A recurring series in which we take a look back at the cityâ€™s most familiar advertising icons.
Remember Charlie the Tuna, the seemingly suicidal spokes-fish for canned fish titan Starkist? Of course you do, who could forget his apparently misguided yet earnest attempts to qualify for a life (or the end thereof) inside a small, tin can?
Remember Monsieur LeSteak, the similarly suicidal cut of ribeye who was spokes-mascot for the Sagebrush Saddle chain of buffet-style steakhouses for brief period between 1970 and 1971? Probably not. This might be because â€“ despite sharing the similar motivations of seeking a fatal end inside the consumerâ€™s digestive tract â€“ Monsieur LeSteak didnâ€™t know where to stop.
The brainchild (or is that brain-steak?) of now-defunct local advertising juggernauts Brooks-DeAnza, the nearly forgotten mascot and spokes-steak for the Sagebrush Saddle chain of buffet-style steakhouses, Monsieur LeSteak held a brief stint in office, running a mere eight months between 1970 and 1971. At first, the amusingly animated ribeye â€“ bedecked with a chefâ€™s hat and a French accent so thick it could be served as a side with butter and bacon bits â€“ contented itself with singing the praises of the Sagebrush Saddleâ€™s enormous all-you-can-eat buffet bars, as well as its mouth-watering selection of all-American beefsteaks.
Potential patrons responded enthusiastically, and the fledgling family restaurant â€“ under the auspices of founder and former firehouse chef Fred Crandall, Jr. â€“ saw an increase in business as big as their trademark 21 oz Porterhouse was thick.
Then, something apparently snapped inside Monsieur LeSteak.
Monsieur LeSteakâ€™s fifth commercial appearance in January, 1971, began with a cartoon cow bloodily sliced in two by a pleasantly grinning Sagebrush Saddle chef (decked out in the chainâ€™s trademark cowboy costume and paper hat), from whose insides leapt an overly-enthusiastic and unfortunately graphic Monsieur LeSteak â€“ dripping red gore and leaving small, bloody footprints behind him as he walked.
In subsequent months, Monsieur LeSteak appeared in a series of commercials wherein he begged a chef to slice him into cutlets, grilled himself, forced himself into a customerâ€™s mouth, and generally offended every sensibility of a public consumer base who â€“ while they may enjoy a delicious steak now and again â€“ werenâ€™t particularly keen on vibrantly gory recreations of the process involved in turning cows to food.
Crandall retired Monsieur LeSteak by March 1971, visibly disappointed by the publicâ€™s lack of affection for a character he called â€œSo over-the-top, you got to love him.â€ During an interview with local papers later in 1971, Crandall explained â€œIâ€™ve always had a dark sense of humor, I guess, sort of a gallows humor. I guess it has a lot to do with being a firefighter, the sort of things you see, the sort of things you have to put yourself through to save peopleâ€™s lives and to deal with the death youâ€™re forced to encounter. You develop what some people might call a sick sense of humor. It doesnâ€™t make us bad people, it just makes us surviviors.â€
Crandallâ€™s emotional honesty affected some local consumers, who began a heartfelt and apologetic call for the return of Monsieur LeSteak to its former position as official spokes-food for the chain. Unfortunately, responding to the public wave of sudden warmth with his self-admitted uncouth sense of gallows humor, Crandall himself put a premature end to LeSteakâ€™s revival by making an off-the-cuff statement to reporters at the end of 1971.
â€œBesides,â€ Crandall reportedly told television commentator Roy FitzKent, â€œWhen youâ€™ve put in as many years as a firefighter as I have, you have to laugh when you realize â€“ thereâ€™s not all that much difference between a burn victim and a steak done well.â€
The Sagebrush Saddle persevered as far as the first day of Spring in 1972, when the irrevocable damage done by its public face put an end both to Monsieur LeSteakâ€™s proposed revival and the chainâ€™s existence. However, the visage of the self-destructive entrÃ©e appears to have persisted beyond unpleasant memories shared by the many local gourmands who recall the shock -intensive marketing campaign.
While the Sagebrush Saddle and its suicidal spokes-mascot gave up the ghost in the wake of public disgust and outcry in February 1972, Monsieur LeSteak has proven to have some legs â€“ rising area alternative rock band MeatCamp has adopted the almost-forgotten character art of Monsieur LeSteak for tee-shirts and album artwork promoting their latest tour.
Perhaps Monsieur LeSteak never accomplished his life-long goal of being cooked and consumed by hungry families at the Sagebrush Saddle, but at least heâ€™s proven his longevity. It just goes to show, you canâ€™t keep a good mascot down.
– J. Morris