Do you remember Burger Chef? Of course you don't. It was a crummy, substandard fast food chain that went out of business over 20 years ago and for good reason. But I remember Burger Chef. Oh how I remember. When I was growing up in the suburbs of Flint, MI, the only Burger Chef location anywhere near our house was at the Genesee Valley shopping mall, but we never went there. This was because McDonald's and Burger King existed. Why, unless those places (and every other fast food chain on the planet) disappeared overnight, would anyone voluntarily eat at Burger Chef?
The executives at Burger Chef knew that their restaurant chain was unwanted and unloved, so they came up with a marketing gimmick: "We'll lure the kids in with promises of Star Wars merchandise!" And so, cruel bastards that they were, they unleashed the following TV spot. You'll notice that it contains appearances by C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and R2-D2 (probably Kenny Baker). And if that's not enough, the supposed Burger Chef employee is played by Denise Nickerson, who played Violet Beuregarde in Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory and was also a regular on The Electric Company, a show I was very much into at the time.
Now that's the kind of commercial that fires up a child's imagination. I could just imagine getting one of those posters and then taping it directly to the drywall in my bedroom with scotch tape. So I lobbied my (already overworked) mother to take me to Burger Chef. And she did. So what did I get for my trouble? Nothing. When we got there, the Burger Chef employee -- not Denise Nickerson, I might add -- blandly informed us that the restaurant was "out" of posters. We did not stay to eat or drink anything, I need hardly add. In fact, to this day, I have no idea what Burger Chef's food was like. I'm guessing it tasted like the ashes of a burned-down orphanage.
Who knows why kids remember certain incidents from their childhood? All I know is that the pain of the "Burger Chef betrayal" never left me. I've carried it with me for decades. I believe this devastating setback caused me to lose faith in the grownup world. My long-ago failure to attain a Burger Chef Star Wars poster is at the root of all my current problems. Or at least that's the excuse I've settled on. And it's not like I'm being bitter over nothing. Those posters were awesome. Just check 'em out:
|One of these should have been mine. It was my birthright!|
Incidentally, in researching this article, I found something bizarre about Denise Nickerson. In 1971, the very same year she was a human blueberry in Willy Wonka, she played the title role in a stage musical called Lolita, My Love, based on the infamous Nabokov novel. Does that sound right to you? An all-singing, all-dancing Lolita? With Violet Beauregarde in the lead? The songs were by John Barry (best known for scoring 11 of the James Bond movies) and musical theater legend Alan Jay Lerner. With his ex-partner Frederick Loewe, Lerner had produced such hits as My Fair Lady, Brigadoon, Paint Your Wagon, and Camelot. Clearly, the Lerner/Barry partnership was not as successful. The Lolita musical rightfully flopped, closing before it ever even reached Broadway. But somehow, there's a cast album for it anyway. Here's Denise's big number:
Remember: someone did this on purpose.