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Columbia Pictures
Col. Bat Guano (Keenan Wynn) was reluctant to shoot the Coke machine in Stanley Kubrick's film "Dr. Strangelove."
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OKLAHOMA CITY – One afternoon in the curious autumn of 1983, I was visiting a friend of mine who lived on my leafy, Little Rock street, but approximately seven blocks away.

I was in my friend’s room and I just happened to glance outside and there, in the street, was my three-year old brother, heading away from our house, going who-knows-where.

I was stunned. How did he get there? I ran outside and grabbed him out of the street, asking him what he was doing. He calmly replied he was “going to Kroger to get a Coke.” He opened his hand and had a quarter. Not even enough for a 50-cent soft drink. But he didn’t know that. He just wanted a Coca-Cola. Could I blame him?

And in those days, with far-fewer beverage choices (and overarching health concerns), a Coca-Cola was often refreshing and remained popular. I was a firm fan of Coca-Cola, having chosen it during a “Pepsi Challenge” event there in Little Rock. Pepsi was fine in a pinch, but Coke was far preferable if one craved a bubbly, zippy, sugary soft drink.

Two years later, in 1985, the Atlanta, Georgia-based Coca Cola Company made a bold and bizarre decision – to change the formula of its much-beloved, flagship soft drink. It happened in April of that year and the world was stunned!

To this day, I can’t even believe they did it, rolling out this cloying, awful “New Coke” for the rabble. But the rabble didn’t like it and demanded the drink go back to the original formula. And they did, mostly. Something subtle was missing (the shift from cane sugar to high-fructose corn syrup, perhaps?).

Rather than drink Pepsi, I opted to drink Dr Pepper, instead. I liked the unusual flavor of the soda with “23 ingredients,” or something. They had catchy jingles and by June of 1985 I was drinking Dr Pepper exclusively, eschewing Pepsi and the wretched “New Coke,” regardless of what Max Headroom told me.

My friend Brad and I hoarded what remaining old Coca-Cola we could find. I recall a number of cans bursting and making fizzy messes after a few months.

Around this same time, inspired by favorite comic strip Bloom County, I began drawing a comic strip I titled Kimball Parish. I have discussed it a number of times here at Dust Devil Dreams. I wanted “parish” instead of county, and set it in central Louisiana. It would be roughly where Rapides Parish (Alexandria) is, where I lived and worked as a newspaper reporter from 1999-2005 – during the year 2001, obviously. Eerie. Weirder, in 2003 I would cover the destruction of the Columbia, the space shuttle that returned to Earth in pieces upon re-entry. I had unwittingly predicted Columbia's horrific fate some 22 years earlier.

The name “Kimball” comes from the Stanley Kubrick film 2001: A Space Odyssey. Dr. Jack Kimball was one of the three hibernating scientists aboard the U.S. S. Discovery, heading to Jupiter to inspect a transmission sent in the direction of Jupiter (Saturn in Arthur C. Clarke’s novel). What is interesting is that in Clarke’s novel, there is no Kimball. Instead, the astronaut is named Peter Whitehead. Why the change was made is not clear. A man named "Whitehead" is suspected in the disappearance of a young girl in the current season of True Detective, I should mention.

Another name in the film, “Poole,” as in Dr. Frank Poole (played by Gary Lockwood in the film), is used for the Kimball Parish (later The Kingfishers) character “Poole Morton.” Yes, 2001: A Space Odyssey impacted my creative life in ways I am still trying to understand. I was so excited, this past November, to take my young son to one of his first big-screen film experiences – 2001: A Space Odyssey! He loved it!

But the character I want to discuss here is Monty Colgate. I have referred to Monty is three previous Dust Devil Dreams posts … “Synchromystic Shuttle Missions, Tucson and ‘The Astronaut’s Wife,’” from February 2011; “Cosmic Kingfishers,” from January 2014; and “Just Curious,” from June 2014.

