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Celebs you didn’t know started out in the ad biz

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This is an encore episode that aired originally on March 14, 2014.

From Dr. Seuss to Obi-Wan Kenobi, the list may surprise you…


Dr. Seuss

In 1904, Theodore “Ted” Geisel was born to German American parents in Springfield, Massachusetts.

He was an average student in high school, and entered Dartmouth College in 1921. There, he studied English, and edited the college humour magazine called the “Jack-O-Lantern.”

While at college, he threw a rowdy drinking party one night. It was the height of the prohibition, and when the college brass shut the party down, Ted was ordered to curtail his “extracurricular” activities, and as a further punishment, was terminated as the editor-in-chief of the college magazine.

But Ted quietly continued to write for the magazine, using a nom de plume, so his superiors wouldn’t know.

He chose to use his middle name… which was Seuss.

His first job out of college was as a cartoonist for a New York magazine. He began signing his cartoons as “Dr. Seuss” – the “Doctor” part being a nod to his father’s unfulfilled wish that his son earn a doctorate at Oxford.

One day, the wife of an ad executive saw his cartoons, and convinced her husband to hire Dr. Seuss to create advertising campaigns.

Dr. Seuss would go on to produce wonderfully inventive advertising for Ford, Esso Motor Oil, NBC and Schaeffer Beer, but his most famous was for Flit Insect Repellent, which ran for 17 years.

Interestingly, many of Dr. Seuss’s characters made their first appearance in those early ads.

This advertising work would support Ted and his wife throughout the Great Depression, and well into the early days of his budding writing career.

Dr Seuss, whose real name is Theodor Seuss Geisel, sits at his drafting table in his home office in La Jolla, California, on April 25, 1957. (Gene Lester/Getty Images)

Dr. Seuss wrote his first book in 1931. It was rejected by 27 publishers – a theme we’ll hear quite often today. He persevered and eventually did get published, but didn’t sell many copies. It would take another 26 years before he became a success.

In response to a 1957 article in Life Magazine that said most primers used to teach children to read were dull and boring, Dr. Seuss wrote The Cat In The Hat. The book used 220 vocabulary words all children needed to know in order to read.

It was an instant best-seller, showcasing Dr. Seuss’s singular drawing style, his remarkable verse rhymes and his vivid imagination. Within three years, The Cat In The Hat had sold over one million copies.

From a career that began in advertising, to a body of work that inspired millions of children, Dr. Seuss proved embracing one’s uniqueness was the secret to success.

As the great Doctor once said:

“Today you are you, that is truer than true, there is no one alive who is you-er than you.”


Sir Alec Guinness

Meanwhile, across the pond around the same time, another soon-to-be famous person was getting his start in advertising.

Yes, Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi was once a copywriter.

Sir Alec Guinness was born in England in 1914.

Sir Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars franchise. (ibtimes.co.uk)

After finishing school in 1932, he began work as an apprentice copywriter at a London ad agency. He earned 20 shillings a week, and wrote ads for a variety of products, enjoying his biggest success with a product called Rose’s Lime Juice.

Though working as a copywriter, his real goal was to become an actor.

So Alec Guinness would spend all this copywriting salary on theatre tickets. One day, he bumped into theatre great Sir John Gielgud, and asked his advice. Gielgud suggested he take acting lessons.

So Guinness diverted his copywriting salary to acting class. But after the second lesson, his teacher told him he would never be an actor, saying he “… had no talent at all.”

Alec Guinness didn’t listen to that teacher, switched acting classes, and went on to win an acting scholarship the very next year.

He made his first film in 1940, and would win a Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of the unyielding British POW commander in the film The Bridge On The River Kwai, in 1957.

He considered that role his best work ever.

He felt differently about another film…

Obi-Wan Kenobi was a part that vastly overshadowed his other work, and he came to resent it, saying, “I shrivel every time someone mentions Star Wars to me.”

But needless to say, it is a role that has gone down in history.


Salman Rushdie

Way back in 1969, Salman Rushdie was out of work, and ran into a friend who was making shampoo commercials at the London office of ad agency J. Walter Thompson.

At his friend’s urging, Rushdie took a copy test there. The main question of which was:

Salman Rushdie attends the premiere of ‘Midnight’s Children’ during the 56th BFI London Film Festival at Odeon West End on October 14, 2012 in London, England. (Getty Images) “How would you explain the concept of toast to a Martian in 100 words?” Salman Rushdie thought, how hard can this be?

He failed the test.

But he was intrigued with advertising, and eventually found a job as a copywriter at a smaller firm. At night he would work on his novel, and eventually quit the copywriting job to concentrate on the book.

