Chicken? Chicken?
©2024, George J. Irwin. All rights reserved.

“I’ve eaten so much chicken this week, I’m going to look like a chicken!”

No offense intended to my wife, but it is true that sometimes our menu selections for the week get a little... unbalanced. This is sometimes for economy; with the two of us effectively being the only ones for whom we need to plan a menu, a single roasting chicken goes a long way: the main meal, then leftovers, then chicken soup...

Ah, yes, chicken soup.

And that brings me to one of those “I don’t know why I remember this” moments.

Arthur Godfrey (1903-1983) was one of the best known multi-media personalities of the mid-Twentieth Century. His career started in radio and moved to television. He was among the first, if not, the first, to address the radio listener in a manner much more personal than to just “announce.” Among the multiple shows he hosted was Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts, a program that ran on both radio and TV simultaneously. It launched the careers of other stars, but all of those stars revolved around his on his show, or else. But that’s another story.

A long time sponsor of Godfrey’s shows was a company that was best known as a purveyor of tea, but branched into a line of soup mixes in the 1950s. They engaged the folksy sounding radio and television host to deliver pitches on his show. At that time, a non-trivial proportion of commercials were still done live, woven right into the body of the program being sponsored. (There was also a form of what we call “product placement”: attached to the front of Godfrey’s desk was a placard featuring a drawing of the then-current version of the soup mix box. Home viewers only saw the package in shades of gray on black and white televisions; no Color TV yet.)

A video of one of these live in-show commercials that is available online as I write this shows two key parts of Godfrey’s pitch. First, it lasted more than four minutes. How many current ads fit into that amount of time? Second, he didn’t stick to the script. In fact, he typically poked fun at the product and/or the sponsor. This made the radio and television networks nervous and it infuriated advertising agencies. But it sold more product. At least that’s what the companies who used Godfrey as their pitchman thought.

The particular approach he took here was to make light of one attribute of the company’s chicken soup mix: that you couldn’t see any chicken in it!

After discussing the finer points of why his sponsor’s soup mix was superior to that other stuff sold in cans, Godfrey noted to the live audience, “They always like it if I take a taste... I will therefore take a taste.” He picked up the bowl of soup and a spoon, stirred the soup, and asked, “Oh, look, look, see all the noodles in there?” Continuing to stir, he added, “Chicken? Chicken?” The audience laughed heartily.

Since we grew up some years after Arthur Godfrey left the airwaves, we were not yet aware of his particular method for plugging soup mix. As kids, though, we were served it from time to time. Yes, there were a lot of noodles. No, we never found any chicken.

This led to several rather absurd escalations of the idea that there really wasn’t any actual chicken in the soup. I hasten to add that that at the time that Arthur Godfrey was personally advertising it on his show, chicken was one of the ingredients, even if he couldn’t find it.

But in our house, it got sillier from that point...

“There are tiny pieces of chicken.”

“There are particles of chicken.”

“A chicken took a bath in it.”

“A chicken walked through it.”

“Someone held a chicken over it.”

“Someone held a picture of a chicken over it.”

“The word ‘chicken’ was said while it was being cooked.”

“Someone was thinking about a chicken while it was being cooked.”

I wonder if Arthur Godfrey ever considered using any of those explanations.