Charlie the Tuna
Charlie the Tuna, the cartoon mascot tuna for StarKist Tuna, was created by Tom Rogers1 of the Leo Burnett Agency after StarKist hired Leo Burnett in 1961. StarKist Tuna is the name of a brand of tuna currently owned by Dongwon Industries.2
As reported in news stories about Rogers, Charlie the Tuna was based on Rogers' friend, the actor-songwriter Henry Nemo. B-movie actress Maila Nurmi claims that the character was originally sketched six years earlier by the actor James Dean while she was sitting with him one night in Googie's coffee shop in Los Angeles. However, StarKist and Burnett both give full credit to Rogers,3 and there is no actual evidence for Nurmi's claim.4
The advertisements depicted Charlie (voiced by actor Herschel Bernardi) as a hipster wearing a Greek fisherman's hat and coke-bottle glasses, whose goal is to be caught by the StarKist company. Charlie believes that he is so hip and cultured that he has "good taste," and he is thus the perfect tuna for StarKist. Charlie is always rejected in the form of a note attached to a fish hook that says, "Sorry, Charlie." The reason given by the narrator (voiced by Danny Dark) for the rejection was that StarKist was not looking for tuna with good taste but rather for tuna that tasted good. These commercials were animated by DePatie-Freleng Enterprises.5
"Sorry, Charlie" became closely associated with StarKist and was also a popular American catchphrase. Charlie appeared in more than 85 advertisements for StarKist until the 1980s, when the campaign was retired. The "Sorry, Charlie" slogan was parodied mercilessly by Canadian editorial cartoonists and journalists. George Carlin took up the slogan after "reporting" that Charlie had died from mercury poisoning.6
Charlie made a comeback in 1999, when StarKist revived him to introduce their new line of healthier tuna products.7 He has been the mascot of the company since then. He made an appearance on the Red Carpet countdown during the first TV Land Awards.
Bernardi, the original voice of the character, died on May 9, 1986.8 Dark died on June 13, 2004. Rogers died on June 24, 2005.9 Just that February, Charlie appeared in a MasterCard commercial titled "Icons" alongside other merchandising icons like Mr. Clean and Count Chocula. Carlin died on June 22, 2008.
American hip-hop star Chali 2na chose his rap name by slightly modifying the name Charlie Tuna, a nickname his uncle gave him in his youth. American football head coach Bill Parcells earned the nickname "The Big Tuna" when he responded to an obviously false statement from a player with the incredulous "Who do you think I am? Charlie the Tuna?" Los Angeles radio personality and voiceover artist Charlie Tuna (real name: Art Ferguson) chose his on-air name early in his career upon the departure of another Oklahoma City disc jockey. All disc jockeys at KOMA were told to draw their on-air names out of a hat, and by the time Chuck Riley picked his on-air name out of a hat, every name had been drawn except for "Charlie Tuna." Riley used the name for a week, and then left. His replacement, Art Ferguson, inherited the name, and he would keep the Charlie Tuna name upon relocating first to Boston and then Los Angeles.
Charlie the Tuna made a comeback in 2011 with a new advertisement for the Starkist Flavor Fresh Pouch. The TV advertisement begins with an announcer in older commercials featuring Charlie the Tuna saying "Sorry, Charlie". The announcer then says it's time to thank Charlie, and features several people saying "Thanks, Charlie" as opposed to "Sorry, Charlie".
- Holley, Joe. "Charlie the Tuna creator Tom Rogers dies", Washington Post, 8 July 2005.
- Del Monte wraps up sale of StarKist, fis.com, 8 October 2008.
- "Happy 50th Birthday Charlie!"
- Vernon, Jeff. Interview with Maila Nurmi re James Dean creation of Charlie the Tuna. September 29, 2003.
- Interview with David Depatie; extra feature on the "Here Comes The Grump" Box set
- "Sorry Charlie". Retrieved 2011-07-12.
- Revised advertising campaign
- Hershel Bernardi profile at the Internet Movie Database
- Holley, Joe. ‘Charlie the Tuna’ creator drowns", Washington Post, MSNBC.com, 8 July 2005.
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