November 30, 2008

Babar Heartily Endorses This Event Or Product

babar_american_airlines.jpg

I picked up a copy at the library sale of one of the stranger Babar titles I've ever seen: the 1965 Babar Comes To Amerca. Any history of the decline of children's culture into the pit of commercialism will need at least a chapter about Babar's hilariously shameless shilling on behalf of the corporate sponsors who put Laurent de Brunhoff and his wife up for their month-long cross-country tour of the US in 1963.

babar_hilton_hotel.jpg

After many years of creative struggle with his father's original publishers, Hachette, Laurent de Brunhoff took his new Babar titles to Random House in 1962. Soon after, the publisher arranged a sightseeing/research tour for the de Brunhoffs, which was underwritten by companies in exchange for prominent mention in a Babar book.

Sure enough, when Babar Goes To America, he flies Pan Am to Dulles. Then he flies American to New York, where he eats breakfast in his room at the Hilton Hotel. When he gets to San Francisco, however, Babar reunites with his family in the grand lobby of an unidentified hotel that is obviously the Fairmont. I guess the de Brunhoffs didn't get that upgrade to the suite.

babar_lampoon.jpg

Even more surreal, if that's possible, is Babar's Ivy League realness. The king of the elephants visits Bob and Helen and their three sons in Scarsdale. Then he heads up to Harvard to get an honorary degree and chat with the staff of the Lampoon. And then there's the book's grand finale: the Harvard-Yale football game, held that year [1963] in New Haven. [Yale won.]

[Bob turns out to be Robert Bernstein, at the time a VP at Random House. Bernstein went on to become the company's CEO, but his most notable accomplishment is the founding of Human Rights Watch. Well, that and appearing in a cameo in a Babar book, of course.]

From the Coke & Pepsi Challenge to the Vistadome-equipped train to the multi-page trip to Disneyland, Babar Comes To America is a glorious celebration of the brands that made America great. So great, in fact, that de Brunhoff eventually moved to the US [he and his wife live in Connecticut--Yale Country!]. And after many years out of print, Abrams reissued Babar Comes To America in August. No word on whether they resold the story mentions for the now-defunct Pan Am.

Buy a new copy of Babar Comes to America for around $11, or the original 1965 Random House edition starting at $6.64 [amazon]

2 Comments

Amazing. I haven't seen such inspired shilling since Momus' Stars Forever album.

Fantastic. I'm a big fan of Babar and just run into this stuff for the first time.

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