The Bootleg Files: The Burt Bacharach-Angie Dickinson Martini & Rossi Commercials

BOOTLEG FILES 828: “The Burt Bacharach-Angie Dickinson Martini & Rossi Commercials” (1970s television advertisements for the Italian wine brand).

LAST SEEN: On YouTube.


REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: There is no commercial reissue channel for old TV commercials.

CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Maybe someday in an anthology of 1970s commercials.

When Burt Bacharach passed away earlier this week, there were endless tributes to his genius in creating instant-classic pop tunes and the scores for film and stage productions. Personally, my fondest memory of Bacharach came in a series of delicious television commercials for the Martini & Rossi wine brand that paired the composer with his glamorous wife, actress Angie Dickinson.

Creating commercials to promote wine is tricky – after all, wine consumption can be traced back to Biblical days, so this is not exactly a product that is under the radar with consumers. But finding the right vibe to pique the interest of viewers for a specific brand is another matter. During the 1970s, several winemakers tried to raise their visibility through TV commercials.

The kosher wine brand Manischewitz recruited the most distinctive Jewish entertainer of the 1970s – Sammy Davis Jr. – for a series of playful commercials designed to expand the brand’s visibility to non-Jewish consumers. And Paul Masson tapped Orson Welles’ reputation for artistic genius in a series of commercials where the iconic actor/filmmaker stressed that the brand would sell no wine before its time.

Martini & Rossi – or, at least, its advertising agency – opted to sell the Italian winemaker’s products to the American audience by emphasizing snob appeal and sex appeal. After all, if rich and good-looking people are enjoying Martini & Rossi wine at their social functions, then perhaps they knew something that the not-so-rich and not-so-good looking folks need to know?

For their campaign, Martini & Rossi hired one of Hollywood’s most attractive couples – Burt Bacharach and Angie Dickinson. His career was going through something of a lull after the commercial failure of the 1973 musical film “Lost Horizon” and a series of lawsuits involving his former collaborators Hal David and Dionne Warwick, so he was eager for any positive publicity and attention. Her career was enjoying a second wind thanks to the popular television series “Police Woman,” and she had already proven her worth as a celebrity spokesperson with a successful campaign highlighting California avocados.

In these commercials, Bacharach composed a jaunty jingle reminiscent of his 1960s pop music halcyon days. Noodling on the piano, Bacharach would play the tune while warbling “Say yes, to Martini & Rossi on the rocks. Say yesssssss.” The jingle sounded like a snippet of some background song that one might associate with a mid-1960s British jewel theft comedy, offering the viewer a subtle assurance that the pitch for the wine was all in fun.

In one commercial set at a party in a fancy living room, Bacharach starts the action by looking at the camera and announcing (perhaps a tad too eagerly). “Hi, Burt Bacharach here. I found a drink that’s good anytime: Martini & Rossi dry on the rocks. Just right before dinner, great at a party, refreshing anytime.” After a close-up of the wine being poured into a glass, Bacharach adds, “The taste never overpowers you. It’s a wine with a character all its own. Right Angie?”

The last part of Bacharach’s delivery is a cue for Dickinson to turn around, smile mischievously and teasingly declare, “I think you both have a lot of character.” At that point, Bacharach plays his Martini & Rossi jingle – the commercial ends with Bacharach in close-up, holding his drink high and exhaling “Yeah!”

In another commercial at yet another party, Dickinson approaches the camera and announces “Hi, I’m Angie Dickinson – a girl who likes things with character. That’s why I like Martini & Rossi Red, the wine with a character all its own.” Dickinson continues her spiel by walking into a living room to find Bacharach at the piano (where else?), and she asks him, “Burt, what do you say to character?” His reply: “Yes! Yesssssss! To Martini & Rossi on the rocks. Say yesssssss!” Dickinson nods, looks at the camera and purrs “Yeah!” – and any heterosexual male who doesn’t go into full-throttle erection with her “Yeah!” either needs a check-up or a death certificate.

The Bacharach-Dickinson commercials stood out from most the ubiquitous television advertising of the era for its sense of luxury, privilege and mature sensuality. During the 1970s, a surplus amount of the television campaigns was broadly comic and rooted in a working-class sensibility. Martini & Rossi aimed higher, giving viewers a glimpse of what the Hollywood A-list was supposedly drinking during their off-hours. And, hey, this was a wine that was so good that Burt Bacharach wrote the jingle!

Actually, the Bacharach jingle outlasted its creator in the commercials – when Bacharach and Dickinson separated in the late 1970s, he dropped out of the ads and she stayed on to appear in a few solo spots, later to be replaced briefly by Jaclyn Smith. But the jingle remained – with unnamed singers handling the lyrics. By the 1980s, Martini & Rossi let go of the jingle and Dickinson and focused its advertising on a new stylistic approach.

Still, those of us who were watching TV in the 1970s can remember the fun of Bacharach and Dickinson enjoying each other’s company over glasses of Martini & Rossi. And thanks to unauthorized YouTube postings of a couple of those commercials, we can say “yesssssss” again!

IMPORTANT NOTICE: While this weekly column acknowledges the presence of rare film and television productions through the so-called collector-to-collector market, this should not be seen as encouraging or condoning the unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either through DVDs or Blu-ray discs or through postings on Internet video sites.

Listen to Phil Hall’s award-winning podcast “The Online Movie Show with Phil Hall” on SoundCloud, with a new episode every Monday, and his radio show “Nutmeg Chatter” on WAPJ-FM in Torrington, Connecticut, with a new episode every Sunday. His new book “100 Years of Wall Street Crooks” is now in release through Bicep Books.