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The Bootleg Files: Crazy Eddie Commercials

BOOTLEG FILES 768: “Crazy Eddie Commercials” (long-running campaign on New York City-area television for an electronics retailer).

LAST SEEN: On YouTube.

AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: None.

REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: No commercial reissue value.

CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Maybe in an anthology of vintage commercials, but that’s unlikely.

If you were living in the New York City metropolitan area in the 1970s and 1980s, then you had to be familiar with the advertisements for the Crazy Eddie electronics retailer chain. These promotional spots could be found in publications, on billboards and on radio, but most people would clearly remember them from the 7,500 television commercials produced for the company.

Yes, 7,500 commercials. And the weird thing was that with very few exceptions, those 7,500 commercials were endless variations of the same theme, with an overly gregarious pitchman yelling about the latest sale or store opening within a 30-second frame.

Crazy Eddie was named after the company’s owner, the Brooklyn-born Eddie Antar, who was eager to call attention to his relatively small business. He tiptoed into advertising via the New York City radio station WPIX-FM in 1972 and was caught off-guard when one of the station’s deejays, Jerry Carroll (known to listeners as “Dr. Jerry”) did a live reading of the ad copy in a wild, jokey manner, ad-libbing the tag line “His prices are insane!”

Antar’s marketing budget expanded to include television commercials in 1975 and his advertising agency shot two different commercials: a flashy homage to 1950s culture with a group of overaged delinquents singing a doo-wop tribute to Crazy Eddie and a straightforward and somewhat cheap-looking effort with Carroll repeating his wild and jokey radio delivery, this time with the camera picking up his bulging eyes, flailing arms and excessive ebullience.

While the doo-wop commercial won a Clio award for the agency, Antar preferred the manic approach that Carroll offered. For the next 10 years, the formula mostly remained consistent with Carroll wearing the same outfit (a dark blazer and a turtleneck sweater) and standing amid displays of the store’s merchandise – the commercials usually highlighted a single product, including VHS and Betamax video cassette recorders, electric fans and air conditioners, the first generation of home computers, televisions, stereos, portable radios.

Carroll’s sales spiel was rapid-fire, as if he was trying to squeeze 60 seconds worth of dialogue into a 30-second spot. His voice was always frenetic, not unlike a street corner preacher crying out the world’s end. He rarely stood still, rocking back and forth or jumping about while hyping the store’s “guaranteed lowest prices” and urging viewers to “shop around, get the best prices you can find, then bring ’em to Crazy Eddie and he’ll beat ’em.”

The commercial would almost always end with Carroll reaching his hands toward the camera and pronouncing, “Crazy Eddie – his prices are insaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaane!”

During the year, Carrol would dress in a Santa Claus suit on two occasions – highlighting the holiday season sales and for the annual Christmas in August sale. These commercials usually had Carroll pelted with patently fake snow and Styrofoam snowballs. The Presidents Day holiday would have mannequins of the first and sixteenth presidents while Carroll paid tribute to three great Americans: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Crazy Eddie.

On a few occasions, there would be deviations from the routine. A parody of “Saturday Night Fever” was shot at the 2001 Odyssey House used in the film, with Carroll costumed like the disco-dancing John Travolta. Carroll was also dressed up like Superman for a deliberately cheesy flight through the animated skies – Warner Bros. sued Crazy Eddie for copyright infringement and the retailer threatened to pull Warner’s Atari video games from its shelves. (The companies settled their grievances out of court.) There was also a takeoff on “Casablanca” with Carroll as a very unlikely Humphrey Bogart. But these detours from the usual shtick were never as winning as the usual formula.

The Crazy Eddie commercial were so ubiquitous that they became the fodder for parody, particularly with Dan Akyroyd as a zany “Crazy Ernie” on “Saturday Night Live.” But the spoofs were never as amusing as the real thing – Carroll was, to use an Akyroyd phrase, a wild and crazy guy and his kinetic energy never flagged over the course of those 7,500 commercials.

Alas, Antar ran his company in a wild and crazy manner, albeit without trying to be funny, and due to his chicanery Crazy Eddie raced into ruin. By the end of the 1980s, Crazy Eddie shut down and Antar fled to Israel to avoid prosecution. (He was extradited back to the U.S. and served prison time.) Two attempts were later made to revive the brand and Carroll was rehired as the pitchman, but these efforts failed quickly.

The idea of a DVD or Blu-ray with all 7,500 commercials is out of the question, but a healthy quantity of these vintage promotional efforts can be found on YouTube. For New Yorkers of a certain age, these provide a nostalgic detour down memory lane – and for those who were not of that time and place, the commercials provide an interesting look at yesteryear’s idea of marketing.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: While this weekly column acknowledges the presence of rare film and television productions through the so-called collector-to-collector market, this should not be seen as encouraging or condoning the unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either through DVDs or Blu-ray discs or through postings on Internet video sites.

Listen to the award-winning podcast “The Online Movie Show with Phil Hall” on SoundCloud. Phil Hall’s new book, “Jesus Christ Movie Star,” will be released on June 7 by BearManor Media.