A Foxtrot For Shampoo: Poland's Interwar Advertisement Songs
default, A Foxtrot for Shampoo: Poland's Interwar Advertisement Songs, Pixavon notes, photo: StareMelodie.pl, center, pixavon-artyk.jpg
By the middle of the Interwar period, the newly-reborn Poland had defied expectations and was catering comfortably to the craze for mass production and decadence. Companies were selling, and people were buying. Entrepreneurs were ever-determined to seek effective yet undeniably elegant ways to advertise – and using Poland’s success in musical spheres was their best bet.
Advertising songs had begun to creep into the repertoire of Poland’s most well-loved interwar singers even by the late 1920s. They were often released as Syrena-Electro records or as sheet music, ending up being advertised as commodities themselves. An overwhelming number were tangos. Wrapped in the moving themes of the Argentinian craze which had taken Poland by storm, these advertising songs were much more glamorous than their modern counterparts, with stories of exotic and thrilling adventures set in and around everyday family life.
One of the most prolific singers of such commercial music – which also embraced foxtrots and shimmies and waltzes – was Adam Aston, the sumptuous singer of Poland’s best interwar songs, who had worked alongside leading writers and composers like Jerzy Petersburski and the Gold brothers.
But there was a catch: though lucrative, the advertising business was seen as perhaps an embarrassment to these otherwise opulent stars, so many went under pseudonyms. Aston’s was J. Kierski. Another unknown individual – and composer of many advertisement songs – went under the pseudonym Tad Rey; whilst his lyricist used the pseudonym Solec, perhaps after the growing district of Solec in Warsaw. Another used the name Hen Way.
Some artists, however, chose to embrace this novel form of music production – Andrzej Włast used his well-known pseudonym Willy, whilst Albert Harris, Zenon Friedwald, Szymon Kataszek and Jerzy Petersburski decided to keep their professional names on any advertisements to which they contributed. And there were many, stretching from daily items for the home, to luxurious status symbols…
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Some of the most well-known advertising songs of the era were about cigarettes, a commodity seen as an emblem of the modern, well-to-do interwar individual. Tango after foxtrot after tango was produced to advertise cigarettes to the general public, with one specific product responsible for more than any other: Morwitan.
Morwitan was the name of the cigarette paper tubes manufactured by the Herbewo Company, one of the largest producers of cigarette tubes and wrapping paper, and an exporter across the world. There are at least seven advertising songs dedicated to Morwitan alone, and a three-minute cinematic advert, as well as countless numbers of posters and ephemera created to sell what was an extremely desirable item.
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Adam Aston - Tango Bakszysz, 1937
Teatralny Square in Warsaw even featured a gargantuan neon sign to advertise Herbewo, which included streaming smoke from a mobile cigarette tube, alongside an image of Mickey Mouse gesturing towards the logo. This design was created by Zygmunt Stępiński, a pre-war designer who reached the height of fame in the post-war period.
But Herbewo’s – and Morwitan’s – success came most rapidly through music, with a concert aptly titled ‘Morwitan in song’ feature on Polish Radio in 1937. The advertising songs, a flurry of which were produced in the same year as the aforementioned Radio broadcast for a campaign, were pressed on Syrena-Electro and on Odeon, and were mostly sung by Aston under his ‘J. Kierski’ pseudonym.
They featured compelling and witty lyrics – one, Morwitan To Nasz Znak (Morwitan Is Our Sign) used a pun on the word ‘sign’ to suggest both a couple’s intimate method of communication and a company’s trademark, an ingenious way to bring the business straight into the home. Another, Puść Wszystko z Dymem (Let Everything Go with Smoke) proclaimed that Morwitan would create a better world regardless of financial and business loss.
A third, the waltz Szczęście Motyla (The Happiness of a Butterfly), told of a butterfly who trembled with ecstasy as soon as he felt the Morwitan fragrance.
Then there was Bakszysz, which took listeners on an imaginative journey to the then-distant lands of the East, with the song’s protagonist facing an aching ride in a caravan, past towers dripping in gold, to the home of the Sultan. His journey is with one aim in mind: to gift the Sultan 100 packets of Morwitan – and the Sultan gladly accepts, promising that, from then on in, he will never smoke anything else.
Polish Anti-Nicotine Tango: Nikotyna - Albert Harris, 1930
One of the most alarming Morwitan advertising discs, however, was performed by Albert Harris. Called Nicotyna, this told of an alluring young woman of the same name who seduced a man to the point of oblivion and annihilation. It was, perhaps, one of the first anti-smoking advertisements in Poland, and was produced as a Syrena-electro record.
But, on the other side of the disk, was a foxtrot called Morwitan, which proclaimed:
I love vainly,
my heart is sobbing.
