Poltergeist, Pathmark, and Generic Brands
I was watching Poltergeist by myself when the character of Mr. Teague made his first appearance. With no one in the room, I said out loud, “James Karen.”
While his role in this film is well-done, it is just a drop in the deep well that is the career of Mr. Karen. For those who do not know Karen’s name, if you watched TV or films in the last 50 years of the 20th century, you would know his face.
According to Karen himself,
People don’t know my name, but they know my face because I’ve done so damn much work.
About James Karen
James Karen was born in 1923 and passed away in 2018. He made his Broadway debut in 1947 and would land his first TV role in 1948. In the 1960s he would begin his film career in the low-budget sci-fi film, Frankenstein Meets the Spacemonster (1965).
During a long career, he would accumulate hundreds of credits. Appearing on over one hundred TV shows and racking up eighty movies in his filmography.
If that wasn’t enough exposure, he was also a prolific actor in commercials, filming a jaw-dropping five thousand of them. The majority of them would earn him a nickname that my family knew him by, Mr. Pathmark.
For over three decades, Karen was the spokesman for the Northeast supermarket chain, Pathmark. He would not only appear in television commercials for the store, but also be featured in print and radio ads. That made both his face and voice very family to anyone who lived near a Pathmark from the Sixties well into the late Eighties. He was at the company so long that eventually, they made him a vice-president.
It’s a pretty interesting supermarket chain that gives its spokesperson such a lofty title.
The history of the supermarket chain Pathmark began in 1968. At this point, a handful of Shoprite supermarkets in the New Jersey area broke away in an attempt to get more competitive. It didn’t take long before they had shed their Shoprite signs and switched to Pathmark.
The chain then started to grow and by 1997 had 145 locations in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Delaware. In that region, especially New Jersey, Pathmark was ubiquitous. Then things began to change.
Pathmark was purchased by the venerable supermarket chain, A&P in 2007. This turned out to be the beginning of the end. A&P was having issues of their own and started to not put much trust in the Pathmark brand and by the time A&P went out of business in 2015, both stores were a shadow of their former selves. All stores were closed or sold to operate under new names.
But Pathmark fans shouldn’t give up hope. In 2016, Allegiance Retail Services purchased the Pathmark brand and in 2019 they opened the first new Pathmark in Brooklyn, NY. Currently, it is the only location.
Looking at their most recent circular, I noticed that that modern Pathmark no longer carries their “No Frills” brand.
While modern stores will often mix their store brands into the “regular” aisles nowadays, in the past they would have an aisle where they focused all of their store brands. When I was a kid. Our trips to any supermarket meant a long trip down these “generics” aisles.
It was tough for a kid who grew up on commercial TV to not want brand-name sodas and cookies, but just like today, generics were a much more affordable option.
Pathmark’s generic brand was appropriately called, “No Frills.” Boy were they not kidding, the branding on these products was a white background with clear black lettering stating what the products were.
I clearly remember rebelling against these foods and products as a kid, but over time I developed a taste for them.
Now that many of them have disappeared, I am left chasing phantom products under different names, hoping that they might taste the same as the delicious soda in the plain white can that I drank every week.
In the eighties, generic brands were all the rage, which might surprise people who did not grow up in what has been viewed as a very brand-conscious decade. In 1982, the new program 20/20 did a segment on them, and in 1986, the New York Times published a piece about their continuing growth.