But he was turned down by every publisher he contacted.

So Salman Rushdie returned to advertising, and landed a job at Ogilvy & Mather.

While there, he worked on a long list of accounts, including the Daily Mirror, American Express and Aero Chocolate bars, and had a knack for writing slogans.

One day, a panicked fellow copywriter asked Rushdie to help him come up with a line for Aero bars. Just then the client called asking for a progress report, and the nervous copywriter started stuttering, trying to say that the deadline was, “Imposs–ib-ib-ible.”

In that moment Rushdie had an idea, and coined the word, “IrresitiBubble” – which has remained the UK slogan for Aero to this day.

While copywriting at Ogilvy & Mather, he finished his breakout novel, called, Midnight’s Children, which would eventually win the Booker Prize in 1981.

That success led him to leave the advertising business, and go on to write many best sellers, including The Satanic Verses, a book that led to Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini issuing a fatwa in 1989. A death sentence he would live under for more than 10 years.

While Salman Rushdie is now among the world’s most famous writers, he has gone on record saying he never lost the habits he first formed as a copywriter.

“I now write exactly like that, ” says Rushdie. “I write like a job. I sit down in the morning and I do it. And I don’t miss deadlines. I do feel that a lot of the professional craft of writing is something I learnt from those years in advertising and I’ll always be grateful for it.”


For these stories and more from Under The Influence, click or tap on the “Listen” tab to hear the full episode.
You can also find us on the CBC Radio app or subscribe to our Podcast.


Under The Influence is recorded in the Terstream Mobile Recording studio – a 1969 Airstream trailer that’s been restored and transformed into a studio on wheels. So host Terry O’Reilly can record the show wherever he goes.
Follow the journey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and search for the hashtag: #Terstream.

(Image Credit: Sidney O’Reilly)

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Canadian report reveals spike in food-related litter during pandemic

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TORONTO — Restaurants’ inability to offer their usual dine-in service during much of 2020 may explain why an unusually high amount of food-related litter was found across the country, a new report says.

The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup (GCSC) is an annual program in which volunteers are encouraged to clean up green spaces and other natural areas.

Last year, single-use food and beverage containers made up 26.6 per cent of waste collected through the program – nearly twice as high a percentage as in 2019, before the pandemic.

“We suspect the change may be one of the many implications of COVID-19, including more people ordering restaurant takeaway and consuming more individually packaged foods,” GCSC spokesperson Julia Wakeling said in a press release.

While food- and beverage-related litter accounted for a greater percentage of waste uncovered by GCSC than in the past, it wasn’t the single largest category of items picked up through the program last year.

That dubious honour goes to cigarette butts and other smoking-related paraphernalia, which comprised nearly 29 per cent of all items collected. There were more than 83,000 cigarette butts among the 42,000 kilograms of waste found and clean up last year.

So-called “tiny trash” – little pieces of plastic and foam – also accounted for a sizeable share of the waste, making up 26.8 per cent of the total haul.

In addition to smoking-related items and tiny trash, the main pieces of litter removed by GCSC volunteers last year included nearly 22,000 food wrappers, more than 17,500 pieces of paper, more than 13,000 bottle caps and more than 10,000 beverage cans.

Discarded face masks and other forms of personal protective equipment were also detected and cleaned up, although not tallied in their own category.  PPE waste has been repeatedly cited as a concern by environmental advocates during the pandemic; a robin in Chilliwack, B.C. is the earliest known example of an animal that died due to coronavirus-related litter.

The GCSC is an annual program organized by Ocean Wise and the World Wildlife Fund Canada. Its operations were disrupted by the pandemic as well; only 15,000 volunteers took part in the program last year, versus 85,000 in 2019, due to delays and public health restrictions making large group clean-ups impossible.

Still, there was GCSC participation from every province and the Northwest Territories in 2020. Nearly half of the volunteers who took part were based in B.C., where the program began in 1994.

Data from past GCSC reports was used as part of the research backing Canada’s ban on certain single-use plastic items, which is scheduled to take effect by the end of 2021.

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Canada: Significant Changes To Canada’s Federal Environmental Protection Regime Proposed

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On April 13, 2021, the government of Canada proposed significant changes to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (“CEPA”)1 through the introduction of Bill C-28, Strengthening Environmental Protection for a Healthier Canada Act (the “Amendments“).2

With these Amendments, the government hopes to modernize Canada’s environmental regime which has not undergone significant change in over 20 years. CEPA is the primary statute through which the federal government regulates and protects the environment. CEPA and its accompanying regulations regulate among other things the treatment and disposal of chemicals and hazardous waste, vehicle and engine emissions, equipment and other sources of pollution, and the prevention and impact of environmental emergencies such as oil and chemical spills.