I do not want to fulfil my dreams.
She says: I will love you,
When you understand the content of these words:
‘Morwitan burns the best
You can buy Morwitan in any store
It is cheap and has so much charm
And it protects the nerves from all evil.
The singer ends by agreeing that his unnamed lover is right, and so he gains Morwitan – and her heart.
But it was not just the Herbewo company which understood the power of advertising music: an alternative cigarette manufacturer, Sokół, also produced two tangos sung by Aston, which were stamped on either side of the same Syrena disk: Sokół i Dwuwatki and Wspominam Usta Twe (I Remember Your Lips). Written and composed by the same individuals, Mieczysław Dołęga and actor and musician Wiktor Krupiński, the pair of songs told of time passing – with the only constant being Sokół’s dwuwatki cigarette tubes.
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Indeed cigarette tubes were so popular that, in the mid-1920s, it was revealed that Sokół’s packaging had been copied by a rival firm, J. B. – and Warsaw’s District Court ordered a hefty sum of compensation to be paid, proving how lucrative the cigarette business was back then.
A less damaging, but no less luxurious, commodity of the era was coffee. Adam Aston sung another advertising song to recommend one particular brand, Stella, which was a surrogate blend produced by the Włocławek Surrogate Coffee and Chicory Factory ‘Stella’ on Senatorska Street. Packaged in neat brown boxes with red detailing, Stella Coffee had been produced since the 1920s, with the company obtaining one of only four coffee substitute licenses permitted in 1928. Advertising strategies also included issuing a collection of small cards featuring photographs of Polish interwar film stars, with the back detailing the ‘high quality, excellent taste and hygienic’ products produced. This proved so popular that at least two series of these adverts were created.
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Aston sang one advertising song about Stella coffee, the tango Pij Kawę Stella (Drink Stella Coffee) which was produced on Syrena in 1937 under his pseudonym. The other side of the record featured a monologue advertising a children’s coffee the company produced, also performed by Aston. Suitably, the lyrics to Pij Kawę Stella stress its desirability for any individual, young or old.
Listen to the full song here.
Aside from luxuries, everyday products also featured in advertising songs, including the famed washing powder Radion.
Radion was produced by Schicht, a company based on Szwedzka Street in Praga, which had taken control of the joint stock cosmetics company Saturnia in the mid-1920s. The company grew extensively in the years following, with new buildings erected along Szwedzka Street, from its intersection with Strzelecka to the end of the road, and production growth resulted in Schicht becoming the largest enterprise in the fat processing industry, manufacturing almost 100% of Polish glycerin and fulfilling 75% of the demand for soap. Investments of English capital in 1935 prompted a name change from Schicht to Schicht-Lever, bringing with it an ease of access to coconut palm plantations owned by the British.
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Radion was one of several soap-based products the company manufactured, though it was aimed at a more affluent audience, with advertisements stressing the hygienic lifestyles opened up through use of the product. These advertisements often went down in history, including the dubious Radion Sam Pierze (Radion Washes Itself) poster from the 1920s produced by graphic designer Tadeusz Gronowski, which featured a black panther submerging itself in a bucket of soapy suds, and emerging white. The slogan for the poster referred to the luxurious leisure-class to which the company were aiming to appeal, stressing the concept of little human effort in chores.
But advertising for Radion also focused on music – the tango Piosenka o Radionie (A Song about Radion) was sung by acclaimed performer Tadeusz Faliszewski, and was composed by Krupiński, with words by Tymoteusz Ortym, who had worked under Feliks Konarski.
Stamped on both sides of the same Syrena disk, the tune recommended the powder to ‘all the elegant ladies’ and, repeating the ‘Radion sam pierze’ slogan, ended with helpful instructions for how to employ Radion in one’s daily life:
Then put on the underwear and cook
Fifteen minutes in foam
Finally, fish out without any problems
And all the laundry is ready!
Tried recipes and various tips, 1932, advertisement of a cookbook, photo: POLONA
Another product manufactured in the interwar period was Tryumf milk margarine, produced again under Schicht by the Amada company, which had factories in Warsaw and Gdańsk. Its Gdańsk factory was established in 1923, being one of three vegetable fat factories in Gdańsk upon the outbreak of WWII. This base was allegedly the location of espionage in June 1939, when weapons were transported in refrigerated trucks to secretive German institutions in western Poland, though the plan was exposed by Jan Lipiński.
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The company’s renown in western Poland meant it was inevitable that it too would feature in musical advertisements, with a slowfox Tryumf penned in 1934 and sung by Faliszewski. Though it is unknown who wrote or composed the piece, the song not only emphasises its use on bread, vegetables and meat, but also listed its ingredients:
Know that the oils consist of vegetable
Of fat milk, fresh yolks too…
Listen to the full song here.
