I was actually very surprised when I discovered this week that Carvel Ice Cream wasn’t a small, local chain that inhabited only my native Long Island. I hadn’t heard word one about Carvel since I was a kid; I always assumed that the strange, ubiquitous TV and radio ads for “Cookie Puss” and “Fudgie the Whale” were strictly a New York thing. But there were 865 stores throughout the United States in 1985; my friend in Texas even recognized the name.
I think my confusion is easy to understand, considering the weird ads that I mentioned above. The first thing that most people remember about Carvel usually isn’t the chain’s crude looking novelty ice cream cakes. The first thing they remember is founder Tom Carvel’s voice, which you can hear in the videos below. It … did not please the ear. Polite people almost always describe it as “gravelly;” the less charitable remember it with descriptors such as “phlegm-filled.”
The latter folks are not wrong. Seriously. I cringed when I heard it as a kid, no matter how much I loved the store’s wares. (And I did love it; it was an absolute treat when my parents took me there.) It sounded like a man dying of a chest cold was trying to sell me ice cream. I even remember my parents talking about it.
Carvel was a independent personality who insisted on recording the ads himself since 1955, and he recorded them unrehearsed — even going so far as to set up a production studio at his company’s headquarters, according to Wikipedia. Carvel Ice Cream was a true small-business success story, and many credit the brand’s popularity with Carvel’s extemporized, conversational voiceovers — even if they were awkward.
And that kind of makes sense. The commercials were memorable. Maybe the owner’s voice evoked images of Stephen King’s superflu in “The Stand,” but that didn’t dissuade you from visiting a store for its trademark soft-serve ice cream. (You figured he wasn’t actually working the counter, where he could cough into your dessert.)