Under the Influence

Mail order monkeys & other crazy comic book ads

How a feral squirrel-monkey attacked its new owner, why a submarine disintegrated on the front lawn, how X-Ray specs caused nothing but confusion - and other crazy comic book advertising stories.
(Darling Pet Monkey, Animal Farm)

How a feral squirrel-monkey attacked its new owner, why a submarine disintegrated on the front lawn, how X-Ray specs caused nothing but confusion - and other crazy comic book advertising stories.

"A what?"

While most vintage comic book products didn't deliver as advertised, one actually did.

The ad said: "Darling Pet Monkey." It showed a cute little squirrel monkey sitting in the palm of someone's hand.

Cost: $18.95 – pricey for a comic book ad.

Fits in the palm of your hand. (Darling Pet Monkey, Animal Farm)

It said a squirrel monkey makes "An adorable pet and companion. Almost human with its warm eyes. Eats the same food as you, even likes lollipops. Simple to care for. Your family will love it."

Fifteen-year old Jeff Tuthill sent away for the pet monkey after seeing the ad in the back of a Spider-Man comic.

It arrived one day in a little cardboard box with a chicken-wire screen window. Jeff and a friend snuck it into the basement of his parents' home. He carefully opened the box to give the monkey some water, when suddenly the monkey leapt out and shot up to the plumbing pipes in the ceiling.

It then started racing around the basement, swinging from the plumbing like he was on vines – chirping loudly.

Jeff started chasing the monkey, afraid his father would hear the commotion, and managed to grab it by its tail. The monkey landed on his shoulder - and started biting him up and down his arm "like a drill press." Jeff said the monkey was literally "unsewing his arm."

He was bleeding profusely. The monkey was screaming like a scalded cat. His friend was laughing uncontrollably.

Suddenly, his father came stomping down the stairs, looked at Jeff, and yelled, "What are you doing with that rabbit!?!""
Jeff said, "It's not a rabbit. It's a monkey!"

His father said, "A what?"

That darling pet monkey cost Jeff 28 stitches.

It's astonishing to think companies were actually shipping live animals through the mail.

A report from that time stated that more than 173,000 squirrel monkeys were imported into the USA from South America between 1968 and 1972.

Mostly thanks to comic book ads.

Double Vision

Then there were the famous X-Ray Specs.

"Blushingly funny illusion" (X-Ray Spex)

The ads, which would be so unacceptable today, showed an illustration of a man wearing the X-Ray Specs looking right through a women's dress.

Cost: One dollar.

You can only imagine how many crisp dollar bills were mailed in by trembling young boys.

But here's what they actually got: Black plastic glasses with red, hypnotic spirals on the lenses, emblazoned with the words "X-Ray Vision" – which would make it a little difficult to be discreet.

The lenses were solid cardboard with a hole in the middle, and in this hole was an embedded bird feather. Images seen through the feather refracted the light coming through the holes, so it appeared – for a millisecond – like you were seeing a weird double image.

And because you wanted to believe so much, you swore you could kinda see through your hand.

Dresses - not so much.

Aquatic adventure

Another well-known comic book ad was for a Polaris Nuclear Submarine.

How big is your mailbox? (Polaris)

The ad said it was over seven feet long, could seat two kids, it fired rockets and torpedos and had a real periscope.

For only $6.98, you could zoom around underwater – undetected.

But the first clue you're not exactly getting what you're hoping for is when your nuclear submarine can fit in your mailbox. It came shipped folded and flat. It was made of cardboard.

Clearly, water was its nemesis. As one young U-Boat commander said at the time, it even started to fall apart from the dew on the grass in his backyard.

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Under The Influence is recorded in the Terstream Mobile Recording studio - a 1969 Airstream trailer that's been restored and transformed into a studio on wheels. So host Terry O'Reilly can record the show wherever he goes.

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The Terstream Mobile Recording Studio. (Image Credit: Sidney O'Reilly)