Saturday, December 9, 2017

In the heyday of the American auto industry, outside the box thinking didn't last long, or fare well.

Today in Today in Literature:

On this day in 1955, American poet Marianne Moore submitted the last of the names that she had contracted to provide to the Ford Motor Company for the new car they were about to launch. This labor had begun six weeks earlier, at the behest of David Wallace, the sociology Ph.D. who had been hired by Ford to conduct the search, and who had written to Moore with his despair:

Over the past few weeks this office has confected a list of three hundred-odd candidates which, it pains me to relate, are characterized by an embarrassing pedestrianism. We are miles short of our ambition. And so we are seeking the help of one who knows more about this sort of magic than we....

Moore was almost a cult figure in America during the 50s and 60s, known as much for her love of baseball (sometimes throwing the first pitch) and prize fights (sometimes dining with Cassius Clay), as for her Pulitzer Prize-winning poetry. What Ford wanted was a car name that "flashes a dramatically desirable picture in people's minds," from a woman who seemed to know mainstream America. What they got was "Anticipator," "Thunder Crester," "Pastelogram," "Intelligent Whale," "The Resilient Bullet," "Mongoose Civique," "Andante con Moto," "Varsity Stroke" and then, as her very last try for the name magic, "Utopian Turtletop."

The Mooremobile was not to be, and Ford returned to its old, pedestrian route. Every day the appointed panel of executives would assemble in the appointed projection room to review some of the 18,000 names forwarded by the appointed ad agency. Each contender flashed across the screen in six-inch high letters, to oblivion unless someone shouted, "Stop!" and gave reasons for their enthusiasm. This got the list to 6,000 and then 400 and then 16, though perhaps more quickly than it should have: Wallace was so suspicious after several sessions had gone by without a single "Stop!" that he had BUICK flashed across the screen, again to no response, and turned on the lights to see most people dozing.

None of the final contenders, neither "Corsair" nor "Citation" nor "Ranger" nor "Pacer," made the grade in the end, and Ford returned to its better, much earlier idea: the Edsel.

Moore returned to poetry, and baseball -- though "Baseball & Writing," one poetic homage to the sport, seems at times to speak to the ad-man's game:

... Pitching is a large subject.
Your arm, too true at first, can learn to
catch your corners....

For the complete- and delightful- list Moore sent Ford- and a bio of her life, which in included writing the liner notes for Muhammed Ali's spoken word record album, "I Am The Greatest," click here.

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