Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Flash Gordon and Rocket Fresh Rainier

Rainier Beer celebrated its hundred-year anniversary in 1976... well, sort of "a hundred"; there was some discontinuity ignored, some no-beer years due to Prohibition and such.

My boss coined the word “Beercentennial” to mark the occasion verbally--America’s Bicentennial was still, er, Fresh in the minds of folks--and we dreamed up television ads that touched on the past, present, and (possible) future of the popular beer. (I was writer/producer for the firm that provided all creative work for the brewery.)

Rainier had a reputation for presenting strange and surprising, tongue-in-cheek and amusing, commercials back then--still a rarity back in those stolid Seventies. But the requisite seriousness of such a major benchmark for Rainier actually constrained our much-vaunted creativity. Blowing the frothy heads off a tray of poured beers was about as wild as we got... except for the "future" spot, which evolved gradually from a single sci-fi parody to a 30-second extravaganza that borrowed
from the “hot” films 2001 and Star Wars, joined by the outmoded glory of newspaper-strip and movie-serial hero Flash Gordon.

Our commercial ended up inside the bizarre Star Wars bar, where the camera discovers a big reunion in progress for the Flash Gordon characters—Dr. Zarkov, the lovely Dale, Ming the Merciless, and so on, plus (renamed for ad purposes) “Fresh” himself. But this reunion is occurring many years later, with the characters showing their post-retirement age.

Most of the parts were taken by local actors, but we actually hired the original movie Flash, Buster Crabbe (famous as a handsome, virile Tarzan too), still showing serious star power at age 72 (as I recall). Crabbe was serendipitously the main guest that year at a nicely timed Seattle science fiction convention, and we were happy to use his accessibility to our advantage.

In those days we also created several beer posters each year, usually related to the TV spots that were appearing. But the brewery balked at a "Fresh Gordon" poster; we couldn’t convince them of the sudden craze for science fiction that was sweeping the country. But I was so certain of its viability that I got permission from Rainier to print and market the poster myself.

So a comics shop owner and I did just that, printed 2000 or so, and over the next year-and-some sold all of them, to sci-fi fanatics and Rainier collectors and specialty poster shops. Now, skip ahead 35 years. Searching through stuff recently, before wife Sandra and I left on vacation, I found the copy of “our” poster that I’d kept as a sample/souvenir.

I decided to write a blog post around it, and that’s what you’ve been reading. (Used to caption the poster, that tiny print you can’t make out in the lower right-hand corner was meant to sound like pulp magazine copy.)

Retro rockets firing, Fresh Gordon jockeyed his MFR-80 spaceship down onto the arid, dusty surface of planet Bungo.

Then, aided by his thirsty companions of so many years, Fresh broke through the belligerent throng of alien vizki and d’jin, forging a path straight to the barren
world’s lone outpost of galactic civilization, the B’aarli Maltina. There the beerless company at last espied the liquid treasure for which they had quested so long--Mountain Fresh Rainier.

Even Bing the Brewless was overcome. “The Beer That Conquered the Galaxy” soon quenched five more parched throats.

Classy, huh? Oh yeah, I really thought I was hot stuff back in the day…

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