Tainted tuna

Charlie the Tuna

Charlie the Tuna, the cartoon mascot tuna for StarKist Tuna, was created by Tom Rogers of the Leo Burnett Agency after StarKist hired Leo Burnett in 1961. StarKist Tuna is the name of a brand of tuna currently owned by Del Monte Foods, Inc.

As reported in news stories about Rogers, Charlie the Tuna was based on Rogers' friend, the actor-songwriter Henry Nemo. B-movie actress Maila Nurmi claims that the character was originally sketched six years earlier by the actor James Dean while she was sitting with him one night in Googie's coffee shop in Los Angeles. However, StarKist and Burnett both give full credit to Rogers, and there is no actual evidence for Nurmi's claim.

The advertisements depicted Charlie (voiced by actor Herschel Bernardi) as a hipster wearing a beret and glasses, whose goal is to be caught by the StarKist company. Charlie believes that he is so hip and cultured that he has "good taste," and is thus the perfect tuna for StarKist. Charlie is always rejected in the form of a note attached to a fish hook that said, "Sorry, Charlie." The reason given by the narrator (voiced by Danny Dark) for the rejection was that StarKist wasn't looking for tuna with good taste but rather for tuna that tasted good.

More than one person has commented on the sheer creepiness of Charlie's being upset that no one wanted to drag him out of the sea with a hook, grind him into little pieces and pack him in cans. He may have had good taste but obviously little sense.

"Sorry, Charlie" became closely associated with StarKist and was also a popular American catchphrase. Charlie appeared in more than 80 advertisements for StarKist until the 1980s, when the campaign was retired. In Canada, Charlie was pulled from store shelves in 1985 as a result of the Conservative Government's Tunagate tainted tuna scandal. The "Sorry, Charlie" slogan was parodied mercilessly by Canadian editorial cartoonists and journalists.

Charlie made a comeback in 1999, when StarKist revived him to introduce their new line of healthier tuna products. He has been the mascot of the company since then. He made an appearance on the Red Carpet countdown during the first TV Land Awards.

American hip hop star Chali 2na chose his rap name by slightly modifying the name Charlie Tuna, a nickname his uncle gave him in his youth. American football head coach Bill Parcells earned the nickname "The Big Tuna" when he responded to a bogus statement from a player with the incredulous "Who do you think I am? Charlie the Tuna?"

Rogers died June 24 2005. Bernardi, the original voice of the character, died May 9 1986.


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