This bulletin provides an overview of the major changes to CEPA that have been proposed.

The Right to a Healthy Environment and Certain Soft Rights

Significantly, the Preamble under the Amendments will officially recognize Canadians’ right to a healthy environment. Section 2 of CEPA will require the government to protect that right when making decisions relating to the environment.3

The Amendments set out specific obligations the government must undertake to safeguard this right, including developing an implementation framework to set out how this right will be considered in the administration of CEPA as well as conducting research, studies and monitoring activities to support this goal.

In addition, the Preamble will recognize some additional considerations, including confirming the government’s commitment to implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) as well as recognizing the importance of considering vulnerable persons, reducing or replacing the use of animal testing, and the right of Canadians to have access to information on product labels.

Project Impact Assessment

With respect to risk assessments under CEPA, under the new provisions the federal government must consider impacts on vulnerable populations and possible cumulative effects of the proposed conduct. Vulnerable populations will include groups of people with elevated biological susceptibility, such as children, and groups with elevated exposure risks, such an indigenous communities. Consideration of cumulative effects of proposed conduct takes a holistic approach to substance management by considering the compounding risks of exposure to various chemicals during daily life rather than looking at substances on their own.

Chemicals Management

The federal government has identified the management of chemicals as a key target area under the new CEPA.

The Amendments thus propose to overhaul this regime in order to better protect Canadians from the evolving risks of harmful chemicals and pollution. To accomplish this, the government has proposed wide ranging changes relating to risk assessment, public accountability, management of toxic substances and new substances, which are discussed in turn below.

Risk Assessment

The government must consult, develop and publish a Plan of Chemicals Management Priorities which will set out an integrated plan for the risk assessment of various chemical substances currently being used in Canada. The Plan will establish priorities for the management of substances, taking into account a number of factors including among others the views of stakeholders and partners, public comments, the effects on vulnerable populations, the toxicity of the substance, the ability to disrupt biological reproduction or endocrine systems, and whether there are safer and more sustainable alternatives.4 The government will also be empowered to make geographically targeted regulations to address pollution “hot spots”.

Additionally, the Amendments will establish a mechanism through which any person can submit a request to the Minister to assess a substance to determine its toxicity and risk to the environment. The Minister must provide a response within 90 days, indicating whether they intend to assess the substances and their reasons for their decision.

Public Accountability Framework

The Amendments intend to increase transparency and public participation in risk assessments by the government for the categorization and management of potentially toxic chemicals. Currently, CEPA contains a public accountability framework under section 77 and provides time limits for the government to assess substances under sections 91 and 92. However, these provisions only apply to certain risk assessments being conducted by the government such as substances placed on the Domestic Substances List that in the opinion of the Minister present the greatest potential for exposure to Canadians or are persistent or bio-accumulative. The proposed Amendments plan to amend section 77 to expand these transparency and accountability measures to all substance risk assessments for toxic or capable of being toxic substances, with the exception of assessments for new substances.5

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Scientists, Homalco First Nation team up to probe massive B.C. landslide — and its impact on salmon

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When the side of a B.C. mountain gave way on Nov. 28, 2020, crashing into a glacier fed lake and creating a 100-metre high tsunami, no one was around to see the destruction or hear the sound of rocks and trees tearing through the valley below. 

But scientists say the force, which was picked up by seismographs across North America, was the equivalent of a 4.9-magnitude earthquake. 

Fortunately, no one was in the slide’s path, but experts believe that a melting glacier likely contributed by making the slope less stable — and climate change means it is a growing risk. 

As more of Canada’s glaciers recede, scientists say there is great interest in finding out what exactly triggered this slide, and how the rocks and sediment have impacted the salmon population of nearby Elliot Creek and Southgate River. 

The mountain, which is located about 220 km north west of Vancouver, is on the traditional territory of the Homalco First Nation. 

It’s an area of remote wilderness, only accessible by air or by boating 80 km up Bute Inlet.

When the slide hit last year, more than 18 million cubic meters of rock barrelled down the slope hitting the lake within 30 seconds. 

“That is the equivalent of all of the cars in Canada coming down the hill at once,” said Marten Geertsema, a geomorphologist who works with the B.C. government studying landslides. 

He is one of several scientists, along with members from the Homalco First Nation, who have been studying the landslide and its cascading environmental impact on the watershed and salmon habitat. 

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