Remember Euell Gibbons, the man who would ''eat a pine tree'' on TV?
This naturalist sold cereal — and was often spoofed — in the Seventies.
Writing about Grape-Nuts and its intertwined history with The Andy Griffith Show yesterday, we took a trip down memory lane. The cereal had some of the most memorable commercials of the Seventies. Sure, the sweeter breakfast bowls offered toons like Tony, Sam, and Lucky — and Life had the charming Little Mikey who "liked it" — but Grape-Nuts utilized a colorful character of its own. And he was a true flesh-and-blood eccentric.
Euell Theophilus Gibbons had been a hobo, beachcomber, boat builder, cowboy, communist, carpenter, 36-year-old college freshman, and Quaker. He led a fascinating life, but it was his fascinating diet that brought him fame.
In 1962, Gibbons published Stalking the Wild Asparagus, a book on the wonders of foraging for natural foods. Stalking the Blue-Eyed Scallop and Stalking the Healthful Herbs quickly followed, as the fiftysomething naturalist became a pop-culture phenomenon. He had hippie appeal, but it was hard to pin such a rugged wanderer to the hippie movement. He helped kick-start the health-food movement in America.
But, really, what he is best remembered for is the immortal question, "Ever eat a pine tree?"
Gibbons posed the question in a 1970s Grape-Nuts commercial. The cereal blew up in popularity thanks to a series of commercials with ol' Euell. The straightforward ads followed the naturalist out into the field, as he wandered through willows, cattails, and woods. He plucked leaves, twigs, nuts, and berries and popped them into his mouth, before settling down at his breakfast table for a bowl of Grape-Nuts.
"Its naturally sweet taste reminds me of wild hickory nuts," he repeatedly said of the cereal's flavor.
Comedians spoofed the ubiquitous commercials. On MeTV, you might have seen a parody.
In the fall of 1973, The Carol Burnett Show welcomed regular guest John Byner. Near the end of his episode, Byner put on bushy white eyebrows, a wild wig, flannel shirt, and bandana. "Ever lick a river?" he asked.
This fellow was not-so-subtly named "Yule Twibbons." He also began by asking, "You ever eat a pine tree?"… before going on to pop questions like, "Ever suck on a sunflower?" and "Ever try eating some pebbles?"
"Yule" then sat down at a wooden table. And began eating the wooden planks of the table. Two orderlies come to take him away. Yule bites one on the forearm. "There's also nourishment in the human arm!" he declares before being dragged off camera.
Other shows poked fun at Euell. The children's show The Electric Company did a similar send-up for kids.
Gibbons would pass away in 1975, from complications due to his Marfan syndrome. The commercials and comedy stopped, understandably. But his question stuck in the head of everyone who lived through the era: "You ever eat a pine tree?" Well, did ya?