In honor of the 16 day German beer celebration known as Oktoberfest, which kicks off today, here is a post combining two of my favorite things: classic Hollywood and beer.
During the 1940s and 1950s the Blatz beer company out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin hired the help of many well known Wisconsinites to market their product, including Hollywood stars, famous athletes and pop culture celebrities. The ads all included a line like "I lived in Milwaukee, I ought to know..." or in some cases, "I've been to Milwaukee..." Here are a few of the those ads featuring some of the Hollywood star power.
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Actor Fred MacMurray had a diverse career that started in romantic comedies then moved into noirs, westerns and later family fare like Disney's The Shaggy Dog (1959) and the television show My Three Sons. My personal favorite roles include his parts in the noirs Double Indemnity (1944) and Pushover (1954). MacMurray grew up in the small Wisconsin town of Beaver Dam, a place that always remained dear to his heart. He would return to the town to visit with friends and enjoy the Wisconsin outdoors. He also would mention his hometown frequently any chance he got, including in the one film he produced, Pardon My Past (1945), where the story centered on two GIs returning to Beaver Dam to start a mink farm. MacMurray also attended Carroll College (now Carroll University) in Waukesha, Wisconsin, about 18 miles from Milwaukee (a year after MacMurray, another future film star, Dennis Morgan, enrolled at Carroll). During his college years MacMurray played saxophone in college bands and in nightclubs. He also met a lifelong friend, another musician by the name of Les Paul, who went on to create one of the first electric guitars. MacMurray probably travelled to nearby Milwaukee a few times to play in the clubs there and I wouldn't doubt if he occasionally kicked back a Blatz.
Who doesn't have a soft spot for Bert Lahr? He was so memorable as the Cowardly Lion in the MGM film, The Wizard of Oz (1939). One of Lahr's few starring roles in Hollywood was the film Flying High (1931). Lahr wasn't from Milwaukee and so in this ad it mentions that Lahr has "been to Milwaukee" - probably on one of his early vaudeville tours.
Alfred Lunt was a Broadway star, not really a film star, but so many classic film stars wanted or were his friend, so I've included him here. Along with his wife and acting partner Lynn Fontanne, the two were the toast of Broadway from the 1920s-1950s. Hollywood regularly tried to get them to leave the stage for the screen, but as Fontanne famously said, "We can be bought, but we can't be bored." As stage actors who enjoyed the thrill of a live audience, Lunt and Fontanne found filmmaking boring and tedious. Alfred Lunt grew up in the Milwaukee area and even after he made it big in New York he kept his main home, the estate known as "Ten Chimneys," in the rural community of Genesee Depot, not far from Milwaukee. The Ten Chimneys estate is now open for tours and if you're ever in the Milwaukee area I highly recommend visiting. I went for the first time last year and really enjoyed the experience.
Brian Donlevy for a few years grew up in the Sheboygan Falls area of Wisconsin although I'm not sure how often he got back to the state. Some of his popular film roles include parts in Destry Rides Again (1939), In Old Chicago (1937) and Kiss of Death (1947). I really like Donlevy's part in the underrated noir, Impact (1949), shot on location in Northern California.
Charles Winninger was born into a show business family in the small Wisconsin town of Athens. His family was involved in vaudeville and at an early age Winninger would be pulled into the act. After finding success on the stage Winninger would find work in films, including Nothing Sacred (1937) alongside fellow Wisconsinite Fredric March, The Sun Shines Bright (1953), and Destry Rides Again (1939) with fellow Wisconsinites Donlevy and Jack Carson .
Don Ameche grew up in Kenosha, Wisconsin, about 40 miles south of Milwaukee. Kenosha was also the hometown of another famous classic Hollywood star, Orson Welles. Ameche also lived in Madison while attending the University of Wisconsin for law school. In Madison, Ameche got involved in acting. He performed at the Garrick Theater, the same stage where actor Ralph Bellamy did some early acting. Ameche also acted with the Wisconsin Players in a production where the scenery was created by future Hollywood actor Tom Ewell (The Seven Year Itch (1955)). Ameche would go on to star in such films as Midnight (1939), The Story of Alexander Graham Bell (1939), and Down Argentine Way (1940). Late in life he had a career renaissance, starring in hits like Trading Places (1983) and Cocoon (1985).
The above ad is for the popular radio show Duffy's Tavern which ran for a decade on various networks at different times during the 1940s and into the 1950s. On the show, Ed Gardner played the lead character, Archie the bartender. Many Hollywood celebrities appeared on the show as guests including Bob Hope, Alan Ladd, Billie Burke, Gene Tierney, Fred Allen, Peter Lorre and Veronica Lake. Blatz Beer was the beer featured on the show. The radio show also spawned a less successful TV series and even a feature film.
George Sanders was always perfect as a villain or cad. His deep voice and sophisticated accent made him a natural for those parts including roles in All About Eve (1950), Witness to Murder (1954), and the voice of Shere Khan in Disney's The Jungle Book (1967). In the above ad Sanders boasts that he has been to Milwaukee.
Groucho needs no explanation. What does need an explanation is what the heck Groucho was doing in Milwaukee?
John Payne, the star of Kansas City Confidential (1952), Miracle on 34th Street (1947), and The Restless Gun (1957) was a Blatz man. According to Payne, "Blatz really is Milwaukee's finest beer!" Ok, I wouldn't go that far John.
Even razzle dazzle piano player, Liberace, who was born in West Allis, Wisconsin and did live in Milwaukee for a time, adds a bit of sophistication to Blatz Beer. Liberace, in addition to music, appeared in films and on television. Liberace can be seen in the films Sincerely Yours (1955), as a casket salesman in the film The Loved One (1966) and When the Boys Meet the Girls (1965) starring Connie Francis.
Osa Johnson along with her husband Martin were adventurers and documentary filmmakers. The pair would go on safaris and visit exotic locations and capture it on film. In 1953, Osa was part of television's first wildlife series, Osa Johnson's The Big Game Hunt. There is no better way to end a day in the bush than with a bottle of Blatz.