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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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Tiger-Cats claim victory against the Argos to maintain home record on Labour Day

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The Hamilton Tiger-Cats were at their devastating best against the Toronto Argonauts when the two locked horns on Labour Day at the Tim Hortons Field.

Just like with previous Labour Day fixtures, the Ticats produced a stellar performance with Dane Evans throwing two touchdown passes while Frankie Williams scored on a 67-yard punt return as they claimed a 32-19 victory on Monday. With this vital win, the Ticats extended their Labour Day home record to 7-0.

For players and fans of the Tiger-Cats, games on Labour Day are a lot more special and losing is something the Ticats aren’t used to.

“We know the fans are going to be behind us, we know Toronto is going to be chippy, we know it’s going to be sunny; we know it’s going to be windy. Everything that happened (Monday) we prepared for. There is something extremely special about Tim Hortons Field on Labour Day . . . you can feel it in the air, I can’t put it into words,” said Evans.

After the COVID-19 induced hiatus, the CFL is back in full action and fans can now bet on their favourite teams and just like with online slots Canada, real money can be won. Hamilton (2-2) recorded its second straight win to move into a tie atop the CFL East Division standings with Montreal Alouettes (2-2). Also, the Ticats lead the overall Labour Day series with Toronto 36-13-1.

In the sun-drenched gathering of 15,000—the maximum allowed under Ontario government COVID-19 protocols—the fans loved every minute of this feisty game. After all, this was the Ticats first home game in 659 days, since their 36-16 East Division final win over Edmonton in November 2019.

The contest between the Ticats and Argos was certainly not bereft of emotions, typical of a Labour Day fixture, as it ended with an on-field melee. But the Argos often found themselves on the wrong end of the decisions with several penalty calls and most of the game’s explosive plays.

Hamilton quarterback Evans completed 21-of-29 passing for 248 yards and the two touchdowns while Toronto’s make-shift quarterback Arbuckle completed 18-of-32 attempts for 207 yards. Arbuckle also made a touchdown and two interceptions before eventually being substituted by McLeod Bethel-Thompson.

Bethel-Thompson made an eight-yard TD pass to wide receiver Eric Rogers late in the final quarter of the game.

“They got after us a bit . . . we didn’t block, or pass protect well,” said Ryan Dinwiddie, rookie head coach of the Argos in a post-match interview. “They just kicked our butts; we’ve got to come back and be a better team next week.”

The Labour Day contest was the first of four fixtures this year between Toronto and Hamilton. The two teams would face off again on Friday at BMO Field. Afterwards, the Tim Hortons Field will play host to the Argonauts again on Oct. 11 with the regular-season finale scheduled for Nov. 12 in Toronto.

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Roughriders looking to bounce back after Labor Day defeat

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In what an unusual feeling for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, they would now need to dust themselves up after a 23-8 loss to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in what was a Labor Day Classic showdown in front of a full capacity crowd at Mosaic stadium.

Craig Dickenson, head coach of the Riders, witnessed his team with an unbeaten record get utterly dominated by a more superior team from Winnipeg. Now, he has got a lot of work on his hands getting his team back to winning ways as they visit the Banjo Bowl next.

“We’re going to see what we’re made of now…the jury’s out,” said Dickenson.

Dan Clark, who played centre for the Riders expressed his disappointment in losing what was “the biggest game of the year”.

 “If you lose every other game, you don’t want to lose that one. We’ve just got to take the next step,” said Clark in a report. “There are 12 steps to the Grey Cup left and it’s just about taking that next step and focusing on what Saturday will bring.”

With their first defeat to Winnipeg, the Riders (3-1) now rank second place in the CFL’s West Division, trailing the Bombers by one victory (4-1). However, the Riders will have the chance to even the season series during their trip to Winnipeg this Saturday. With the CFL heating up, fans can now enjoy online sports betting Canada as they look forward to their team’s victory.

The Rider’s offensive line will once again have a busy time dealing with the Blue Bombers’ defence.

Quarterback Cody Fajardo, who played one of the best games of his career two weeks earlier, had quite a stinker against the Bombers in the Labour Day Classic—which is the most anticipated game for Rider fans.

Fajardo had a 59 per cent completion percentage which wasn’t quite indicative of what the actual figure was considering he was at 50 per cent before going on a late drive in the final quarter with the Bombers already becoming laid back just to protect the win.

Fajardo also registered a personal worst when he threw three interceptions, but in all fairness, he was always swarmed by the Bomber’s defence.

While Fajardo has claimed responsibility for the loss and letting his teammates down, many would be curious to see how the team fares in their next game and with less than a week of preparation.

Dickenson is confident that his team would improve during their rematch in the 17th edition of the Banjo Bowl in Winnipeg. The only challenge now would be the loss of home advantage and dealing with the noisy home crowd, he added.

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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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