Monday, July 11, 2016

It tickles and alarms me to see old ads like this. Here, three very famous people in 1951 advertise what is considered a very fashionable kind of whiskey.

But I'd never heard of this distillery at all!!

It's amusing, because the ad is so silly and so patently obvious. There's nothing subtle here at all, the assumption that consumers would drink this liquor solely because these three stars do so is both patronizing and inane.

I had to look up Schenley.

Schenley was one of the largest liquor companies in America in the 1950s. Its headquarters were in the Empire State Building and its distillery was in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. It made primarily bourbon whiskey -- Schenley, Old Quaker, Golden Wedding, I.W. Harper, MacNaughton, Old Overholt, Melrose, Old Poindexter, Green River, Old Barry, Belle of Franklin, Finch, Ancient Age, Geo. T. Stagg, Cream of Kentucky, Old Stagg, J.W. Dant, Tennessee Walking Horse, O.F.C. Canadian, Black Friar's, Monticello, Greenbrier, Gibson, Jas. E. Pepper, Sam Thompson, Silver Wedding, Wilken Family, Cascade, and other brands. It's cheapest whiskey brand was Schenley Black Label, distilled in Canada. Schenley Black Label was the only liquor available at the Battle of Midway in World War II, where it was known as "Schenley's Black Death" due to its foul taste.

Schenley also owned Blatz beer, Cresta Blanca Wine, DuBouchett liqueurs, Cook's champagne, Roma Wines, and Dubonnet wine.

Schenley was also a big importer, and had the license to import Bacardi, Dewar's scotch, Kahlua, Cutty Sark, and Guinness beer.

Along with Seagram's, Hiram Walker, and Old Grand-Dad, Schenley was one of the "Big Four" liquor companies in the United States in the 1950s.

Schenley sold Blatz to Pabst in 1958.

Israeli-American financier Meshulam Riklis acquired Schenley in 1968. Riklis had only begun his career in 1950, but by the mid 1960s he'd used leveraged buyouts to make himself a billionaire. He'd purchased (and destroyed) some of the great names in American industry: Gruen Watch Company, Elizabeth Arden cosmetics, Aunt Nellie's Farm Kitchens, Beatrice Foods, Culligan International, Fabergé Cosmetics, Newberry Stores, Lerner Shops, Lawry's Meats, Playtex, the Riviera Hotel (Las Vegas), Carnival Cruise Lines, and RKO-Stanley Warner Theatres. He secretly sold off the assets, while retaining the names for his holding company E-II Holdings.

When at last his schemes were discovered, he left investors with $3 billion in debt and no assets. His entire personal fortune was carefully isolated from these financial shenanigans, and he walked away laughing.

Riklis sold Schenley to Guinness in 1987. In 1997, Guinness merged with Grand Metropolitan to create Diageo.

Only two or three of Schenley's brands exist today.

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