Hygiene and cleanliness was also emphasised in the foxtrot Pixavon which advertised the shampoo of the same name. Though no recordings of Pixavon remain, the sheet music survived, featuring an immaculately-coiffured young woman behind an elegant bottle of the product. The shampoo was one of many cosmetic items manufactured by the Odol factory in Lviv, a Polish branch of the German company famed for its innovations in oral care, which was exporting products across Europe. Odol’s central focus on oral sanitation was reiterated on the back cover of the sheet music to Pixavon, which included an art-deco illustration of toothpaste.
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In Poland, advertising often featured photographs of Stefan Banach, the famed Polish mathematician, in an attempt to align the company with modern discoveries in science and technology – a technique many other businesses were also promoting in the period. The foxtrot also featured a heavyweight of Polish culture, with lyrics by Zenon Friedwald, the author of the ever-popular To Ostatnia Niedziela.
Advertising songs were even used to promote more intimate products, including underwear. The tango Bo na to Każdy Się Zgodzi Mężczyzna (Because Every Man Will Agree On This) was penned in 1934 to advertise men’s underwear produced by the Opus brand, which was one of the largest factories in Poland –in Europe, in fact – manufacturing the item, and was well-known for its quality.
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Opus factory and laundry house in Warsaw, photo: www.audiovis.nac.gov.pl (NAC)
Female workers were predominant in the interwar underwear business, and Opus was no exception, though the factory generally had vast numbers of workers – over 500. The song, performed by Mieczysław Fogg, suggests that the underwear was produced with women in mind, underlining that no self-respecting woman would ever desire a man who refused to wear Opus.
The song even referred to the Prince of Wales, then Prince Edward, who was being increasingly watched by international media following reports of the declining health of his father, George V. Edward would be crowned Edward VIII of the United Kingdom less than two years after Bo na to Każdy Się Zgodzi Mężczyzna was produced – but would abdicate the same year.
The Opus company, meanwhile, continued its strengths even allegedly through the early years of the war, with reports that Janusz Korczak secretly arranged to take children's underwear to the Opus laundry room at 38 Pawia Street, which was then under German management. It is even suggested that he would go as far as carrying the bags himself to ensure they were delivered.
Listen to the full song here.
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Advertisement songs weren’t just used to advertise Polish products. For example, a tango, foxtrot and shimmy-fox were produced to promote Suchard chocolates. The Swiss company had opened a factory on Kraków’s Masarska street in 1925, and provided strong competition against local Polish confectioners. In 1928, the factory was developed further, with a significant share of Swiss and English capital, resulting in employment of over 500 people by the mid-1930s – however, in 1936, the factory was hit by a workers’ strike for increased wages, which lasted for around a week.
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Nonetheless, the company remained a luxurious symbol of western co-operation, with decadent advertisements to boot – one depicted the Suchard name in cursive set atop a chocolate bar, whilst products proudly displayed folk and country scenes. Another scheme – much like for Stella coffee – was a series of cards depicting renowned features of Polish architecture and scenery, though Suchard’s also included instructions on the reverse for collecting 20 coupons from chocolate packaging, after which a stereoscopic device would be sent to the consumer.
Two of the Suchard advertising songs – the tango Suchard and the shimmy-fox Czy Pani Lubi Coś Słodkiego? (Do You Like Something Sweet?) – were composed by acclaimed schlager lyricist Szymon Kataszek, with sheet music for the former featuring an alluring young woman staring intently into a rose. The lyrics reinforce the multitude of world-renowned products the company was producing at the time:
It's a strange magic word
Sounding intoxicating, sensual
Behind the name are a few
Velma, Orange, Bittra, Milka…
The Suchard foxtrot, Jest Na Kryzys Rada (Here’s Advice for a Crisis), sung by Aston, also promoted the wide variety of goods under the Suchard label.
Polish Fiat 508, 1933-05, photo: www.audiovis.nac.gov.pl (NAC)
Despite smaller commodities achieving vast success, by the end of the 1920s, Poles were determined to make headway in the latest trend in global industry: automobile production. Bolstered by military concerns, trials and prototypes were attempted in efforts to kick-start Polish vehicle manufacture to match already luxurious living, but all with the same results – apprehensions about time-consuming construction and the sheer expense of initiating production, amplified by the aftershocks of the Great Depression. Another route was sought.
It was realised that manufacturers had to quickly require a reputation in the automotive industry in order to sell anything near the number of vehicles needed for a profit, and with little Polish headway, this looked unlikely. The authorities then turned to internationally-renowned companies – Citroen, Fiat, Renault and Skoda – to begin the process of acquiring a license for production, with Fiat ultimately selected in 1931 due to its beneficial financial offer.
