The advertisements were a combination of kitsch, cornball humor and hardsell - a beer with such a full taste that even the steins holding it would sing its praises - but between 1959 and 1965, two "spokesmugs" shilled for Utica Club beer in an award-winning commercial campaign. Viewers throughout the Northeast watched bowling and boxing shows, patiently waiting for a glimpse of the new Schultz and Dooley commercials.
It all began in 1959, with the West End Brewing Company (WEBCO) of Utica, New York. Production of their flagship product, a naturally-aged Pilsner named Utica Club, barely reached 400,000 barrels per year. "If you wanted to show our market share of all the beers produced in America," said Frank Owens, WEBCO's former vice-president of Advertising, "you would have to draw a chart that was as tall as the World Trade Center - and our market share might have been about six feet from the ground."
Meanwhile, in New York City, the Doyle Dane Bernbach advertising company pitched a new advertising campaign to various brewers - commercials featuring talking beer steins - but the idea went unsold. Then, in the autumn of 1959, Frank Owens and WEBCO visited the advertising agency. "They already had this idea of talking beer steins, and they were just presented in sketch form - they were not named at the time. But by the time we got there, the idea had been developed a little further."
The generic steins now had nicknames and personalities. One of the steins, "Schultz," was a Bavarian tankard with a nose, two eyes and a Prussian helmet. Another stein, "Dooley," was an earthenware lidded mug with a green shamrock painted on his front. "Schultz was quite Teutonic and reactionary, and he feels that 'beer iss not made de vay it used ta be,'" said Owens, "and Dooley was a mild, philosophical Irish type of mug, patterned after Barry Fitzgerald in Going My Way."
So in 1959, the Schultz and Dooley advertising campaign began. Actor Jonathan Winters provided the voices for both mugs, and the Bill Baird puppet troupe controlled the steins' movements on camera. Mitch Lee, before he wrote the Broadway classic Man of La Mancha, composed the background music and jingles for the commercials.
The ads were a mixture of cornball humor and veiled hardsell. In a classic 15-second ad, Schultz stares into a corner, repeating, "I must not tell the customer what beer to drink, 998 - I must not tell the customer what beer to drink, 999 - But I will anyway. Utica Club, ha ha ha!"
In another ad, Schultz and Dooley travel to the moon, where they encounter a glass spaceman stein. They offer him Utica Club for the first time, which the moon-man stein enjoys as "moonglow." A human hand reaches into the commercial and cuts a slice from a cheddar mountain, causing Dooley to remark, "Look Schultz. The moon really is made of cheese."
And the campaign was a success. Within two years, WEBCO's production of Utica Club beer increased by 50%. Ratings for syndicated programs rose - because viewers wanted to see the commercials with the talking mugs. A set of promotional steins that quickly sold for $9.95 in 1959 now commands $1,000 amongst breweriana collectors.
"Jonathan Winters was the voice of all of the male characters," said Owens. "When a commercial was written, it was always written loosely, and that allowed Jonathan Winters to do his marvelous magic and ad-libbing. Each year we had a contract with Jonathan Winters, and every three months we would make three 60-second commercials and three 20-second commercials, for both radio and television. By the time I came back from New York after a recording session, I had laughed all day long. In order to get himself warmed up and get himself so that he could really animate these voices, he'd sit in the recording booth and do off-the-wall things."
For beer drinkers, their brand was their badge of honor, and to make fun of their brew was akin to questioning their manhood. But in the late 1950's, WEBCO was among many breweries who produced "humorous" beer commercials. If there were a commercial tandem that rivaled Schultz and Dooley for beer supremacy, it was Piels' tandem of Bert and Harry. But unlike Schultz and Dooley, who could tell a joke or slip in a zinger in their commercials - yet still remain serious about Utica Club - Bert and Harry joked about Piels in almost every commercial. And although both brands showed increased sales into the 1960's, the repeat business stayed with Utica Club. "Bert and Harry Piel were very well-liked and they were beautifully done commercials, but they were not a success for Piels in terms of selling more beer, which is really what it's all about. But Schultz, in particular, felt very strongly about beer. They never poked fun at beer - certainly not at Utica Club, they felt very passionately about it. Bert and Harry were a little too clever about it, and they were not serious about beer. I think that was a principal difference between the two campaigns."
