BOOTLEG FILES 833: “The Anita Bryant Florida Orange Juice Commercials” (1969-80 television advertising campaign).
LAST SEEN: On YouTube.
AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: None.
REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: No one is going to touch this for an anthology.
CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Girl, are you kidding?
Here is a question for you: Which celebrity was the first victim of cancel culture? My choice for an answer will probably offend some people – especially since I am writing this during the month of June – but I will say it anyway: Anita Bryant.
If Anita Bryant is remembered today, it is because of her prominence in coordinating a successful 1977 effort to overturn an ordinance passed by Dade County, Florida, that prohibited employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. Bryant, a fundamentalist Christian, used the argument that gay rights activists would recruit children into the homosexual lifestyle – she was particularly agitated over the concept of having gay men as school teachers.
Bryant won her small battle but suffered mightily for her victory – she was blacklisted by the entertainment industry and mostly vanished from view, outside of a now infamous moment when she was hit in the face with a pie by a gay rights activist. In the current society, this is the rare occasion when physical violence against a woman is celebrated.
One of the most unfortunate aspects of the cancel culture blacklist of Bryant was the forced termination of a long-running and incredibly successful advertising campaign by the Florida Citrus Commission that featured Bryant as the spokeswoman for the Sunshine State’s orange juice industry. For a generation that grew up watching television in the early 1970s, Bryant was mostly recognizable as the cheerful and warm presence in a series of commercials that promoted the value of starting your day with a tall glass of juice made from the Florida-based orange groves.
In retrospect, what was strange about the Florida Citrus Commission’s efforts was the presence of Bryant, whose career up to that point offered little evidence of the charisma and audience connection needed to maintain a long-running marketing endeavor.
Bryant epitomized the notion of being in the right place at the right time. An Oklahoma native, she won the 1958 Miss Oklahoma beauty pageant and was second runner up in the Miss America contest later that year – the winner, Mary Ann Mobley, would enjoy a moderately successful career as an actress and entertainment personality. Although she lost the pageant, Bryant managed to secure a recording contract and enjoyed a few hit records in the early 1960s, mostly notably the pop ballad “Paper Roses.”
Bryant’s beauty was wholesome if somewhat unremarkable – there were many young women in that era who had the equivalent level of talent and physical attractiveness. But she was the one who found the niche – Bob Hope included her in his USO tours and TV specials, and she turned up in multiple variety shows in the 1960s as a guest performer.
Madison Avenue saw something in Bryant and she was cast in advertisements for Coca-Cola, Holiday Inn, Kraft Foods and Tupperware. But none of these resonated with audiences, and by the late 1960s she began to seem like an anachronism during the rise of a new youth culture that eschewed the values of the Eisenhower era in favor of a more free-wheeling environment.
Bryant was only 29 when she was signed by the Florida Citrus Commission in 1969 to star in a marketing campaign to highlight the orange juice produced in the Sunshine State. Despite her youth, she didn’t act like a kid – her beauty and her trendy wardrobe affirmed that she wasn’t an old lady, and this made her an ideal spokesperson for being able to bridge the cultural divide between the youth culture who rejected their elders’ tastes and older Americans who were confused and often hostile to the younger generation.
The commercials in the orange juice campaign were unusually well produced, with input from the Walt Disney Co. – a mini-theme song called “Come to the Florida Sunshine Tree” created by the studio’s ace songwriters the Sherman Brothers and an animated sidekick called the Orange Bird (who also had a Sherman Brothers-penned theme song). There was also a slogan for the campaign – “A Day Without Orange Juice is Like a Day Without Sunshine” – that resonated with audiences.
The campaign caught the wellness zeitgeist of the era by placing a heavy emphasis on the health benefits of drinking orange juice, noting its high quotient of Vitamin C. It also tapped into the high inflation of the 1970s, with Bryant remarking how mothers could serve the drink “for just pennies a glass.” Bryant never emphasized a particular brand – she noted the beverage “comes many ways,” a nod to both the fresh and frozen versions of juice. In the commercials, the orange juice is presented in an unusually vibrant hue – how this visual effect was achieved isn’t certain, but it made the juice look electrifying.
While the campaign initially focused on pitching orange juice as a breakfast staple, later commercials emphasized it could be served anytime. A later commercial in the campaign found Bryant interviewing passengers on a fishing boat cruise who affirm they drink orange juice at any time of the day – the campaign switched its slogan “It isn’t just for breakfast anymore!” to reflect that tactic.
For someone who had been a minor celebrity before hawking orange juice, Anita Bryant saw her star rise swiftly. She was invited to perform “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” during the halftime program of the 1971 Super Bowl, and former President Lyndon B. Johnson was so moved by her vocalizing that he arranged to have her reprise that song for his funeral. She published several books in the 1970s, hosted the annual Orange Bowl Parade on NBC and greeted thousands at business trade conferences organized by the Florida Citrus Commission.
As for the product she was promoting, sales of Florida orange juice skyrocketed during the 1970s. Bryant starred in 86 commercials and appeared in countless print advertisement for this campaign, making it one of the most prolific and best-accepted marketing campaigns of its time.
But when she became the voice of the anti-gay political initiative in Dade County in 1977, Bryant’s career began to go off the tracks. Gay bars across the country began to boycott Florida orange juice and Bryant’s name became the butt of jokes in comedy shows – including an astonishing sketch where Carol Burnett played a majestically self-centered yet clueless Bryant arriving at a Hollywood party (complete with a corsage made of oranges) hosted by a mincing Truman Capote (played by Tim Conway). While some historical articles claimed the Florida Citrus Commission immediately dropped Bryant, she still appeared in the group’s advertising until her contract expired in 1980. Outside of a self-produced special that played in syndication in March 1980, Bryant was never seen on television again except in fleeting news reports related to opposition to gay rights initiatives.
In 1988, Bryant’s role in growing the sales of Florida orange juice was belatedly acknowledged when she was inducted into the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame. This was a rare case of positive commentary about Bryant, who is still demonized in the mainstream media today – ignoring the fact that an overwhelming majority of Americans in the late 1970s, including politicians from both parties, were overwhelmingly opposed to extending proper civil rights protections based on sexual orientation. Even as late as 2008, progressives Barack Obama and Joe Biden campaigned for the White House expressing outrage that two people of the same gender should be granted the right to marry.
Still, Bryant was on the wrong side of history and will probably only be recalled for that grievous error. A few of her commercials for Florida orange juice can be found on YouTube, and they recall a happier time when politics was off the table and fresh Sunshine State juice was the only thing in the spotlight.
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