Vintage Toronto Ads: Burlesque, Yonge Style

Originally published on Torontoist on November 6, 2007.

Vintage Ad #387: Starvin' Marvin's

Source: Toronto Life, August 1971.

There used to be a sign above a video arcade that proclaimed “Yonge Street is Fun Street.” Back in the 1960s and 1970s, much of that fun was to be had at the many bars and clubs that lined the street south of Gerrard––Le Coq D’Or, Steele’s Tavern, Friar’s Tavern, Zanzibar Tavern and so on. Depending on the venue, you could listen to music, dance the night away or catch a striptease. Today’s advertiser combined all three.

By the early 1970s, the morality rules regulating the exotic dance industry weakened as old-style burlesque houses gave way to modern strip joints. Among the rules that had been in effect as recently as the mid-1960s:

  • No touching of curtains, walls or proscenium.
  • No lying down on the stage or runway.
  • No bumping of props.
  • No body movements that could suggest a simulated sex act to the audience.
  • No running of any article of clothing between the legs.

Starvin’ Marvin’s appears to have combined the old and the new by the time of this ad––comedians continued to perform between dancers who bared more. By mid-decade the last of the old-style houses, the Victory on Spadina, had called it a day.

The stylized portrayal of the dancers fits the artwork of the era, even if one figure is quite politically incorrect. Based on figures published in the Toronto Star years later, the average dancer earned around $450 a week.

331 Yonge was also home to the Hawk’s Nest, a teen-oriented spinoff of its next-door neighbour, Le Coq D’Or. The club was named after Ronnie Hawkins, who had a hand in its operation. Hawkins used Le Coq D’Or as his base for most of the 1960s, with his backing bands a school for many Canadian musicians, notably The Band.

Painting a portrait of Yonge Street during the Christmas holidays in 1977, Globe and Mail columnist Dick Beddoes lamented the recent closing of Starvin’ Marvin’s:

Raunchy old Starvin Marvin’s, where ladies used to undress on cue and Ronnie Hawkins used to romp, is gone, replaced, f’r hevvin’s sake, by a wholesale house that offers radios, skis, hockey sticks, chain saws and can-openers. All that is left of Starvin’ Marvin’s, in fact, is a sign advising, KEEP COOL – WE’RE AIR CONDITIONED. As the year declines toward a melancholy end, many hunger for imagery, the warm glow if fire, a reassuring star of hope. Starvin’ Marvin is dead on crass old bawdy Yonge, but God is fairly alive.

Additional material from Crisis at the Victory Burlesk by Robert Fulford (1968) and The Globe and Mail, December 19, 1977.

Vintage Toronto Ads: The Humming of O’Keefe

Originally published on Torontoist on September 11, 2007.

2007_09_11okeefe.jpg

Source: Toronto ’59: One Hundred and Twenty-Fifth Anniversary.

As Torontoist reported yesterday, the Hummingbird Centre is changing its name to the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, marking the second change in corporate naming rights during the venue’s half-century existence. Support of the site has ranged from a philanthropic brewer (O’Keefe Brewing head E.P. Taylor) to a multinational media company.

As today’s ad promised, Yonge and Front has seen a wide range of performances since the O’Keefe Centre officially rolled out the red carpet on October 1, 1960. Broadway musicals were a natural to top the list, as the grand opening featured the out-of-town tryout for Camelot, starring Julie Andrews, Richard Burton and former CBC television performer Robert Goulet. Opening night proved a lengthy affair, with the final curtain falling close to 1 a.m. Show writer Alan Jay Lerner noted in his biography that “only Tristan and Isolde equaled it as a bladder endurance contest.” The show was significantly trimmed by the time it hit the Great White Way two months later.

In its 1974 Toronto GuidebookToronto Life summed up the O’Keefe’s history. Note the usage of capital letters on certain words.

It was built for $12 million in 1960 as a public relations gesture by a brewery – and has been patronized ever since chiefly by the kind of people who drink Scotch…The O’Keefe Centre, when it was built, was the largest concert hall in North America—3,155 seats in a cavernous auditorium, approached through a lobby which, with its carpeting, chandeliers and mural by R. York Wilson, is a monument to Culture in its own right.

The road towards the venue’s first name change began when Carling O’Keefe was purchased by rival brewer Molson in 1989. The naming rights were sold by the city (who received the property from O’Keefe in the late 1960s) to software producer Hummingbird in 1996.

In this age of rapidly-revolving corporate names on buildings, is anyone willing to place bets on how long the Sony name survives?

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Opening night at the O’Keefe Centre, October 1, 1960. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 796.

As of 2017, the venue still bears Sony’s name. A large nearby parking lot still refers to it by its original name.

For a fuller look at the O’Keefe Centre’s origins, check out Kevin Plummer’s Historicist column.

Vintage Toronto Ads: “The Bank” Wants You

Originally published on Torontoist on July 31, 2007.

2007_07_31_TD.jpg

Source: Leaside High School Clan Call, 1961/62 edition.

“THE BANK.” Does the use of bold face and quotations make this institution sound Big Brotherish?

