Saturday, December 29, 2012

I Want My Maypo!

It is a snowy day here in Maryland, our first real snowfall of the season (although it did not last very long).  A good time to enjoy a piping hot cup of coffee and a bowl of warm oatmeal with a few dried cranberries tossed in for a splash of color.  While doing so I thought back to my youth (and we are going back quite a ways here) .  Some of you will have no idea what I am talking about, but I think there will be a few of you for whom this traipse down memory lane will be a pleasant read.

It was late autumn of 1956 and I was living on my grandparent’s southwestern Michigan farm and attending the local one-room Acorn School, in Almena (which I have written about previously).  My regular breakfast in those days was hot oatmeal much like what I enjoyed this morning although I tended to eat it plain without any additional healthy blandishments.  Another one of my regular activities in those days was watching Saturday morning cartoons on the old black and white television in the parlor (on those days I often enjoyed my oatmeal in front of the TV).  And this is where the story begins.

One of the popular and frequent commercials back then was for Maypo, a maple flavored oatmeal cereal originally developed in 1953 by the Maltex Corporation, in Burlington, Vermont, shortly before the company was sold to Heublein, Inc. of Farmington, Connecticut.   By today’s standards of animation, it was a pretty cheezy 60-second spot.  It features a tyke with tousled hair and big ears decked out in a cowboy outfit (boots, six-shooters, gloves, neck bandana, and a floppy hat as big as he was pulled down over his eyes) being beckoned to the breakfast table - “Come and get it!” - the same way my grandmother got me to settle down at the big dining room table on the farm.  The boy scrambles to the table and climbs up on his stool.  In a baby-like voice he asks “Do you have a surprise for me?” to which a now visible man (presumably the boy’s father) is stirring a bowl situated next to a box of Maypo.  He announces this new cereal and tries to get the boy to take a spoonful while asking him to remove his hat.  He refuses to do both and the man snatches away the hat to which the boy crosses his arms and demands, “I want my cowboy hat.”  He is promised it after breakfast but he wants it now!  The man asks the boy if he likes maple-flavored  candy, which gets his attention until he stares into the bowl to find only oatmeal.  The man then tries the old “airplane flying into the hangar” ploy only to have the hangar door shut just before the plane, aka the spoonful of Maypo, arrives.  The lightbulb comes on and the man puts on the boy’s hat and tell him cowboys like Maypo as he places the spoon in his mouth.  His eyes light up after which the boy finally takes a taste from his bowl and realizes he likes it after all.  By this time the man is devouring the cereal to which the boy, soon to be dubbed “Marky Maypo,” announces “I want my Maypo.”  A new cultural icon is born.

Marky went on to star in another commercial, this time a dyed-in-the-wool Maypo convert who tries to get his Uncle Ralph, sleeping on a sofa, to try the cereal by mixing it in his homburg.  This commercial also ends with the now familiar cry, “I want my Maypo!

 After watching that original commercial numerous times on Saturday mornings, I decided I wanted my Maypo, too.  Enough of that bland, flavorless gruel I had always enjoyed before.  Maple flavored oatmeal seemed just the thing.  I wanted my Maypo!  I prevailed on my grandmother and so the next time she visited the Spartan market in Paw Paw she picked up a box and thereafter, when she called out for me to “come and get it,” I was treated to a bowl of hot Maypo.  Still no fruit, but the maple flavor was a nice touch.  No plane into the hangar was necessary.  Maybe cowboys do like it.  It really didn’t matter to me.  I liked it.

So I was thinking about this earlier today and I was curious whether Maypo was a thing of the past or not.  I quickly discovered that Hueblein, Inc., which manufactured Maypo at a cereal mill in Highspire, Pennsylvania, was acquired by the Uhlmann Company, of Kansas City, in the mid-1960s, and following additional acquisitions, the Maypo brand name today belongs to Homestat Farms, Ltd., in Dublin, Ohio, and production continues at the Highspire mill.  And little Marky is still around, too, still wanting his Maypo.

I also learned that John Hubley (1914-1977), the originator of the Marky Maypo character who also designed the commercials, was a former Walt Disney animator who worked on such Disney staples as Fantasia, Dumbo, Pinocchio, and Bambi, before leaving the company in 1941.  He later joined other former Disney artists to form United Productions of America, in Los Angles, which played a major role in the evolution of animated productions with characters such as Mr. McGoo.  He continued at UPA until he as fired in the early 1950s when Walt Disney denounced him and others as communists to Joe McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee.  Hubley continued as a freelance artist and animator until he was approached by the Heublein company to develop an animated commercial for its recently acquired Maypo brand, which was not selling well.
What he produced was a commercial with minimalist animation and a voice over created by recording his own four year old son Mark.  From the outset neither Heublein nor Hubley realized what a hit Marky Maypo would become, or how well Maypo would sell as a result.  This relationship eventually deteriorated over the company’s desire to cash in on the popularity of Marky through a number of commercial merchandising ventures (banks, dolls, etc.) while Hubley tried to retain his artistic integrity.  They eventually parted ways and there were no more Hubley-inspired commercials.  By that time I had moved on to other things and I no longer wanted my Maypo.

In fact, I haven’t thought about the cereal for years; I didn’t even know whether it was still on the market.  But this morning, as I sat down to my breakfast oatmeal, I fondly recalled those simpler times when I was a kid.  For me, Maypo is not just a maple-flavored cereal I use to eat when I was younger.  It is a benchmark for the good old days when kids did not have to worry about being murdered in their classroom, or all the other things that are forcing them to grow up much too fast.  Childhood was and should be a time of innocence and free from the fears that now continually encroach on all of our lives.  At least this is what I was thinking when I was eating my breakfast this morning.  OK . . . I’ll admit it.  I want my Maypo!  I think we all want our Maypo.

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