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For Whom the Doorbell Tolls


For Whom the Doorbell TollsFor whom does the doorbell toll? In the Sixties, it tolled quite often for stay-at-home moms. Avon reps, Fuller Brush Men, magazine hawkers, Jehovah’s Witnesses, tin men trying to get a little on the side—customers for aluminum siding, that is. Ding dong, ding dong, ding dong! According to a statistic disclosed in “American Family Values of the Sixties” by Emily Potter, “During the early Sixties, nearly 70 per cent of families resembled those of the Fifties.” Most dads, whether blue-or-white collared, drove to work in the family vehicle, leaving the women behind to run the household and take care of the children. This left the door wide open, so to speak, for sales pitchers to cross over the threshold and step into the parlor to peddle their wares.

“Ding Dong! Avon Calling!” Before Avon representatives buzzed their way in to bend an ear about 17 ways to wear an Avon fragrance, or spread out the new collection of ultra sheer, translucently expressive pink lipsticks, or entice the lady-of-the-house with blue and green eye shadow—David H. McConnell, an unsuccessful book salesman, concocted a rose-scented perfume as a free gift to entice people to buy his books. The perfume became so popular, this “ladies man” ditched the books and founded the California Perfume Company in 1886. Leave it to Mrs. P.F.E. Albee, a lady with the gift of gab, to come up with the idea of marketing perfumes door-to-door that same year. By recruiting a team of saleswomen, women had the chance to work outside the home in an era when there were few opportunities to do so. It wasn’t until 1963 when Betty Friedan wrote The Feminine Mystique, chronicling the lives of unhappy and unfulfilled women in their traditional roles of housewives, that more women felt encouraged to start careers of their own, thereby placing greater demands on their husbands to help out with housework and child care.

After McConnell’s death, his son took over the business and changed the company name to “Avon” in 1939, honoring Shakespeare’s hometown, Stratford-on-Avon. "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." Avon sold its first novelty perfume decanters in the 1960s. Collectible glass car decanters appeared in 1968.

Even though sales pitchers have the knack for being “full of it”, don’t give the bum’s rush to Fuller Brush—a company with “the best products of their kind in the world.” Once these guys made it to first base with the missus—I’m guessing the love seat or sofa—they “gave their very best” make it work, make it last, guarantee it no matter what! No telling what the Fuller Brush Man had inside that suitcase of his besides those unique, custom-made brushes. Household cleaning aids, polishes & wax products, stainless steel sponges, lotions and fragrances, hair care aids—now we’re talkin’! In 1966, Fuller Brush hired 17,500 women for the door-to-door campaign due to lack of qualified men, following the high heeled path led by Avon.

“Now I know I've got a heart, 'cause it's breaking.” Maybe so for the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz, but not so for fast-talking “tin men” Ernest Tilley and Bill “BB” Babowsky, door-to-door aluminum siding salesmen circa 1963, Baltimore (Tin Men, 1987). Working for different companies, these two are prepared to do whatever it takes to close a sale. One of their scams entailed appearing on someone’s front lawn with a camera and tripod. When the housewife came out, they’d explain how they were doing a photo presentation about aluminum siding for Life Magazine—a before and after scenario to show how much better a house looks after it’s aluminum sided. “Your house is going to be the before picture.” Nyuk, nyuk! That’s all most women needed to hear so they’d badger their husbands to get the house sided so theirs could be Life after siding.

“I’m not interested” or ”I’m busy right now”-- many a Sixties housewife’s typical answer when she discovered the caller on the other side of the screen door was a Jehovah’s Witness. As God is my witness through a statistic I came across, Jehovah’s Witnesses get answers at only about half of the homes they visit—at that, no one invites them in. On average, it takes about 740 random calls for each convert. I’m thinking maybe a rose-scented perfume as a free gift would entice the mistress or matron of the manor to bide the Bible.

Nowadays, we live under a mushroom cloud of spammers and scammers. Virtually no one is home during the day because most moms have a career in addition to ferrying the kids to soccer practice. The only doorbell ringer is apt to be a Girl Scout selling cookies around dinner time. Offering a sweet deal, you’ll sign on the dotted line and pay her up front, trusting her to make good on your order for Thin Mints, Caramel DeLites, and Peanut Butter Patties.


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