James “Jimmy” Harder (1931-2009) was born on this day.
I’ll cut right to the chase: he’s “Big Fig” from the Fig Newton commercials. If you’re too young to remember them, here’s a link. When this first aired, I laughed about as hard as I’ve ever laughed in my life, easily in the top half dozen biggest laughing fits. Cut me some slack; I was about six years old. I just watched it again after a span of several decades and I didn’t laugh at all, but I understand why it struck me so funny the very first time. It’s the costume, of course, and the brazen way it eliminates all preparation or explanation. Just: boom! Plop! Here’s this! Take it or leave it! It’s in the finest tradition of both vaudeville and television as entertainment. You just have to GO FOR IT.
But Harder is more than just the Big Fig guy, isn’t he? Look at that punim: so familiar! You’d assume he’s been in LOTS of movies and on lots of television shows and in lots of movies. But, nope! Less than a half dozen screen credits. It’s all TV commercials! Not just Fig Newtons, but he was also a Butterball Turkey Pilgrim, and did Scotch Tape ads, etc etc. 3,000 commercials (including voice-overs and radio)! He also did 130 stage productions, including one Broadway show, Very Good Eddie (1975-76), for which he was nominated for a Drama Desk award.
Most astounding of all: He was the son of a Titanic Survivor! His father was George Achilles Harder, who was returning from a three-month European honeymoon with his first wife on the ill-fated vessel when it struck an iceberg and sank in 1912. (James was the product of a second marriage). Read all about George’s Titanic ordeal here.