Meanwhile, the Schultz and Dooley commercials were shown at film festivals around the world. Two commercials took first and second place in the 1960 Venice International Film Festival, while others received accolades from the Cannes Film Festival and the Art Directors' Club. Another ad, in which a kitty cat nuzzles a ticklish Schultz, won a Clio award for Best Television Commercial. "The prop men put a Schultz doll in with the kitty cat for a couple of days. And they put some catnip or something on Schultz so that the kitty cat would lick it off. And that's a perfect example of a commercial that never would have been as great had Jonathan Winters not been given free license to do his little piece of magic, where he starts giggling and laughing uncontrollably. That commercial took a long time to make."
By 1962, WEBCO switched advertising agencies, this time hooking up with the company of Benton and Bowles. Schultz and Dooley remained as part of the ad campaign, but they now had four more supporting characters, each tailored to the new Utica Club slogan, "We still let nature make the beer, because that's the way you like it." The new steins included Farmer Mugee, an overall-covered stein and straw hat (for the natural grain), U-Cee, a short Chinese mug (for the little bit of rice in Utica Club), Old Man Stein, a tall bearded tankard (for the beer's slow aging process), and Bubbles LaBrew (and her - ahem - "natural" bubbles).
The commercials' success allowed WEBCO to produce 600,000 barrels of Utica Club per year, its most prolific output to date. Schultz and Dooley appeared on sports shows, news shows, even as part of a bowling program (the Utica Club Bowling Club). The characters were so recognizable, so lovable, that one 20-second commercial just showed Schultz - then Dooley - then two other characters, the Countess and Officer Sudds - with dead silence. Then Dooley says, just before time runs out - "We just wanted to say hello. Bye now." Then the commercial ends. "It was such a warm thing," said Owens. "People felt very good about it, and it goes back to the idea that beer drinkers want to like their beer, and they want to like the people who make it. They want that nice friendly relationship."
But in 1965, the commercials really did end for Schultz and Dooley.
"We did a lot of research for a small company," said Owens, "and we discovered that although Schultz and Dooley were still popular, it became increasingly difficult to get the message across. They became 'video vampires.' They were so well-known and so expected that people didn't pay attention to their message. So we retired them."
Their six-year run as Utica Club spokesmugs was over. WEBCO's new commercial campaign took place in a mod 1960's dance club, complete with psychedelic lighting and rock 'n' roll. But the ads turned off more customers than they attracted. "That was a very avant-garde commercial series," said Owens. "It was cutting edge for beer, I'll tell you. That was very upsetting to our older consumer. It was much too frenetic. Much too hip, and we got a lot of letters about that."
By 1969, Schultz and Dooley returned for two final commercials, their only color episodes. Because Jonathan Winters was unable to voice the characters, two unknown actors whose voices sounded almost like Winters were pressed into service. But just like the voices weren't the same - neither was the feel of the commercial. The ads ran for 13 weeks, then Schultz and Dooley retired again.
At that time, Utica Club sales began to slip even further, finally drifting into that abyss of long-forgotten regional brands like Simon Pure and Schaefer and Rheingold and Hedrick's and Narragansett. By 1987, Utica Club wasn't even the main brand in its own brewery, as WEBCO (now the F.X. Matt Brewery) found success with the Saranac family of beers. Today, Utica Club accounts for approximately 1% of the Matt Brewery's total output.
But Schultz and Dooley have survived as prized collectibles. Since 1980, they and their co-stars are sold in the Matt Brewery giftshop as everything from steins to salt shakers. For those who missed the commercials the first time around, two videotape collections of classic Utica Club commercials sold briskly. "It didn't take long for people to associate the commercial and Schultz & Dooley with the brewery," said Dale Kupfer, a Utica Club breweriana collector. "It's worth quite a bit. I put 16 years into collecting them so far. And I've got a lot of stuff I can't even put up."
And as tourists and beer lovers take the Matt Brewery tour, they see the two steins that made Utica Club a household name, as Schultz and Dooley sit silently alongside paintings of the brewery-founding Matt family.
Sometimes, if you listen very carefully during the tour, you can catch them whispering to each other.
"Schultz... when the tour ends for the day... Let's ride the bottle-filling machines again."
"Okay, Dooley... but I get to ride the conveyor belt first!"
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