I honestly can’t cook worth a damn. I know that’s not very Atomic Age housewife of me, but honestly I’d be more of a “feed my family frozen dinners in front of the television while hiding in the closet eating Valium by the handful as if I lived in a Rolling Stones song” type back then. Anyway, dust off the Naugahyde seats of your Futoro House and gather round, because today I wanna talk about Ovaltine.
I sprinkled Ovaltine on some buttered toast. That counts as a recipe, right?
(Editor’s Note: If it’s good enough for Rachel Ray…)
Ovaltine wasn’t specifically a product of the Atomic Age; it had actually been around for decades beforehand, but it, like dozens of other instant ready-mix products, had gained a special foothold during that era where it was imagined we’d all be in space eating freeze-dried ice cream within a single lifetime. It was a drink for future astronauts and super-detectives.
Advertisements at the time made bombastic claims. Actual quote: “Science was never more justified than in the long and patient researches which produced Ovaltine.”
It was a superfood, decades before there even was such a term.
Before the Super Spy Decoder Rings and Captain Midnight Glowing Atomic Doodads, Ovaltine first hit the shelves in America in 1915. And because you couldn’t just drink things because they taste good, like everything else back then it was marketed as a “health tonic”. Although no longer outright claiming that any more, that aspect continued on with their marketing for decades later.
Many ads of the time targeted the parents of sensitive, effeminate boys who seemed disinterested in sports. Boys that couldn’t fit in with the others and seemed nervous around them. Concerns were raised of them developing “complexes” and “feeling left behind” the other boys.
As noted by historian Elaine Tyler May, there was an uneasiness developing in regards to an “overabundance” of maternal care for boys. Lack of paternal participation in child-rearing could lead to struggles with gender role alignment. Nervous, under-weight boys could be interrupted or even halted on their journey to manhood. Or, even worse, turn out homosexual. Ovaltine had an answer for this heteromasculine uneasiness.
“Yes yes, drink your anti-sissy potion, dear. All you want!”
Ovaltine has vitamins. It has calcium and protein and will put fat in all the right places. Say goodbye to your awkward nervous wreck of a son. A few months on an Ovaltine regimen, and he’ll practically be a new person—
Probably not what they had in mind.
I’ve always figured one of the more fascinating anomalies of the Atomic Age, extreme even in an time of radioactive toys and backyard bomb shelters, was the celebrity rise and fall of Christine Jorgenson. There was a brief window of time when the idea of changing sex was considered just as miraculous a symbol of American scientific exceptionalism as space travel. It’s hard to believe now, but you can catch some of the excitement of the time filtered through the odd aesthetics of Ed Wood’s debut feature Glen Or Glenda.
She was on the cover of every newspaper and magazine, future Nation Of Islam leader Louis Farakhan wrote a hit song about her back when he was a calypso musician. Headlines celebrated the “Jug-Eared GI Turned Into Blonde Bombshell”. And she wasn’t the only one; two other transsexuals, Charlotte McCloud and Tamara Rees, had also achieved notoriety around the same time, if not quite the same level of celebrity.
It’s been theorized that when other transsexuals gained mainstream visibility, and the process of changing sex became less of a one-in-a-billion living sci-fi marvel and seeming more of a phenomenon that could actually arrive in your neighborhood, that social backlash began. People began to worry that their own nervous little sissy boys could grow up to be girls, which just would not do. Time Magazine suddenly dropped using female pronouns for Jorgenson, and developed a harsher tone in relating the experiences of her transition. Life Magazine published an eight-page spread on serial killer Ed Gein, suggesting completely out of thin air that he “wished to be a woman”. This was before Gein had even been evaluated or interviewed by a psychologist, but despite having no evidence, they planted with that story the seed of an entire industry worth of “murderous transsexual” horror stories and films.
But for just a few months, there was this brief glimpse of acceptance. The lines were allow to blur a bit, and if you close your eyes for just a moment you can picture a world where even the heteromasculine vanguard Ovaltine sung it’s praises.