Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends related to poetry and poets and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of all poetry legends featured so far.
POETRY URBAN LEGEND: Marianne Moore was asked to come up with a name for the brand of car that eventually became known as the Edsel.
Marianne Moore was one of the most acclaimed Modernist poets of the 20th Century, with a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award on her mantelpiece.
A darling of the New York literary circle, Moore branched out into other areas, as well, particularly the sports world.
Moore was a major supporter of the New York Yankees, and even threw out of the first pitch for the 1968 season (she had a stroke later that year, and would pass away in 1972 after a series of strokes).
She also was a big fan of Muhammad Ali, even writing the liner notes to his spoken word album, I Am The Greatest…
But perhaps the oddest area where Moore lent her services was as an auto marketer!!
One of the biggest public relations production of the 1950s was the debut of Ford’s latest line of cars, which was set to debut in 1958.
Ford noticed that their line of Lincoln cars, which they had devised as a middle class brand, had trended upward and was now basically an “upper class” car, if you would. So Ford felt that they might as well change their marketing and push the car from that angle, and then introduce a new line of cars to take over the “middle class” spot in their lineup that the Lincoln once held.
Especially with salaries on the rise in the mid-50s, they felt that by the mid-60s the middle class of America would have much more buying power, and they wanted to have a car there for those people.
The car was only known as the E-Car (experimental car), and Ford hired an advertisting agency to come up with names for the line of cars.
The ad agency, Foote, Cone and Belding, ended up giving them over 6,000 possibilities, none of which went over big with Ford (although they liked the names Citation, Corsair, Pacer and Ranger enough to use them as the sub-set names for the line of cars, you know, like Lincoln Premiere, Lincoln Continental, etc.).
So, with over 6,000 possible names, the head of marketing research at Ford, David Wallace, sent out an unofficial request to Marianne Moore for her input and suggestions.
And her suggestions were pretty out there (but awesome)!
She suggested names like “Resilient Bullet”, “Ford Silver Sword”, “Mongoose Civique”, “Varsity Stroke”, “Pastelogram, “Andante con Moto” and perhaps her most (in)famous, “Utopian Turtletop.”
In the end, Ford decided on the one name that, at the beginning of the process, they said they did not want to use, Edsel Ford (founder of the company)’s first name, Edsel.
Wallace wrote to her to say:
We have chosen a name out of the more than 6,000-odd candidates that we gathered. It fails somewhat of the resonance, gaiety and zest we were seeking. But it has a personal dignity and meaning to many of us here. Our name, dear Miss Moore, is—Edsel.
Now perhaps the name was not particularly good, but more likely, the car just wasn’t all that unique, so even though it had one of the biggest promotional pushes in the history of advertising, the Edsel line was a failure and closed up shop within two years of its 1958 debut.
If only they had named it the Utopian Turtletop…
The legend is…
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is email@example.com.