Monday, September 22, 2014

How To Be Very Very Popular

Dancing. Marital advice. Makeup tips. More dancing. Business acumen. Witty conversation. And yes, still more dancing. You need all of these things in order to be popular. But mostly the dancing.

Behold the answer to all your social problems in one delightful volume: Arthur Murray's Popularity Book, which first came out in 1944 and has just been reprinted for your reading pleasure by Osprey/Oldhouse Books. Arthur Murray (1895-1991) began teaching dance when he was only 17, and in the 1920s, after several years of teaching,  came up with the idea of using diagrams of footsteps to show people how to do various dances. He sold these as a correspondence course for several years and then in 1938 he and his wife, Kathryn Kohnfelder, opened their first real school - the first of a national chain. There were over 3500 Arthur Murray studios around by the time the Murrays retired in 1964. And there are about 200 of them around the world, today.

The book was not written by Arthur Murray, although Kathryn Murray wrote a piece about "How To Attract the Stag Line," which is full of helpful hints - men like full skirts, but not in a scratchy taffeta. Also they dislike makeup and lipstick that come off easily, and they dislike girls who have to keep fixing their hair.

The book is a compilation of magazine articles and book excerpts interspersed with dance instructions. So that you could rumba your way across the dance floor - wearing just the right color (not yellow, it is childish, try black or red, or polka dots if you want to cheer people up) - and then set up shop reading people's palms. That was a way to make yourself extra popular at parties (just make sure you don't predict anything depressing).

There is even business advice, which of course advises you to learn to dance: "Youngsters just out of college are discovering that if you want to work for Uriah Q. Minkelmotter in his ice cream factory, the best way is to dance well with his wife and daughters." What I want to know is, what job are we angling for in the ice cream factory - putting lids on containers, say, or being Mr. Minkelmotter's right hand man? And how many opportunities are we going to have to dance with the Minkelmotter women, anyway?

I loved this book. Some of the advice is a bit dated, which is to be expected. For example, a woman who always ran errands for everyone at the expense of her writing dreams was told that she was too "generous with her husband's car and tires and gas." But a lot of the advice still true - it's smart to be a good listener, but not a doormat; a sense of humor is often helpful when people annoy you; show genuine interest in the people you meet, and you wll be more popular. Why, even Mrs. Minkelmotter would enjoy it if you asked her more about that extensive ice cream spoon collection of hers. She might even put in a good word for you with Uriah Q.

Many thanks to Osprey/Shire for sending this to me; as always, the opinions here are my own. And if you'd like to get a copy too, you can check it out on Amazon.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Great Oreo vs. Hydrox Competition

I came across this 1960s ad for Hydrox cookies and it reminded me of the eternal question (not really): why are there Oreos AND Hydrox cookies? And which are better? Which came first?

This ad states that Hydrox is "the original cream-filled chocolate cookie" and they did indeed come first - they were first sold in 1908 and the Oreo came along in 1912; the Oreo, made by Nabisco in New York City (the street the factory was on, 9th Avenue between 15th and 16th, is now called Oreo Way).

No one seems to know why it is called an Oreo. It might have something to do with "or," the French word for gold. And it might not. As for Hydrox, the name was a portmanteau word made from hydrogen and oxygen. It was supposed to stand for a modern, scientific goodness in your sandwich cookie. The Hydrox IS science.

Oreo on the other hand was unscientifically golden. It became the best selling cookie in the US and it has been that way for the Oreo ever since. Poor Hydrox. I've never had one but I gather that they were a bit less sweet, and less crumbly when dunked, than Oreos.  A lot of people loved them, according to this Wall Street Journal story. If you were a Hydrox fan, you were (I gather from the WSJ) a little edgier, a little more "in the know." It was the hipster of cookies. Oreo was for the hoi polloi.

But alas for Hydrox. Between 1999 and 2003, Keebler (who bought the Sunshine Biscuit Co. in 1996) made
ABC News
something similar to the original Hydrox, called Droxies. In 2008 in honor of the cookie's 100th birthday, Keebler began making the original Hydrox cookie again - only for a year, though. But take heart, Hydrox hipsters. Leaf Brands bought the trademark Hydrox Cookies this very year and apparently will start making them again. They should be out at the end of the year, so you can start looking for Hydrox again pretty soon.

If you are in the US, that is. I'm in Canada so I probably won't be looking. There is a Canadian version of the Oreo/Hydrox though. It has a surprisingly bossy name (ironic, because Canadians are are so agreeable and polite, you know): Eat the Middle First. This is the cookie that orders you to approach it in a very specific way. This cookie does not want to be dunked headfirst into a glass of milk. It wants to be analyzed and deconstructed like a poem. What do you think it is, a doughnut?

And the convenience-friendly, ready-to-eat, instant-coffee version of all this is over on Tumblr.