One of the more obscure car related products of post WWII years was the “auto shaver”, an electric razor adapted for use in a car. During the 1950s and ’60s, both Remington and Schick marketed dual voltage shavers that could be employed conventionally in front of the bathroom mirror or plugged into a car’s cigarette lighter port. They were sold as the ultimate convenience for the guy on the go whose hectic schedule often put him in “stubble trouble”.
Unlike the photoshopped image beginning this post, auto shavers weren’t shaped like little cars. They looked like any homebound electric razor, and had been around for years when the two giants of beard mowing, Remington and Schick got serious about promoting them. GM had listed them in the accessory catalogs of their brands as early as 1948; they could be used either on automotive or home voltages with the flick of a switch. At $19.50, $198 in today’s money, a guy would have to think twice before shelling out almost third of a week’s salary for one, especially if he already had a garden variety electric shaver at home.
Casting about for a killer sales gimmick, Remington used a tried and true formula to establish a market for their hybrid shaver: Endorsement by A Famous Athlete. During the winter of 1956-’57, they quietly contracted with elite baseball pitcher Sal Maglie to cultivate a Van Dyke style beard, and fed publicity photos of him grooming and showing it off to a presumably unwitting press without revealing their own complicity in the apparent fashion foible.
Maglie had all the attributes around which to weave a smash-o campaign for their “Auto-Home Rollectric”. As a pitcher for The Brooklyn Dodgers and a former New York Giant, He had a huge profile in the biggest American advertising market, had famously pitched a “no hitter” late in the 1956 season while leading the Dodgers to first place in the National Baseball League, and even sported the perfect nickname: “The Barber”.
So called for his reputation of “shaving” the opposing baseball batter with near-miss pitches, Maglie was also the bearer of an impressively opaque five o’clock shadow. And, he lived conveniently close to east coast production studios. He had just appeared as a Mystery Guest on the popular Sunday night game show, “What’s My Line” on the day before pitching masterfully against the New York Yankees in the 1956 “World Series” (Phil Rizzuto, recently cut by the Yankees, was on the blindfolded panel but didn’t guess Sal’s identity). In the baseball game, Maglie gave up just 2 runs, but had the misfortune to be opposed by the Yankees’ Don Larsen, who pitched a “perfect” game, preventing all Dodger batters from reaching base.
By the new year, Maglie had been seen around town with a novel crop of facial hair, a fashion anomaly in the first half of the twentieth century. In those days, only history professors, jazz musicians and beat poets wore beards, and the public were left to wonder if Maglie was pitching “just a bit outside”. The truth was revealed with kickoff of Remington’s spring ad campaign (released just as Maglie turned 40 years old) that traded upon “baseball’s toughest beard” to promote the effectiveness of the in-car shaver that automatically switched from house to auto voltage when plugged into a car’s cigarette lighter port.
Remington’s agency produced a magazine ad and television commercial that showed “The Barber” sitting in a striking 1957 Chrysler Imperial convertible while attacking his substantial beard with a Remington Rollectric that whisked away the heavy growth in just 22 seconds. The ad encouraged readers to tune in to “What’s My Line”, as well as the wildly popular prime time horse opera, “Gunsmoke” to see video proof of the “historic shave” during program breaks.
A critical concern not directly addressed in the ad was the problem of shaving while trying to drive. With only two hands and two feet to handle five controls, the likelihood of safely wielding a Rollectric while in transit was questionable. They got around this by putting Maglie’s car at rest, so there was no worry about the number of extremities needed to steer, shift and shave at once. Further, the luxurious Imperial was equipped with Torqueflite push-button automatic transmission, so shifting while underway was not an issue.
Yet, the Auto-Home’s safe use was demonstrated, if not verbalized in the Remington TV commercials. In an early one, a traveling salesman in a begrimed 1955 Ford Country Squire (with manual transmission and the 1950s road warrior’s best friend, a fender mounted spotlight) pulls into car wash to enjoy a convenient, safe shave as the car rolls through, eliciting exclamations of approval from the soap jockeys at the other end.
That commercial is later referenced by somewhat odd spot in which another “suit”, hailing the ubiquitous mid century Mopar cab at LaGuardia Airport, is offered a Remington, “all fresh and cleaned and ready to shave” (!) by the driver. “I saw these Remington Auto-Home Shavers on the TV. Some guy was shaving while his car got washed!”, was the scripted line.
On the other hand, Schick smartly embraced the sex angle in commercials for their competitive offering, the Auto/Home Powershaver (note, Remington’s hyphen is replaced with a slash). Schick’s agency separated a long haul airline pilot from the steering wheel of his 1958 Oldsmobile convertible by putting it in the hands of his wife, who revealed a gift “Powershaver” in the glovebox. The advert makes it clear what her man has to gain by using the Schick, as she denies him a kiss before he cleans up with it.
Meanwhile, automakers continued to offer car shavers to pad out their accessory catalogs, even if they didn’t feature them in advertisements. This page from the 1956 Chevrolet handout lists a “GM” shaver that looks suspiciously like a Remington.
But a dual voltage shaver still wasn’t cheap. No wonder then, that inexpensive voltage inverters appeared to fill the price gap and negate the need to duplicate the razor already sitting at home on the vanity. Their actual capabilities were hard to discern in a flurry of flim flam meant to confuse the consumer into thinking they were razors in their own right. “Park safely, relax and enjoy a cool, quick, electric shave with a Trav-Electric Auto-Shaver” was printed on the box of the most popular brand. The Terado Company of St. Paul, MN introduced the misleadingly named, Kar-Shaver, a voltage inverter that that allowed any 110 v home razor to run off a car’s cigarette lighter port. Later, they even hid it in a suspiciously shaver-shaped case.
As late as 1969, Remington continued to offer the Auto-Home razor, updated with an adjustable shaving head in a squared-off case. One wonders how it was selling, given the decision to publicize it through a nationwide car raffle. In a collaborative campaign with American Motors, Remington advertised a give-away of 100 shavers, “with a 1969 AMX attached” (390 cid/4 speed stick!) in the December 1968 issue of Playboy Magazine. All you had to do was tear out the page and take it to a Remington or AMC dealer to compare the position of the “Comfort Dial” in your ad to that on a display image. Of course, a match didn’t guarantee you a car, as its parting words were, “or you may win one of 1000 Orrtronic auto stereo tape decks”.
Nowadays the car shaver concept lives on in Chinese-made units like this one. It’s tagline is, “Bicyclic network Superman speeding blade”.
Such a beautifully obfuscated description shows a deep understanding of the copy writer’s art, if not of western English. The Mad Men assigned to the Remington Auto-Home Rollectric and the Schick Auto/Home Powershaver would be proud.