The Drunkest Generation: 10 Reasons Your Grandpa Could Drink You Under the Table
Think you drank a lot last night? In the olden days, you'd have a shot of whiskey at lunch, finish out your day at the office, come home and have a martini or two, then drive to a cocktail party, down a couple of highballs with a bourbon chaser, and get behind the wheel to race erratically home to your eager, negligee-clad wife. The Establishment Man was a jovial, booze-powered social animal, and pop culture was ready and willing to encourage his alcoholism at every turn.
Novelty Drinking-Themed Toys
Various versions of the battery-operated animated novelty Bartender toy were marketed in decades past, including one strangely endorsed by kiddie cowboy matinee favorite Roy Rogers. This guy set a great example for the little ones, as he cheerily shook up a cocktail, poured it and sent it "down the hatch" like an 80-proof Teddy Ruxpin.
His face would glow red and (in some models) smoke would puff out of his ears, then the mechanism would reset and he would be ready for another round. The aftermath wasn't neglected either; this closely-related aspect of the wastrel's hobby was covered by the Man In a Barrel liquor dispenser. Press his button and he looks both ways, grabs his "tap," bends over and urinates booze into your cup.
Endless entertainment for drunk children.
Eye-Catching Bar Signage
You know those vintage signs that college students ironically hang on their walls for their surreally earnest endorsement of booze? Well, those signs actually hail from a land before irony called post-Prohibition-era America, where straight-faced enthusiasm for getting blind drunk was matched only by an unwavering belief that tin signs shouldn't pull any punches. Sometimes subtle and sophisticated ("BEER Cooled Correctly"), sometimes not ("BEER," forcefully proffered by the illegitimate son of Plasticman).
Sometimes they were downright bizarre, as in the above "DON'T DRINK WATER - DRINK BEER" ad which appears to be aimed at cows and/or turtles, possibly the only "untapped" alcohol market at the time. Even the then-closeted homosexual community was catered to, using code words ("The GAYEST SPOT in Town") and disguised mainstream imagery. Note the concealed manly bustline, Adam's apple and discreetly bulging shorts of the "QUEEN" -- only his/her hairdresser knows for sure! These beautiful designs made sure everyone drank until they landed in the shiny, pretty gutter.
Jim Beam's Celebrity Buddies
These days, the closest major celebrities get to appearing in endorsing booze is lending their voice to beer ads (ladies, in case you were wondering why you get sexually aroused during Budweiser ads, that's George Clooney talking). But back in the day, Hollywood was Cirrhosis Central, and major entertainment industry players were happy to endorse hard liquor in mainstream magazine ad campaigns.
Here, Elliott Gould looks relaxed, if a little bit tipsy, sipping a snifter of Jim Beam Kentucky Bourbon. And, Dennis Hopper looks suitably hip and up-and-coming next to venerable hard-drinking director John Huston. Honestly, who wouldn't have wanted to be all three of these guys in 1977? Of course, today, Huston is dead, Gould's been reduced to befuddled sitcom dadhood, and Hopper is completely batshit fucking crazy. Thanks for the good times, Jim.
Jackie Gleason's Date'n'Drink Record Albums
In the 1950s and 1960s, the rotund TV comedian and star of The Honeymooners lent his name to a series of "romantic evening" record albums with suggestive covers and names like Music for Lovers Only, A Lover's Portfolio, and Music, Martinis and Memories. Each included seductive jazz music and came complete with a booklet of cocktail and martini recipes, presumably endorsed and thoroughly tested by Mr. Gleason, himself, for all your drunk chick-banging needs.
Of course, vinyl "long-play" records only ran about 20 minutes per side, so foreplay was normally considered optional. This explains why the post-coital cigarettes are already lit and ready to go on the album cover shown, here.
Dean Martin's Entire Career
The "Rat Pack" was the epitome of cool in the 1950s, and the hippest card in the deck was the laid-back, velvet-voiced, bourbon-infused Dean Martin. He enjoyed decades of stardom thanks in large part to his perpetually soused public image, starring in several memorable movies (often as a drunk) and achieving legendary status as Elvis Presley's favorite singer while driving around with vanity license plates reading "DRUNKY."
This must have gone over big with the highway patrol.
His loosely structured, largely ad-libbed variety show in the 1970s made it socially acceptable to drink on the job. It also made it downright cool to slur and giggle through your duties with minimal preparation and maximal intoxication. Sure, pop musicians today make the occasional mention of sipping Cristal in the club, but they don't base their entire career around it. Dean Martin helped millions of Americans feel a little more comfortable about drinking on the job and not giving a shit. Thnaks a bnUch, Dean!11!!