The construction of the plant to produce Fiat cars, Fabryka Samochodów Osobowych i Wola at 34/36 Terespolska Street in Warsaw, began a year after the deal was granted – by 1935, the first Fiat 508 had rolled from its doors, and production of the passenger cars was in full swing. Production was also licensed in Czechoslovakia and Germany.
This success, of course, brought with it a 6-minute musical sketch advert called Ja Mam! Ty Masz! On Bedzie Mial 508 (I Have, You Have, He Will Have A 508), which featured Mieczysław Dowmunt as a fatherly figure ferrying his family, Aston to epitomise a young couple in love, and Lena Żelichowska as an independent, modern young woman. All named at the beginning of the video – which appears more like a short film than an advertisement – they sing about the car’s abilities to unite families and dissolve distances:
And in my first-class car
I am setting out, in the distant world
And it brings me through villages and forests
Our Polish Fiat, our Polish Fiat.
And, despite its Italian roots, the car really was a ‘Polish Fiat’: the car had been modified to adapt it to Polish road infrastructure, which was often paved and in poor condition. With 96% of production materials originating from domestic sources by 1938-39, the car rapidly became a Polish favourite for those who were able to afford luxuries, with a choice of colour for purchasers – though all with the same black fenders – and the cost being around 5,000 złoty.
Perfume press advertisement, Henryk Zak, Daj-Go, 1928, photo: reproduction Dagmar Smolno
For a more commonplace luxury, consumers could turn to Polish cosmetics – notably, the perfumes manufactured by Henryk Żak in Poznań. Żak’s brand was such a runaway success that even the press stressed how Żak’s products included the ideal cologne for any self-respecting interwar gentleman. To support advertising, an extravagant 36-page booklet, brimming with photographs of the stars of stage and screen, was produced in the 1920s to promote his products, including handwritten messages of encouragement from various celebrities featured. Antoni Fertner recommended the company. Jan Kiepura stressed that the Przemysławka cologne was ‘perfect for the morning toilet’. Mira Zimińska claimed she used Daj-Go most frequently out of all of the fragrances in her collection.
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And it was Daj-Go which featured in a musical advertisement, a foxtrot called Ach, Daj-Go, Daj-Go, written and credited to the dazzling musicians Jerzy Petersburski and Andrzej Włast, the latter of whom was referred to under his usual pseudonym, Willy. With sheet music demonstrating two stylish women twirling around an evidently astonished gentleman, the message that Daj-Go was a modern and ‘fashionable fragrance’ for those who dance to the tune of a ‘jazz-band’ was clear. The song even suggested those who wear the perfume ‘conquered the whole world’ – a charming sentiment epitomising the promise of interwar Poland.
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University of commerce
Other musical advertisements promoted less palpable products – like the foxtrot-march WSH Students, which was produced to endorse the University of Commerce (Polish: WSH). Whether the song referred to a specific WSH institution is uncertain – the Syrena disc of the song was credited to Zygmunt Lewandowski and Zbigniew Maciejowski, and sung by Tadeusz Faliszewski alongside Henryk Wars’s directing of the Syrena-Electro orchestra. This string of acclaimed musicians suggests perhaps the song was a general celebration of Polish education, rather than an official advertisement. Indeed, the piece featured in the Wiosna i Miłość (Spring and Love) review at the ‘Hollywood’ theatre.
Nonetheless, the song’s message that only men studying at WSH could have women ‘cling’ to them was an attempt at attracting young boys to enrol, reinforcing official promotion of education in trade and economic careers.
But advertising music did not shy away from supporting its very own industry, with a couple of songs produced to celebrate the careers of particular artists or music companies. The most renowned is the slowfox Jadzia, with words by Emanuel Schlechter, which featured in a film of the same name in 1936 and has been said to commemorate one of the greatest stars of Polish screen in the era: Jadwiga Smosarska. But there were others, too: Hanna Bielicka sang the foxtrot Gdy Petersburski Razem z Goldem Gra (When Petersburski and Gold Play Together) in 1926 – with music by Artur Gold himself – to emphasise the cutting-edge music the trio of Jerzy Petersburski and Henryk and Artur Gold were producing. Then there was the foxtrot Qui Pro Quo sung in the Qui Pro Quo theatre in the same year, which glorified the successes of the cabaret which had grown so rapidly since its creation in 1919.
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art of the interwar period
And there was the 1934 foxtrot A Ja Sobie Gram na Gramofonie! (And I Play On A Turntable!), sung by Fogg, which celebrated Syrena-Electro's releases. Turning the handle of the turntable, Fogg declares that he is ‘not worried about the sirens on the discs’, but just keeps on playing through summer and through winter.
The music is worth more than anything else.
Written by Juliette Bretan, August 2018