s Oldsmobile.”
The line has become a pop culture catch phrase, in the same ilk –albeit attached to worse advertising-as “Got Milk?” Both slogans have been co-opted literally hundreds of times, far outlasting their original intent. Try reading your morning paper and not finding a variation on either line. For example, about a candidate: “This is not your father’s Democrat.” About a technological innovation: “This is not your mother’s sewing machine.” And so on. Sadly enough, more Americans are familiar with the Olds’ slogan than of Shakespeare’s finest sonnets. Way more.
A soft-spoken creative director by the name of Joel Machak wrote that famous line. I actually came up with the campaign’s tag: “The New Generation of Olds.” Both pieces were intended as lyrics. That’s right, a jingle! As a matter of fact, I was brought in to help Joel come up with the refrain. The piece went together as follows (sing along):
This is not your father’s Oldsmobile…This is the new generation of Olds.
Pretty spiffy, eh? The word “generation” was key. If you recall, each commercial featured a celebrity and one of his or her offspring. This is why the campaign is so damn silly. Outside of a morbid fascination with ogling Ringo Starr’s purple-haired daughter or Dave Brubeck’s motley looking brothers, placing the kin of “B” and “C” celebrities on camera was pure folly. Though I will concede we anticipated Reality TV by 10 years! If you do nothing else today, go to the above link. Trust me.
The very first spot was for the “totally redesigned Cutlass Supreme.” The protagonist for this commercial was none other than William Shatner, appearing as; you guessed it, Captain Kirk! Riding shotgun was his lovely college-aged daughter, Melanie Shatner. A middling actress, she was pretty darn cute. She also was well endowed. And this became problematic given her wardrobe and where we were shooting. It gets damn cold in the Palm Desert at night. The diaphanous gown provided Melanie was meant to be futuristic a la Star Trek, but it did nothing to warm her up. Subsequently, her nipples went completely rigid, sticking up like Spock’s ears.
While this may sound lurid and comical now, at the time (3 AM) it was a “situation.” Imagine the middle-aged suit from GM, replete in a satin Oldsmobile Racing Team jacket, making his way over to the director. “Excuse me, but we can see her nipples!” Given we’d already shot scenes of Melanie in the gown, a wardrobe change was not possible. The solution? Duct tape. And thus her cleavage had a silver lining.
The other moment I’ll never forget was a captured piece of dialogue (unscripted) between William and his daughter. Between takes, they were side by side in the white Cutlass. Unbeknown to either, the mic was still on. Listening to Captain Kirk school his daughter about the virtues of pep and sleeping pills as a key to nighttime shooting was priceless. What a Dad. What a cad. In a way, it preceded his Emmy-winning turn as Danny Crane by some 20 years.
I know this is trifling gossip, and long past its vintage. But like everyone else, I’m beaten down from our grim economy and an evermore-depressing election. Not to mention the woes of Chicago’s sports franchises… When I was new I used to love listening to the old-timers tell bawdy stories from their shoots. Now that I have a few under my belt, I figured we could all use a respite.