February 13, 2013 by Ephemera Society
By Diane DeBlois
Breakfast cereal and giveaways for children were a mainstay of popular culture for much of the 20th century. In 1936, the Pillsbury Flour Mills Company of Minneapolis, in cooperation with Columbia Pictures Corporation, issued “Scrappy’s Animated Puppet Theatre.” If kids could persuade Mom to buy two small size boxes of Pillsbury’s Farina (a “creamy white hearts of wheat breakfast cereal”) at the local grocery store, then they could take home one of the theater kits from a store display box. The kit was on four sheets of cardboard, with the character puppets, theater segments, coins and tickets all partially diecut so they could easily be punched out.
Scrappy was a cartoon character originally created in 1931 by Dick Huemer for Charles Mintz’ Krazy Kat Studio. Since 1933 Scrappy and his cohort had been drawn by Sid Marcus and Art Davis. Scrappy, a…well, scrappy…little boy with an attitude cavorted with Margy, a younger sidekick Oopy, a dog called Yippy, and a politically incorrect yellow, bucktoothed Chinaman. The characters appeared in 81 films, ending with “The Little Theatre” in 1941.
To be sure that the puppet theatre was widely publicized, Columbia issued a complicated press kit to its distributors, that included a lobby poster promising that moviegoers could win the Scrappy puppet theatre without consumption of Farina. “See Scrappy Your Favorite Movie Star Here… You may win one of the 25 Scrappy Puppet Theatres to be given away Free.”
Pillsbury also ran advertisements in the print media to promote the giveaway campaign, that featured a cartoon family. Sister: “Look…you just punch the pieces out of this.” Brother: “Goody … we don’t have to do any cutting and pasting.” Sister: “Lookit, Johnny, there are six of these little puppets. And they move!” Brother: “And tickets, and money. And here’s a show we can put on right away!” The show was called “Are We Happy!” and comprised inane dialogue about Scrappy saving Oopy’s life by eating his cookies. The movement promised was due to squeezing accordioned portions of the puppet bodies. Though “The Big Battle Between Scrappy and the Chinaman” was promised, kids would have to imagine that drama.
Pillsbury emphasized the healthy benefits of their product “Ask your doctor about Pillsbury’s Farina!” but with this campaign the company was helping Columbia create keen movie consumers.
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