"Kingfishers" of a different sort. (Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report)

It was in the “Cosmic Kingfishers” post that I give a more in-depth explanation into “Monty Colgate”: More or less mute with a “Bert”-like long head and a long nose, Monty is actually very creative and possessing magical powers. His family owns “Monty Cola” soda-pop and the connected fortune. And when Monty drinks a can of Monty Cola, he turns into a rectangular box with “eyes” and he flies around. I later realized that Monty’s box looks very similar to 2001’s mysterious monolith. In one October 1985 panel for Kimball Parish, Monty agrees to be an astronaut aboard a space shuttle. Curiously, the panel was not completed – until after January 1986 – the month the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded after liftoff. Following that tragedy, I featured Monty’s space shuttle exploding as well. Monty somehow survives to fly another day (and play bass guitar and keyboards, too!)

Speaking of Colgate, I just found out that Colgate products (toothpaste and such) penetrates more than 60 percent of households in the world!! Coca-Cola, coming in in second place in household penetration has 43.3 percent. 

Yes, a little weird, I know. But I was thinking about it again this morning after dwelling on the mystical qualities of Coca-Cola (recall the scene in Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove where Peter Sellers’ Mandrake character has Col. Bat Guano -Keenan Wynn - shoot the Coca-Cola soda machine to get some change for the pay phone and Guano says, “You’ll have to answer to the Coca-Cola company”).

Again, Coca-Cola has made many, many appearances here on this sync site, from 'He shoot Coca-Cola" to "Stuck with you" to "Supernatural, perhaps."

Micky Dolenz seeks refreshment in the desert in the 1968 Monkees film "Head." (Columbia Pictures)

In 2018, the Australian “Coca-Cola Journey” website staff wrote a story headlined: From King Kong to Stranger Things: Coca-Cola on the silver screen.”

Note this sentence: “As Coke is such a symbol of Americana and a part of everyday life, it’s no wonder the brand naturally found its way into film scripts and onto sets. Coke has often been a subtle part of the narrative, integrated into the fabric of each scene.”

And this: “’This ubiquitous brand is ingrained in the cultural landscape and in the daily lives of the icons of music, movies and sports to the effect that it’s part of their natural surroundings,’ said Coca-Cola’s head archivist Ted Ryan.”

GREAT SCOTT!

And what is interesting is that two of the aforementioned films - Dr. Strangelove and Head (noted in "Be head"), were put out by Columbia Pictures. Coca-Cola owned Columbia Pictures from 1982 to 1989. What is interesting is that when I was talking about this soda-pop sync with a good friend this morning, this discussion shifted to the Space Shuttle, the Beatles and various syncs I had with them, as I noted earlier in relation to my mysterious cartoon character Monty Colgate. (May I point you to "ALL AGLOW: A mysterious Sgt. Pepper's discovery.") A former Space Shuttle Discovery astronaut, Dr. William Fisher, told me in a 2014 interview about his strange discovery involving his vinyl copy of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. The sync for me, five years later, is that the story goes that the Beatles' classic 1967 album was originally titled Dr. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. The band was allegedly unaware of the soft drink at that time, although John Lennon, in particular, would become a huge fan of the beverage, it seen during the Let It Be sessions of 1969 and in the studio while recording his 1971 album Imagine.

Thinking about this - and randomly sporting a Dr Pepper hat I happened to have here in the office - I walked out to my car and then happened to look at the pavement. There was a crushed Dr Pepper can, the one that looks like a football. 

What was equally strange, for me, is seeing a football-themed-mystery Dr Pepper commercial a few months ago featuring Twin Peaks' Ray Wise as a crazy-looking jail inmate. All a bit surreal.

Are the cola wars about to resume, just as Billy Joel talked about in the 30-year old song "We Didn't Start the Fire"? I just remembered that Dust Devil Dreams post, "A strange dust ..." Stranger things have happened ...

Stay tuned ...

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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