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Red-faced with the Coppertone Girl

BEST OF JEFF SERIES
By JEFF KLINKENBERG Published September 5, 2004

OCALA — When I was a boy, growing up in Miami, we often drove across MacArthur Causeway on our way to the beach. Near Biscayne Boulevard, on the side of a downtown building, was the biggest billboard I had ever seen. On the billboard, a dog was pulling down the bathing trunks of a little girl in pigtails.

Eisenhower was still president, and everybody was repressed except maybe those finger-snapping, reefer-smoking, free-sex beatniks in Greenwich Village, so it was shocking to be able to look out the window of our Nash Rambler and see an innocent little girl’s butt cheeks being exposed by a rude dog for all the world to see.

“Don’t be a pale face,” said the letters on the sign. “Use Coppertone.”

That ad for suntan lotion was among the most memorable come-ons in perhaps the golden age of advertising. You could see the ad on street corners in San Francisco and in Manhattan, on the blue highways of the Great Plains and here and there throughout the Wheat Belt.

The Coppertone Girl, it turned out, was as American as a Moon Pie. But if you lived here back then, if you lived anywhere near a beach, you considered the ad as quintessential Florida. It was a postcard of sorts that celebrated the sand and the sun and our state as a place where anything could happen.

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