Before the Nesquik Bunny hopped onto grocery shelves and decades before streaming television, a spunky pup harmonized about the delicious taste of chocolate-flavored milk on black and white TV screens everywhere. His name was Farfel and with the help of ventriloquist Jimmy Nelson and his dummy Danny O’Day, the trio would create and perform a jingle for Nestlé’s Nesquik that would take the world by storm for more than a decade. No need to adjust your TV antennae — we’re stepping back in time for a tale (tail?) that uncovers more about this plucky puppet’s sweet rise to fame.
While Nestlé’s “Quik” chocolate powder was introduced in 1948, Farfel didn’t make his commercial debut until much later. Jimmy Nelson, a popular Chicago ventriloquist who was well known for his comedy acts starring his puppets Danny O’Day and Humphrey Higsbye, came up with the concept for Farfel in 1950. According to his son, Lee Jay Nelson, Farfel was based on a stuffed dog Nelson spotted on a piano at one of the clubs he performed at. He gave the dog a voice that made the audience laugh and just like that, the character was born. Frank Marshall, a figure maker who also served as the designer of the Danny O’Day dummy, custom-built the Farfel puppet for Nelson.
Nelson then moved to New York City where he performed and made guest appearances on several TV shows. He appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show five times before he landed his breakout role in 1952 as a Texaco spokesman in The Texaco Star Theater hosted by Milton Berle. In 1955, Nestlé began searching for a spokesperson for their Quik chocolate mix. Nelson, Danny, and Farfel all auditioned for the part — and got it.
“N-E-S-T-L-E-S, Nestlé’s makes the very best… Chawwclate!”
The three turned this ditty into a world famous jingle that remained beloved by audiences for more than 10 years. During Jimmy’s tenure, more than 120 Nestlé commercials were made with filmed versions quickly replacing live ones to allow for more exciting scenarios.
If you watch the early commercial spots closely, you might notice that at the end of the jingle Farfel’s mouth abruptly closes. This is considered to be Farfel’s trademark — and it’s all thanks to sweaty hands. During Nelson’s audition, he was so nervous his hands began to sweat which caused him to accidentally snap Farfel’s mouth shut. He worried that he had messed up the audition, but as it turns out the Nestlé team loved it and kept the moment in commercials.
While the character has long been retired, Farfel made a triumphant return to televisions in the 1990s just in time for the holiday season. This time, the puppet was in color and joined by a Farfel family tree of singing dogs to share news about Nestlé’s new holiday wrapping. Watch the commercial spot below all the way to the end for an extra-special throwback to the original Farfel’s signature!
Photo credit: Jimmy Nelson.