‘Sorry Charlie’: StarKist mascot celebrates 50 years


Above: The Toonseum helped Charlie the Tuna celebrate his 50th birthday. Below: Animation sketches from a 1958 StarKist commercial and a case full of Charlie the Tuna merchandise. (Photos/D.J. Swank)

They say you can tune a piano, but you can’t tuna fish.

Proof of that was on display at the Toonseum in Downtown Pittsburgh on Saturday, Feb. 26. There, museum goers and cartoon aficionados alike were treated to a party for a fish that hasn’t changed his tune in 50 years.

Charlie the Tuna debuted in his first commercial for StarKist Tuna, which has its corporate headquarters on the North Shore, in 1961. This was after StarKist hired advertising executive Leo Burnett to create a new campaign to separate the company from competitors, which led to copywriter Tom Rogers creating the original concept for the mascot.

Two timelines were posted along opposing walls of the Toonseum, allowing museum goers to trace the history of Charlie along with the history of StarKist.

A glass case stood at the back wall of the gallery containing a number of commercial items featuring the famous fish, including telephones, bathroom scales, money clip, and umbrellas.

Of course, no Toonseum exhibit would be complete without original sketches and animation cels to give viewers a sort of behind-the-scenes look at cartooning.

The exhibit also featured a screening of many of the actual commercials starring Charlie. These commercials are brought to life by actor Herschel Bernardi as the voice of Charlie and voice over artist Danny Dark as the narrator. They produced over 85 commercials consisting of both animation and live-action shots of families enjoying StarKist tuna.

There was no piano tuning required for the commercials on display, either. These commercials relied on solid voice acting, animation and even storytelling to sell their product without the aid of catchy music or upbeat jingles.

Apart from the commercials, stills and merchandise, the event also featured button making, refreshments and raffles of various tuna-related prizes.

Toonseum staff members were on hand to assist and interact with those in attendance. The attendees represented a wide range of ages, from those who might remember when “Sorry, Charlie” first found its way into the American vernacular in 1962 to those who might only be familiar with the newer, slimmer Charlie who debuted in 1999.

Though the birthday party marked the last day of Charlie’s stay at the Toonseum, the exhibit will be moved to StarKist Headquarters on North Shore Drive.

It might be too late to wish him a Happy Birthday, but at least you can still tell him “Sorry, Charlie.”

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