If it's not champagne, and it's not ale, what is it? Malt liquor! Athletic boozers were encouraged to reach for the next rung of the social ladder by picking up a tennis racquet and popping open a bottle of the aristocracy's preferred malt liquor, advertised as "the sparkling alcoholic beverage that looks and tastes like champagne." Of course, the high-class vibe was significantly undercut by this: "It costs just pennies more than beer wherever beer is sold."
The above ad ran in carefully segregated Caucasian and African-American versions, starring Tom Selleck and Mariette Hartley impersonators for the white folk and a black couple the distillery hoped might pass for Arthur Ashe and Lola Falana. To get an idea of just how much that mustachioed generation drank, all you need to know is that it was a time when ad firms thought "high class malt liquor" was a viable angle.
The Whiskey "Sandwich" Flask
Slyly marketed in 1950s comic book ads, as if it were a practical joke, this plastic novelty product's practical applications were all too clear. The poorly-reproduced, almost subliminal caption appears to read "Any time is lunch time with a whiskey sandwich."
The cartoon drinker's top hat tries to impart an illusion of class, but is undermined by his lolling tongue and prominent "HIC" sound effect. He also looks a little young to be drinking, which would explain the ad's placement in comic books, and the fact that the whiskey bottle is being disguised as an item that would really only make sense in a child's lunch box. In the '50s, it was apparently OK to not only encourage children to drink, but also to help them hide it from their parents.
Related: Inside The Black Market For Whiskey
Otis from The Andy Griffith Show
In the early days of TV, you weren't officially considered a character until you had a drink in your hand. TV dads were greeted at home with a tray of drinks; Archie Bunker owned a bar and the most serious consequence was a comically bad hangover. A study in the '70s found that sitcoms showed people drinking five times per hour. But, maybe no TV character displayed old school TV's loving attitude toward drunks better than Otis Campbell (played by Hal Smith), Mayberry's official town drunk on The Andy Griffith Show.
Sure, he frequently spent time under Andy's care for public drunkenness, but it was a lovably hilarious public drunkenness, sort of like a drinking man's Steve Urkel. At various times, Otis mistook a goat for his uncle, tried to sue for a self-inflicted jail cell injury, and spiked the mayor's water. Still, he was invariably portrayed as a positive role model for imbibers everywhere, with a loving wife and no serious consequences for his bizarre behavior. He was even deputized briefly in one episode, encouraging addicts everywhere to take up loaded firearms and serve whatever they hazily perceived as the public good. Today, his name is Otis, and that's all any of his fellow AA members needs or wants to know.
"The Lost Generation"
For F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner, nothing was more romantic and writer-like than kicking back with a typewriter and bottle of hooch. Gertrude Stein called them "The Lost Generation," because they were artists disillusioned by the human cost of World War I, not to mention Prohibition in the United States. They were the literary giants of the 1920s, living and writing as Americans in Paris --and every last one of them was usually stinking drunk. Their hard-drinking, hard-writing lifestyle found its way into print in several now-classic works. And while Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby and Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury are both chock full of what would today be considered "problem drinking," no novel gets at the generational depravity like Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises.
Inspired by Gatsby, this admittedly autobiographical novel tells the story of a bunch of people who seem to drink for a living. Protagonist Jake Barnes is impotent and drinks; Scottish war veteran Michael Campbell gets angry and drinks; Jake's old friend Bill Gorton jokes around and drinks. The novel reads like a personal testimonial at an AA meeting, without any of the shame, and with a generous heaping of hilariously outmoded slang.
Not surprisingly, they produced a wealth of pithy witticisms about getting bombed. Fitzgerald once said, "first you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you," which was funny right up until he and Hemingway died of alcohol-related tuberculosis and depression.
1970s Drinking Board Games
Today, people think they need one of those newfangled Nintendo Wii machines to have fun getting drunk and playing games. But visionary designer Frank Bresee livened up the 1970s with these drinking-and-sex-themed board games, complete with official equipment and instructions for those too uptight to imagine their own fun things to do while inebriated and semi-clothed.
The object of Monopoly rip-off Pass-Out was to roll the dice, drink and repeat, presumably until you actually passed out or started having meaningful conversations with the tiny blue and yellow plastic people across the table. Companion product Sip'N'Go Naked allowed the terminally repressed to loosen up by drinking and playing strip poker, with smarmy support from a formal set of instructions, presumably so they could claim they were only following orders. Every winner is a loser! Hooray!
If you liked this article, check out Jay Pinkerton's how-to guide, An Alcohol Coma: Your Ticket To a Good Night's Sleep .