It's just this little chromium switch, here... (derspatchel) wrote,
It's just this little chromium switch, here...

the great cranberry scare of 1959

One of the novelty pieces I was able to enjoy from the Dr. Demento show download site was Stan Freberg's scathing 1960 rock & roll industry satire, The Old Payola Roll Blues. In it, a rock & roll producer literally yanks some talentless schmoe off the street and tries to make a rock star out of him. "High School Ooh-Ooh by Clyde Ankle" is then pitched by the sleazy producer, payola-style, to an uninterested disk jockey in a jazz radio station. Eventually good taste wins out, the DJ refuses to take the bribes, the producer gets the heave-ho, and then there's a big swing number trashing the talentless rock & roll clones of the day by blowing them up. Decent stuff, with the usual good ol' Freberg dialogue:
PRODUCER: Now you're gonna go three nights a week for finger-snapping lessons.
CLYDE ANKLE: Ooh, I've wanted to do that as long as I've been in show business!
PRODUCER: Wait a second. How long you been in show biz?
CLYDE ANKLE: About a minute and a half.
One line, however, got me wondering. As the producer tries to bribe the DJ into playing the album, he drops a few offers: "Whadya need? Free dental work? A trip to Las Vegas? Pre-1959 cranberries?" Yeah, I get the first two, but what's up with the third? Flew right over my head.

That kind of thing is common, though. Every now and then, when listening to old stuff, you come across a then-current cultural reference that just falls down, egg-like, and lays there in good old 2005. You get it a lot on the Jack Benny Show, for instance: someone will drop something like "Just ask Millie Hornsworth!" as a punchline, and the audience goes nuts. Meanwhile modern-day Spatch is listening and scratching his head going "Millie wha-hey?" A little research reveals (if you're lucky) that Millie Hornsworth was some farmer from Oklahoma who appeared on the Arthur Godfrey show a week before the Jack Benny episode. She must've done something hilarious to be in the public's mind for a week or two. (Today's equivalent, see, would be a joke involving an American Idol contestant. 50 years from now, do you think anybody is really going to remember William Hung?)

But pre-1959 cranberries? What means that? Thankfully Google and "cranberry" and "1959" provided the result, found on this webpage:
9. What was the cranberry scare of 1959?

On November 9, 1959, Arthur S. Flemming, Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare announced that some cranberries grown in Oregon and Washington State had been found to have been contaminated with aminotriazole, a weed killer that had been found to cause cancer in rats. When questioned, he said that if a housewife is unable to determine the origin of fresh or canned cranberries, "to be on the safe side, she doesn't buy." Cranberries were pulled from grocery shelves and sales dropped precipitously. Coming shortly before Thanksgiving, this caused a crisis in the industry. After testing it was found that very few shipments of cranberries were contaminated. It was also doubtful that aminotriazole, in the amounts likely to be ingested by a human being eating cranberries, presented a real health risk. Both Flemming and Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson made a point of announcing that they would have cranberries with their Thanksgiving dinners. By Christmas, large quantities of cranberries were available bearing labels saying that they had either been tested by the Food and Drug Administration or otherwise certified safe. However, the "cranberry scare of 1959" caused damage that it took the cranberry industry many years to recover from. (Source: Contemporary articles in the New York Times.)
Well, there you go. A little lesson on a historical event I bet you didn't even know had happened, courtesy Stan Freberg. The joke about black-market cranberries is still rather funny even without the historical context, but better understood with one. What I think is even funnier, though, is the fact that we still had politicians with names like Ezra Taft Benson in office as recently as 1959.

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