A reasonably fascinating insight into a time when the unholy television-consumerism pact was still in metaphorical short trousers. Les Paul was American music’s one-man innovating starburst, crucial to the birth of the modern electric guitar and multi-track recording, as well as being a wildly entertaining master of his instrument. Mary Ford was a honey-voiced chanteuse, an able guitarist in her own right, and Paul’s comedy foil. She was also his wife.
In the early 1950s, the two starred in a series of comedic shorts filmed at their home, sponsored by halitosis-busting antiseptic merchants Listerine. They’re a portal into the saccharin-sweet white picket-fenced ideal of American respectability circa 1954 – a respectability which, like Victorian England’s before it, hid a fair amount of seediness.
American music’s golden couple would eventually split very acrimoniously, Ford embarking on a fame-fleeing toboggan ride into alcoholism, and Paul seeking a divorce on grounds of cruelty, adultery and the neglect of their children. Says everything you need to know about social attitudes at the time that she could be castigated for not devoting herself to her offspring while he could leave them to flit around the country playing his guitar without comment. In 1977, aged just 53, poor Mary slipped into a diabetic coma she never woke up from. Les lived to 93.
If you can get over the horribly gendered division of labour – Mary darns the socks, Paul tinkers manfully with his manful guitar – and the general patronising sexism of the ads themselves – basic tone: “how on earth are you going to please the male section of the populace looking/smelling/sounding like that, dear?” – the shorts themselves are quite fun, as are the inexplicable segues into mimed musical numbers. Les doesn’t ever bother to plug his guitar in, but it’s marginally more interesting to watch how he plays his astonishing parts than just listen to them at least.