I was thinking about Buster Keaton, as I often do, and I came across this ad of the great stone face shilling for Country Club Malt Liquor:
Now, even people who know very little about Buster Keaton are likely to know that he had a problem with alcohol. I never think problems with alcohol need much “explaining,” but it seems especially understandable in Keaton’s case. The poor guy ruined himself doing stunts. He fractured his neck while filming Sherlock Junior, and only found out about it years later. I imagine he must have been in serious physical pain most of the time, and needed all the anesthesia he could get. Who’d deny him a few malt liquors?
And of course (op cit on this blog) Errol Flynn appeared in ads for “ready to serve” Heublein cocktails. (Hey, you know I love you Errol, but are you really sure about that hat?).
One problem you might imagine with serious drunks is that they’re not usually great advertisements for alcohol. For that matter, beyond a certain stage they don’t much care what they drink.
Certainly the young Dylan Thomas was quite a good-looking young man. The older version less so, and since he died when he was just 39, worse was surely ahead.
Even so, this hasn’t stopped his face appearing on the bottles of Penderyn whisky, though his face actually looks better on the box than on the glass.
And shrewd Dylan Thomas watchers will be aware that the image on the box is actually cropped from a larger photograph which shows him with his wife Caitlin, who I’m sure would be disappointed not to have made it onto the packaging.
Now that I think about it of course I remember that Hunter S. Thompson was invoked by Flying Dog in a series of “tribute beers” though admittedly the Ralph Steadman beer labels may have be a great part of the attraction. Speaking as someone who was once in the same room as drunk and raging Thompson (a semi-public event and the room was large enough but it soon seemed far too small to contain the drunken rage of Mr. T) I’m not sure I’d necessarily want whatever he’s having.
One famous drunk writer it’s hard to imagine as a poster boy for any alcoholic beverage is Malcolm Lowry, (a one-time temporary Angelino – lived in the Hotel Normandie for a while, drank in the Brown Derby), author of Under the Volcano.
According to Martin Amis reviewing Pursued by Furies: A Life of Malcolm Lowry by Gordon Bowker, “To make a real success of being an alcoholic, to go all the way with it, you need to be other things too: shifty, unfastidious, solipsistic, insecure and indefatigable. Lowry was additionally equipped with an extra-small penis, which really seemed to help.”
|If your autobiographical self is going to be portrayed on screen as a desperate drunk, it might as well be by Albert Finney.|
So Lowry was not exactly an advertiser’s dream, although I suspect he could have written some lively advertising copy: this from Under the Volcano “Far above him a few white clouds were racing windily after a pale gibbous moon. Drink all morning, they said to him, drink all day. This is life!” Don Draper would probably have cut that “gibbous.”