Classic stars of Auto Advertising

The Early Years of Golden Stars & Automotive Advertising
By: Robert Tate

From:  MotorCities National Heritage Area | 200 Renaissance Center, Suite 3148 | Detroit | MI | 48243

During the 1930’s, many star actors and actresses participated in the automotive advertising business. In 1936, Shirley Temple became the new promotional spokesperson for Dodge and generated memorable taglines such as, “My Goodness, what a Grand Car!” During this time, Shirley was also starring in hit films such as Captain January. Besides being a spokesperson for Dodge, various merchandise capitalized on Shirley’s wholesome image generating Shirley dolls, dishes, and clothing.

The American buyers purchased numerous 1936 Dodge models enabling Dodge to maintain its status as the 4th bestselling vehicle within the United States. The average price for a 1936 Dodge model was $640.00.

Claudette Colbert, one of the most talented film stars, was also a spokesperson for Dodge. In 1929, Claudette starred as Joyce Roamer in Lady Lies. The film was a huge success and later that year, Claudette starred in another hit film called The Hole in the Wall. Given her success, it was no question that Claudette could afford a variety of expensive vehicles; however, she preferred the 1936 Dodge models, not only because of its style and beauty, but also its economical price. This factor is something that most Americans could relate to especially during the depression years.

Another advertising theme featured Walt Disney and the all new 1939 De Soto. The campaign was known as, “Walt Disney, You’ve got Another Hit!” Mr. Walt Disney was born on December 5, 1901 and became an American film producer, director, voice actor and animator. Disney is particularly noted as the world’s well known creator of fictional characters such as Mickey Mouse. He also won seven Emmy Awards and gave his name to the Disneyland and Walt Disney World Resort theme parks located in the United States. Disney was a practical man who encouraged buyers that the De Soto was the vehicle of choice to purchase.

De Soto’s advertising campaign placed much emphasis on the vehicle popularity along with highlighting the prominent star actor, Mr. Spencer Tracy. During this advertising campaign, the 1939 De Soto model was shown with white wall tires on both sides and optional chrome wheel trim which added much to the car’s appearance.

Another famous actor, Bing Crosby, lend his name to the Dodge Advertising industry. Bing was known as the “perfect voice” allowing him to achieve great popularity in radio, recordings, and motion picture films. His advertising was lively with strong colors which supported the new 1936 Dodge.
During 1935, Mr. Dick Powell was the featured actor that created style for Buick advertising. In the advertising, Mr. Powell is featured with the famous Berkeley girls. Warner Bros selected Buick for its shots of musical revue displays which became very popular among consumers and the buying public.

No matter the company, no matter the movie star, the 1930’s will always be remembered as a time when the automotive manufactures decided to turn the power of the golden age stars over chrome and wheels to advertise their vehicles.

A special thanks to Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher, for donating the story to the MotorCities Story of the Week program. Photographs courtesy of Robert Tate’s personal collection (Bibliography: Butler, Don -The Plymouth and De Soto Story /Bibliography: McPherson, Thomas, The Dodge Story)

About corvetteinjimzgarage

America's Corvette Club, Car Show Chairman North Oaks Corvette Club, Past President National Corvette Museum, Ambassidor Silicone Valley Corvette Club '91 Coupe, "Polar Bear"
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