While stalking my vintage celebrity prey through several old digitized issues of 1936 Photoplay, combing columns for mention of Joan and Franchot Tone, I noticed a recurring figure in the back page advertisements of the magazine. Again and again, a chainsmoking penguin appeared, in an eye pleasing combination of electric aqua and grey-scale, hawking cigarettes for the benefit of your health. While I no way am trying to convince you to quit or to pick up smoking, and am as neutral as Switzerland on the subject, I ask you to withhold your 21st century wagging finger for a moment to enjoy the madcap adventures of the self same penguin.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet Willie the Penguin.
Introduced by Kool's Cigarettes in 1932, Willie was the brand mascot for that company up until the early 1960's, when he was replaced by "Kool" outdoor scenes like snow mountain tops (where's the fun in that?). His child's toy appearance, coupled with the cigarette butt sticking out of the corner of his mouth and his anthropomorphic predilection towards human recreation, endeared him to the hearts of magazine and billboard readers across the United States and the world. Above, he's a Stage Door Johnny in his top hat and natural-born tails. Willie's full of style! Also notable from the excised advertising copy that accompanied the illustration on the original page, the advertisers exhort the reader to "Have the time of your smoking life!" which is somehow hilarious to me.
More about Willie and cork-tipped mentholated cigarettes of days gone by:
Why a penguin, who regularly sleds belly-first in his native environment, would require a sled to go sledding is beyond me, excepting that fact that without the sled, we wouldn't have the immortal ad line "Smooth sleddin' for your throat". To the right, he smokes even while playing hockey. He's eschewed the use of the traditional faceplate, protesting that he can't properly light up behind it. Do not judge him!
It's cigarette Chriiiistmas... Willie! Take that cigarette out of that poor snowman's mouth! He doesn't even have lungs?! What are you doing? I think proselytizing other non-human creatures to the gospel of Kools is the only way Willie can connect with the outside world. And at left, what better way to trim the tree than with a carton of your best smokes (back when they were like 10 cents a pack, natch)?
Willie takes up a side job from his Kools endorsement deal-- peddling "Smoking Days" newspapers. He believes in his message of menthol THAT much. "Extra what? Extra good for your throat!" is the byline. And even in the shower, the smoking continues: "Ever tried Kools? It's a good time to-- and a good time, too!"
Isn't it funny, from today's perspective, how even a little kid's toy penguin can look vaguely sinister or at least brash with a cigarette sticking out of his mouth? The pictures remind me of a thirties' or fifties' John Goodman character (depending on if you're thinking more Barton Fink or more Matinee, respectively), stogie stuck firmly in side-of-mouth. Sidenote: There's a real movie poster for the fictional movie-within-a-movie, Mant?! That is killer.
I love that his flippers are strong enough to hoist a mallet, and that he wears a belted one piece swimming suit when on the beach. The flippers are attached.
Look at his tiny dog companion! "Many people in North America do not realize that the dachshund is the consummate small hunting dog of Europe", reads this website, and I'm one of them. I thought maybe they just chose that dog because he was cute, but apparently, dachshunds are vicious attack dogs when properly trained. You learn something every day! For example, never trust a penguin not to eat poultry (see above right). Cannibalism! Cannibalism!
Last but not least, Willie indulges in yet another favorite pasttime, photography. Why is that tiny penguin also smoking?! I hope she's a small woman penguin, and not a child smoker. Stunts yer growth, kiddo!
Anyway, hope you got a giggle out of the world's best and only professional smoking penguin. Willie was also popular as an advertising collectible-- he and his mate, Millie, appear in several ads in the 40's and 50's (the ones above are presumably from his single days) and as a pair of ubiquitous to flea-market salt shakers!
Matthew bought me the pair above off etsy. There are more, but these are mine!!
Read more about Willie's history here!