Canada’s major banks regularly advertised in high school yearbooks and college newspapers in the 1960s, eager for new recruits as branches opened in new suburban markets. With all of the promises of security and comfort for potential employees, who wouldn’t want to sign up with “The Bank?” This was the era of secure, benefit-laden futures, which anyone who applied in 1962 and stayed the course is now hopefully enjoying in retirement.

It was an era of major change for Toronto-Dominion Bank, formed in February 1955 after the merger of the Bank of Toronto (established 1855) and The Dominion Bank (established 1871). Around the time this ad appeared, it was announced that a new headquarters was under development, plans that evolved into Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s landmark Toronto-Dominion Centre. It is possible that students drawn in by this ad were among the complex’s first office workers when the initial tower opened in 1967.

One question: was posing by a stool a prerequisite for businessmen in advertisements of this era?

Vintage Toronto Ads: Toronto or Vancouver?

Part One: A Full Day of Fun in Vancou..Toronto!

Originally published on Torontoist on July 24, 2007.

2007_07_24ontario.jpgSource: Toronto ’59: One Hundred and Twenty-Fifth Anniversary.

For years, Toronto tourism ads have gotten a bad rap. These attempts to bring visitors to our fair city have a knack of running off the rails—try finding the love for the Toronto Unlimited campaign.

Today’s ad proves this is not a recent trend, even when the provincial government is the culprit.

When you hear “Toronto,” are images of totem poles and children building castles on a sandy beach the first scenes that come to mind? One suspects these were not the prime attractions for 1950s travelers either (though the ROM would have been one of the few places in the region to publicly display aboriginal works at the time). Did the ad agency mix up the clip art intended for Toronto with that for Vancouver? Even the “Exhibition” could apply to both cities, since the drawing is so generic, the scene could be at the PNE as much as the CNE.

Our happy nuclear family may not have gotten to know Toronto in its 125th anniversary year. Father can only laugh at the travel bureau’s folly, especially when they failed to warn him that the city all but shut down on Sundays.

Part Two: The Wandering Welcome Wagon

Originally published on Torontoist on March 18, 2008.

2008_03_19welcomewagon.jpg
Source: Toronto Life, November 1969.

A family moves into one of Toronto’s more fashionable neighbourhoods. In the middle of deciding where Junior’s playpen will fit in the living room, there is a knock at the front door. Standing on the front step is the official neighbourhood greeter from Welcome Wagon.

The new residents are greeted with the finest publications our city has to offer: Toronto Life, the Vancouver Province, and an unidentified Vancouver Sunday paper (our city’s dailies respected Sunday day-of-rest traditions and didn’t launch a regular Sunday edition until the first Sunday Sun rolled off the press in 1973).

Junior is not impressed. Mother feigns interest. The greeter drops their gifts and moves on to the next set of new neighbours four doors down.

Originating in Memphis in 1928, Welcome Wagon doled out its first gifts to Canadians in Vancouver two years later. Perhaps our greeter had been with the organization since its early days and brought along leftovers to recycle when she moved to Toronto, or was confused by tourism ads placed by the Ontario government.

Just watch out if they hand you tickets for a Canucks home game.

BEHIND THE SCENES

Over the years, there were vintage ad columns with similar themes. In some cases, especially in these short early pieces, I’m going to group them together as a single post. These examples also illustrate how, especially if time was tight, I used my imagination to write scenarios for what was going on in each ad, a habit I’m tempted to revive when I start rolling out fresh material on this site.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

One historical note: there were earlier attempts to launch “Sunday” papers in Toronto, even if they weren’t necessarily published that day. To circumvent Toronto’s blue laws, the Toronto Sunday World was distributed late Saturday night beginning in 1891. A well-packaged paper, it outlasted the demise of the World in 1921, being published by the Mail and Empire until it was sold to Star Weekly in 1924 (good luck finding copies of those final three years, as major institutions don’t hold it on microfilm). The Telegram briefly experimented with a Sunday edition in the 1950s, but it didn’t last a year.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Sheer Unisex

Originally published on Torontoist on June 19, 2007.

Vintage Ad #118 - Matching Pants

Source: Toronto Life, October 1969.

The late 1960s were a time of throwing off the shackles of traditional societal gender norms, including the rules surrounding who could wear lace pants. Unisex clothing popped up on runways mid-decade, reaching suburban malls by the time today’s ad appeared.

Opened in the winter of 1964, Yorkdale’s original anchors included Eaton’s (recently converted into the H&M/Old Navy wing), Simpson’s (now The Bay), Dominion (now Holt Renfrew) and Kresge’s (the five-and-dime progenitor of K-Mart). The mall was strategically located for accessibility to two major expressways, even if one (the Spadina, now Allen Road) was never fully built. Fairweather is still among the tenants, though its Big Steel Man division, which existed as its own chain in the 1970s and 1980s, vanished years ago.

Our models appear ready to toss off their pants quickly, but for different reasons—while she may be ready to discover free love, he looks shellshocked by the new style; too emotionally detached to enjoy any amour. Sheer nervousness, perhaps? A bad audition for a part in the Toronto production of Hair (mounted at the Royal Alex a few months later)?

