Do you know the figure atop this swizzle stick? We thought it might be a squirrel, but a fellow collector explained to me that it was a bird kicking back with a glass of champagne and a cigarette. Collectors note: the cig is often broken, as are the tiny bird legs. In the photograph they are intact.
The character’s name? Wally Bird. Why Wally? An acronym for Western Air Lines (WAL). In 1941, Western Air Express changed its name to Western Air Lines (air lines, two words) and later to Western Airlines (airlines, one word) after World War II.
Why a portly smoking and drinking bird for an airline mascot? To understand we turned to the Delta Air Transport Heritage Museum site:
In 1954, Western began its luxurious "Champagne Service" on its 60-passenger Douglas DC-6B aircraft, with complimentary champagne, steaks, corsages, perfume and cigars.
Can you imagine? Today we pay to bring a suitcase, back then you could have champagne, a steak and a cigar. Now THAT is first class!
In 1956, the animated VIB—"Very Important Bird"—nicknamed the "Wally Bird," first appeared in Western's television commercials with the slogan "Western… The O-O-Only Way to Fly." You can still find the campaign ads on YouTube, here’s one link: https://youtu.be/RfmRKHtzfFs
This via Russ McClay at TAOLODGE.COM (Fri Mar 19 05:30:08 UTC 2004):
Wally was designed by John Urie, assistant animator at John Hubley Storyboard Productions. Les Goldman originated the phrase "It's the only way to fly".
The campaign was created by Buchanan Advertising.
Reportedly, Wally's derived his name from the phrase "Western Airlines Loves You."
DID POLITICS KILL AN AIRLINE? ANSWER: PROBABLY
The airline's president was Terrell "Terry" Drinkwater. Drinkwater got into a dispute with the administration in Washington D.C. that severely hampered WAL's growth. Pressured by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to "buy American made aircraft", Drinkwater reportedly responded:
"Mr. President, you run your country and let me run my airline!"
For years after this exchange, the federal Civil Aeronautics Board would not award Western new routes while their major competitors including United and American grew enormous even though all of Western's airliners were of U.S. manufacture while their competitor's fleets included aircraft that had been built in Europe by British or French companies.
In 1953 Western was serving 38 airports, but by1968, that number had only grown to 42 airports. The situation did not improve and in the late 1970s Western Airlines (WAL) and Continental Airlines agreed to merge.
A dispute broke out over what to call the combined airline: Western-Continental or Continental-Western. An infamous coin toss occurred. Bob Six, the colorful founder of CAL, demanded that Continental be "tails" in deference to their marketing slogan "We Really Move Our Tail for You!” and “Continental Airlines: the Proud Bird with the Golden Tail". The coin flip turned up "heads". Six was so disappointed he called the merger off!
Speaking of Proud Bird's, what’s Wally holding in his “hand”?
A cigarette and a champagne glass in its original saucer shape (we don’t see those often anymore; more often a “flute"); but that's another story....Tune in for more.