Scrappy goes to Penney’s

I’d known for years that J.C. Penney had some sort of promotional tie-in with Scrappy. After all, years ago at San Diego Comic-Con, I’d bought what seemed to be a piece of Penney’s back-to-school store signage depicting Margy and Scrappy gallivanting merrily, books in hand, with accompanying text–“This is ‘Scrappy’ and ‘Margy'”–that suggested they needed introducing.

But I had never bothered to investigate the matter further until Friend of Scrappy Mark Newgarden shared a 1933 Penney’s newspaper advertisement featuring Scrappy, Margy, and Yippy. Remarkably, he’d stumbled across it on Newspapers.com while looking for something else. The ad doesn’t mention Scrappy by name, which means it would be tough to find on purpose. (If you don’t go hunting for Scrappy, Scrappy comes hunting for you.)

Inspired by Mark’s discovery, I turned to Newspapers.com myself and found a bounty of Scrappy-themed back-to-school Penney’s ads, all from August and September 1933.

Here’s just a taste of it.

As you can see, the ads used a few drawings of Scrappy, Margy, and Yippy in various ways with different layouts and text. It seems reasonable to guess that individual stores or regional advertising managers were provided with stock art to use as they saw fit.

You may also have noticed that the ads reference a variety of Scrappy-themed local events: costume contests, parades, and screenings. Here are some more details on these lavish affairs.

The Betty Boopers referenced in that last ad seem to have been members of a Betty Boop club run by a local theater, similar to the original Mickey Mouse Club, and leading to the above bit of unexpected Fleischer-Mintz cross-promotion.

The point of the Penney-sponsored events was to generate publicity that didn’t feel like advertising. The effort paid off handsomely. Newspapers ran announcements about the doings, referencing both Scrappy and J.C. Penney. Then they published follow-up reports once the festivities had taken place.

Sadly, I haven’t run across any photos of the Scrappy parades, lookalike competitions, and theater shindigs—or, for that matter, any of Penney stores during the 1933 back-to-school season, when they must have been bedecked in Scrappyana such as the sign I own. But at 2005’s Scrappyland screening in LA, we unwittingly revived Penney’s tradition by holding a Scrappy masquerade of our own (I think it was Jerry Beck’s idea).

We had one entrant, Raven Loc, who came dressed as a brilliantly monochromatic Margy—and I do have a photo of her in costume.

Other than being pleased by the intensity of the Scrappy angle, the thing that I find most striking about Penney’s campaign is how evocative they are of the Great Depression that was going on at the time. The U.S. economy had bottomed out the previous year, but times were still awfully tough in 1932–unemployment was at 25%—and some of the ads feel obsessed with penny-pinching and fear of higher prices to come, even as they champion FDR’s plan to get the country back on track:

I mentioned that all the Penney-Scrappy items I found dated from August and September 1933. With a little more Newspapers.com research, I learned that J.C. Penney made a tradition of promoting its back-to-school offerings with different well-known, kid-friendly characters each year,

In 1932, the company had used Hal Roach’s Our Gang. I think that’s Spanky third from the left, with Pete on the far right, obviously; whether the others represent actual members of the Gang, I’m not sure.

After embracing Scrappy in 1933, Penney’s dumped him for Mickey Mouse in 1934. Charles Mintz must have taken that as a stinging rebuke, assuming he was paying attention.

The year after that, Penney’s mascot was Popeye. This was during the period when he was Mickey Mouse’s most serious rival, and the chain may have regarded him as an upgrade.

By 1936, however,Penney’s was apparently tired of shelling out money to license familiar characters. Its back-to-school blitz featured Peggy and Peter, the human, non-cartoon Penney Twins…

And in 1937, Peggy and Peter gave way to the largely similar Sunny and Jim, who seem to have ended this promotional tradition.

These back-to-school drives involved at least some of the same elements as the Scrappy one, such as parades and theater parties. And Penney’s distributed celebratory pins in high enough volume that eBay is fairly awash in them. (I haven’t seen any Scrappy ones.)

JC Penney, of course, is still with us–albeit in battered condition. It still throws annual back-to-school events. And tonight, when I found myself in a mall with a Penney’s, I dropped in just in case it had inexplicably decided to enlist Scrappy, Margy, and Yippy in the cause again, a mere 86 years after the first time

It hadn’t. But the place now has an entire Disney-store-within-the-store. I would not be surprised if it includes even more Mickey Mouse gear than the company sold back in 1934.

Penney’s also sells Popeye and (sexy) Olive Oyl costumes, continuing the tradition it began with its 1935 back-to-school bash. So I don’t think it’s unreasonable or unrealistic to believe that it might revive its relationship with the Mintz organization and add a few Scrappy items to its current line. It wouldn’t hurt the company’s business, and it might help–or at least I’d be way more likely to stop in…

4 comments to Scrappy goes to Penney’s

  • Craig

    Headline: Archive deep-dive yield eye-candy for all.

  • Hi Craig,
    I really enjoyed this article, I especially like the last paragraph as you speculate that Penny’s might revive it’s relationship with the Mintz organization! It’s very funny and kind of poignant at the same time. Newspapers.com is a wonderful resource, too bad it costs so much to subscribe. Thanks again for keeping the Scrappy banners flying! Back To School!
    Mark

  • top cat james

    RE: “Our Gang” promotion. I’m stumped by the likenesses of the first and third boy (not sure about your “Spanky” guess). However, I believe the remaining cast-members are as follows: #2-Kendall “Breezy Brisbane” McComas, #4-Dorothy DeBorba, #5-Bobby “Wheezer” Hutchins, #6-Jacquie Lyn.

    Wonder what marketing genius came up with “Boy’s Longies”?

  • Harry McCracken

    Those seem as likely options as any! I guessed that kid #3 was Spanky based not the fact that he’s wearing a (poorly-drawn) tam o’ shanter. I think Spanky wore one before settling on a beanie.

    —Harry

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