Muhlenberg College prides itself on our prestigious history and alumni. We are known for many things, such as our respected musical theater and dance programs, our rich historical involvement in American Lutheranism, and even our conversion to military barracks to aid the second World War effort. We are known for our alumni, from singer Frankie Grande to famous theologian Matthias Loy. Our campus has been home to TV stars, prominent politicians, a wide array of professional athletes, a game show host, a performance by Billy Joel, and even alumni Henry David Abraham, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985.
However, that is nowhere near the most important thing to have happened to Muhlenberg College in 1985, because above all of the history, prestige, and fame, Muhlenberg College should be remembered by its most vital contribution to society that year: an anti-drug, pro-health commercial sponsored by Campbell’s Soup that aired on MTV. At the height of its fame, before any Cribs or Jersey Shore, MTV aired this truly forgotten piece of Muhlenberg history thirty years ago this exact week.
At the time of the shoot, MTV was a pop culture icon; the go-to place for all things popular in music. Needless to say, students were very excited. One Weekly writer, in October of 1985, went as far to say, “I will never get over this as long as I live,” and later added, “WE ARE ON M-TV! We don’t need any publicity anymore – everyone in this country now knows about Muhlenberg.” So what exactly does this masterpiece commercial contain? More than you could ever hope for.
The writer of the Oct 25, 1985, cover page article opened with a question, asking students “When was the last time you saw students dancing, singing, and smiling on their way into the library?” It is important to note that back in 1985, the library was what we know as the Haas College Center. The commercial opens up in front of the now-administration building with quite possibly the most energetic high five ever recorded. It then transitions into The Garden Room, which was the original dining hall and what we now call the Event Space. In this scene, we are greeted with one of the best lines in television history, “No vegetables! Fries! Shakes! Pie! YUMMY!” As the main character dances and slides around the room, he eventually jumps into the immediately recognizable Memorial Hall Gymnasium, with very little having changed in the past 30 years.
We are then transitioned back onto Academic Row and eventually Ettinger Hall, where a love-struck student dances his way out of the building. However, the astute Muhlenberg student will notice that the student leaves an Ettinger classroom but jumps down a Brown Hall staircase before exiting from Haas. From there, the students walk down the stairs then after another cut, we are now outside of Haas to reveal a giant Campbell’s banner hanging over the door of our iconic center campus building.
The theme of this commercial was to endorse healthy eating and exercise while also being anti-drugs and drinking. According to the original Weekly article, the production team hoped “through music and dance” that they would create a message “that kids could relate to.” “Live it Right,” the song by On the Edge, plays throughout the entire commercial. Before going any further, I have to mention that the song sounds eerily similar to Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone.” Things get even stranger when you consider that “Live it Right” was written almost a year before “Danger Zone.” Intentional or not, this similarity was too important to ignore completely.
Some of the catchiest lyrics from “Live It Right” include “A lot of people in this world/that try to lead you astray. You gotta know when to just say no/and turn and walk away;” “A matter of pride and self-respect, I do this for myself;” and “I want to be ready for anything/to go that extra mile.” George Mahrliq, then-Director of Media Services for Campbell’s, when asked to describe the purpose of the commercial, told the Morning Call that “It is a noncommercial commercial in that it isn’t promoting a product, but rather an idea of well-being.” While the enormous bright red Campbell’s banner hanging over Haas and glamor shots of perfectly stacked Campbell’s soup cans beg to differ, the important message of well-being shone through most brightly in the end.
You’re probably wondering “Why was Muhlenberg deserving of such high an honor?” Well The Weekly offered a few explanations in 1985. First, and most likely the main reason, was that the commercial’s director was the father of a then ‘Berg sophomore. Another hypothesis was the prominence of red on campus, with a similar shade of red being Campbell’s main color. The article also claims it is because the college was equidistant from New York City and Philadelphia, where a majority of the cast and crew were from. Luckily for the crew (or maybe the college), that weekend was extended, and so the school was closed on that particular Monday and Tuesday. Seeing as this barely 2 minute video took a whopping four days to shoot, Campbell’s production team really lucked out.
Saving some details, it took an incredible amount of effort and dead-end web searches it took to find the video. Combine that with the fact that seemingly no one on campus even knew about this prior to our almost accidental discovery of the original article, and something doesn’t add up. How can such an (all joking aside) important and interesting part of Muhlenberg’s recent history have been completely forgotten? The Campbell’s Soup commercial is certainly an intriguing wrinkle in our long and storied history, but ‘discoveries’ like this are the exact purpose of this column. This Week in Muhlenberg Weekly History hopes to uncover even more hidden gems of Muhlenberg’s past, and to share them with our readers. If you yourself happen to uncover something, or have something that you want to be looked into further, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with your story!