When Marky Maypo first appeared on television in 1956, nobody thought he would be a hit. The cereal he pitched was a type of maple flavored hot mush that had been on the market for decades. The man who created him was a former Disney animator who had been blacklisted in the anti-communist hysteria of the 1950s. Even Heublein, the company that owned Maypo, was hoping that Marky would be a failure, so that they would have some substantial losses to write off. But Marky defied the odds and made his mark on a generation of cereal lovers with his timeless warcry, "I want my Maypo!"
The Tale of Marky MaypoJohn Hubley decided early in his life to be a painter. The Wisconsin native traveled to the west coast to study at the Art Center of Los Angeles, but was detoured by an offer from the Disney organization in 1935. He worked on films including Pinocchio, Fantasia, Bambi, Dumbo and Fantasia, but was forced to leave the company after the bitter strike of 1941.
Hubley served a hitch making films for the Air Force than joined a host of other former Disney artists to form the L. A. based animation house United Productions of America.
Hubley was instrumental in shaping the flat, minimalistic "UPA style" that revolutionized the animation industry. "Mister Magoo," patterned after Hubley's bullheaded uncle, brought the studio its first commercial success. The 1951 short Gerald McBoing Boing won an Academy Award.
By the early 1950s, Hubley and other UPA founders were fingered as communists by Walt Disney. He was blacklisted and fired from his job by UPA. He moved to New York and joined the production shop of another alleged fellow traveler, Bill Tytla, until Tytla's studio was destroyed by cold war politics.
Hubley went into business for himself. He gained a favorable reputation for his work and was doing fairly well when he was approached by Heublein Inc. Heublein, which imported distilled liquors, A-1 Steak Sauce, Grey-Poupon Mustard and Sizzl-Spray, an aerosol barbecue sauce, had recently purchased the Maltex Company, creators of Maypo, a maple-syrup flavored hot cereal. In an effort to create tax deductible expenses, Heublein decided to launch an expensive, tv campaign for the poorly selling Maltex product.
"They came to us because we were notoriously independent and they said, 'Make a commercial that's not a commercial, just do a slice of life, a dramatic piece,'" recalled Faith Hubley. "They didn't want the cereal company to make a profit so they gave us total creative freedom to do what ever we wanted to do. It was a really absurd contract; we had all the things that you never got from an agency."
Since making Gerald McBoing Boing, Hubley had been fascinated by the natural sounds of children. "So we just loved the idea of doing something natural and truthful with a nonprofessional actor," recalled Faith, "Our boy, Mark."
For days, John Hubley followed his four-year-old son around with a microphone. "In a way, Marky Maypo was co- created by young Marky," recalled Faith Hubley. "We did not use a script. We culled the improvisation for the best lines and adapted the storyboard from the improvisation." When Marky mispronounced energy as enjerny, during the recording, they kept it. As far as the central scene was concerned, Marky didn't have to act very much. He really and truly hated Maypo. "Marky didn't like it because it tasted like oatmeal," recalled his mother.
Marky Maypo made his debut on New York and New England television stations in September 1956. The spot started with stubborn Marky, a rough 'n' ready little cartoon cowboy, sitting on a stool at the breakfast table while his dad cajoled him into eating his hot mush. In exasperation, his Dad grabbed the hat off Marky's head and offered another spoonful. Marky screamed, "I want my hat," but refused another spoonful with clamped jaws.
Wearing the hat, Dad tried the cereal himself. "It tastes like maple sugar candy," he said, beaming with conspicuous delight as he gobbled the cereal down. Seeing a happy father, a jealous little Marky screamed "I want my Maypo!"
Much to the shock of the Heublein management, the sixty-second spot was a smash hit. Instead of hurting revenues as planned, the ad increased sales of Maypo "an average of 78 percent . . . and as high as 186 percent in some markets," reported Sponsor, magazine. Millions of kids across America began yelling, "I want my Maypo!"
In 1960, the Hubleys produced a second Maypo spot, but the relationship between the artistic animators and the importing company began to sour. The inevitable break came over the question of merchandising their animated son. In addition to plastering Marky on the package, a step the Hubleys resisted as vulgar, Heublein tried to merchandise Marky in other ways only to be blocked by the Hubleys' unusual contract. "They came to the studio and said they wanted to put a little bust of Marky in the boxes," recalled Faith. "Johnny and I took a look at them and teasingly said, 'Why don't you put a bust of Beethoven in?' We vetoed a lot of things and eventually, they stopped coming to us. I can't stand those advertising people!"
In the 1960s, Heublein bought the troublesome Hubleys out of their contract - "we were very, very well paid" - and promptly produced a nine-inch vinyl Marky bank available for boxtops. Without the Hubleys' behind the creative controls, however, Maypo's market share slipped away. In the mid 1960s, Heublein sold the Maltex Company to American Home Products, a huge conglomerate which added Maypo and Maltex to Wheatena and its other hot breakfast foods.
The Hubleys went on to produce independent films like Moonbird, which won an academy award, and numerous shorts for the "Sesame Street" series. Perhaps the biggest compliment to the Hubleys' work came with the birth of music television. There is no doubt that the writers who coined the slogan "I want my MTV!" were echoing the words of a finicky four-year-old in a cowboy hat.
Today, Mark Hubley is happily married with two boys of his own and lives in up state New York working as a horse breeder and trainer. He still hates the taste of Maypo.
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