As for those with less-than-svelte waistlines, they were sheer out-of-luck.

BEHIND THE SCENES

If memory serves, this was one of the first installments to gain traction around the interwebs, if only for the silliness of the image. I suspect the market for men’s see-through white lace pants was limited for any number reasons – personally, I’d feel like I was wearing a tablecloth.

Going through these early entries, I’m struck by how slight some of them are compared to what Vintage Ads evolved into (especially its second run, where the posts were effectively mini-Historicists). No wonder I could knock them out in a hurry at the time.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Even the Hippies…

Originally published on Torontoist on June 5, 2007.

Vintage Ad #248 - Even the Hippies Read Our Magazine

Source: Toronto Life, July 1967.

…need to know the latest bridge strategies.

Businesses rushed to latch onto hippies during the “Summer of Love” as their next target market, if only to convince squarer clientele of how their product swung with the times (and there was a lot of swinging going on within the pages of Toronto Life’s first half-decade).

The pair on the right appears to be part of a Velvet Underground-style band—he with Sterling Morrison/Andy Warhol pockmarked skin, she with Nico’s icy reserve.

The model on the left? Three possibilities:
1) A tourist from the suburbs, pulled away from her garden to make the other two look less remote and threatening.
2) A “lady who lunches” in training, hoping to eventually earn a passing reference on the monthly social calendar photo spread.
3) The only member of the trio who actually hung out in Yorkville.

As for Toronto’s hippies that summer? In August, a sit-in was held to push the city into making Yorkville Ave a pedestrian mall. Despite arrests and follow-up events (a Queen’s Park love-in and City Hall sleep-in), Yorkville was not closed to traffic. The idea of a pedestrian mall lived on, with the Yonge Street Mall experiment during the 1970s and comtemporary special event versions such as P.S. Kensington.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

ts 67-03-28 source of toronto life hippies ad small

Source: Toronto Star, March 28, 1967.

I don’t know if the ad’s models were ever part of any band, but several years after the original post was published, I stumbled upon a Star article about opening night for the 1967 edition of the annual Spring Thaw theatrical revue. And there were the three “hippies” from the Toronto Life ad, only here they were dubbed “mods.”

Following the show at the Royal Alexander, these young hippies/mods/swingers/fashionistas/whatever-you-want-to-call-them may have joined in the opening night party at Ed’s Warehouse restaurant. Among the attendees were Ontario Lieutenant-Governor Earl Rowe and Maple Leafs star Frank Mahovlich. Among those not present were former Ontario Premier George Drew (stayed at home due to a slipped disc; his wife went) and Mayor William Dennison (at the evening’s other major arts opening, the National Ballet’s production of Swan Lake at the O’Keefe Centre).

ts 67-03-28 source of toronto life hippies ad

Source:  Toronto Star, March 28, 1967. Click on image for larger version. 

Some of the proceeds from opening night benefitted Niagara Lodge, a summer camp for psychiatric patients operated in Niagara-on-the-Lake by the Metro Toronto branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association. Previously used as a hospital for First World War vets suffering from TB, the aging campsite required plumbing to replace obsolete outhouses and repairs to roofs and walls.

gm 1967-04-01 spring thaw adSource: Globe and Mail, April 1, 1967. Guessing the cartoon depicts Barbara Hamilton.

Besides poking fun at the Centennial Year, the 1967 edition of Spring Thaw, My Country What’s It To You, marked the revue’s 20th year. Written by Don Harron, the show had sold out 58 of its 60 performances across the country before reaching Toronto. It took a humourous look at Canadian history from the ice age onward.

The Globe and Mail‘s Herbert Whittaker enjoyed the show:

gm 1967-03-28 whittaker review of spring thaw
Source: Globe and Mail, March 28, 1967.

The Star‘s Nathan Cohen was less enthralled:

star 1967-03-29 cohen review of spring thaw Source: Toronto Star, March 29, 1967.

These reviews reflect each critic’s style: Whittaker highly supportive of Canadian work, Cohen wanting something better than the norm. My guess is that I’d probably be inclined to side with Cohen on this one, possibly because such patriotic humour isn’t my taste, probably because Harron’s humour regarding Canadiana feels antiquated these days (going by the endless copies of Charlie Farquharson books lining fundraising book sale tables and thrift shop shelves, and the one time I saw him perform at a Heritage Toronto Awards ceremony).

Vintage Toronto Ads: No Dead Temps at Yonge and Eglinton

Originally published on Torontoist on March 23, 2007.

2007_03_23coffin.jpg

Source: Toronto Life, May 1968.

Could employees turned into corpses or members of the undead in secret government experiments conducted via unethical temp agencies in the late 1960s be the source of Toronto’s love affair with all things zombie?

It’s not just the presence of a coffin that’s askew in today’s ad. Based on the phone our dignified businessman is holding, you decide if:

  • Toronto was a test market for early compact portable phones (down south, the FCC cleared the way for frequencies that would be used for early cell phones the year this ad appeared).
  • The ad agency hired an overzealous paste-up artist to crop the original photo.
  • The model used his kid’s toy receiver.

As an address, 90 Eglinton East still exists as an office building.