Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Casey's beer ad cost him $500

In the early days of Casey Stengel's tenure as manager of the 1962 N.Y. Mets he found himself in the midst of a kerfuffle over an ad campaign.

Rheingold beer was the principal TV sponsor of Mets broadcasts in their debut year. The brewery reportedly paid $1.2 million in cash for the sponsorship, plus agreeing to purchase $200,000 worth of tickets for promotional giveaways.

As the season opened, full-page newspaper and magazine ads began to appear, along with color posters on subway trains and stations and point-of-purchase displays at taverns and liquor stores showing Stengel with 1962's Miss Rheingold, Kathy Kersh. 

The problem was Stengel was shown in his Mets uniform. According to rules in effect at the time, uniformed personnel were prohibited from appearing in team livery in beer and cigarette advertising. The ads were the product of the Mad Men at the J. Walter Thompson agency.

Stengel, certainly knowing of the advertising prohibition, said "They'd (the Rheingold people) been so nice to us that I didn't have the heart to turn them down when they asked me."

Since Rheingold's advertising policy would have obsoleted the campaign after a month, the whole thing might have blown over except that somebody squawked to baseball commissioner Ford Frick's office so vehemently that he was forced to take action. Speculation on the identity of the troublemaker centered on the Yankees and/or their TV beer sponsor, Ballentine's.

His hand forced, Frick slapped Stengel with a $500 fine. Dan Daniel, long-time New York baseball writer, opined that neither Stengel nor the Mets actually paid the plaster. He hinted that the fine was paid -- and happily -- by Rheingold, who considered the $500 a publicity bargain.

On its editorial page of the May 9 issue, The Sporting News sniffed, "This represents a hypocritical attitude by baseball. The game is most willing to take millions of dollars from breweries, but refuses t let anybody in the game exploit the product."

If you weren't drinking beer in New York in the early 1960s, you might not realize how big a deal the Rheingold Girl was. Daniel said that a field of nearly 400 young women was annually proffered from which the Rheingold Girl was chosen by the casting of millions of votes at taverns throughout the metropolis. The winner usually went on to significant, if short-lived, fame as a model and/or actress.

Kathy Kersh was among the most successful of the Miss Rheingold girls of her era. She appeared frequently on television. She was Jethro Bodine's recurring girlfriend on The Beverly Hillbillies in its third season, and the Joker's girlfriend on two episodes of Batman.
She also appeared on Ben Casey, My Favorite Martian, Burke's Law, etc. 

Her most memorable role was that as a THRUSH spy girl who, along with Sharon Tate, beat up The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn).

Her television roles also garnered a pair of husbands. She was married to Vince Edwards, "Dr. Ben Casey," and Burt Ward, "Robin".

Stengel's appearance in one of the Rheingold ads was panned for his poor form as a bunter. For her part, Kersh was "catching" in high heels.

In a recent Hunt auction, a 13" x 20" easel-back counter display of that ad sold for $425.

Stengel continued to appear with the contemporary Miss Rheingolds on ad pieces in subsequent years, but was shown in civvies. Here he is with Loretta Russell in a 1963 ad.

Stengel continued to appear with the contemporary
Miss Rheingolds on ad pieces in subsequent
years, but was shown in civvies. Here he
is with Loretta Russell in a 1963 ad.

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