And now for something completely different…
We leap forward into the 1950s today with this Public Service Announcement from the US Food and Drug Administration. The presenter is actor Raymond Massey and his advice is all too relevant today.
‘There are no Z-rays’ is undoubtedly the best line of the film, but it’s quite difficult to catch the name of the device. It was called a Zerret Applicator, was made of plastic, and though you can’t tell from the video, the stripes were blue and white.
The applicator was supposed to contain a mysterious Z-ray-emitting fluid called Zerret water. It would set you back $50, and to use it you had to hold it in both hands, making sure all your fingers were in contact with it and that your legs were uncrossed. This must be done three times a day for 15 minutes and would help arthritis, rheumatism, diarrhoea, constipation, excess weight and abnormal thinness, as well as a variety of other conditions.
Z-Rays were ‘a force unknown to science’ (this at least was true) and worked by expanding the hydrogen atoms of the body. The instruction booklet went into further detail:
When you hold the Applicator, it works on your life current, expanding the atoms of the same. As this takes place, it expands all atoms of your being. Expansion of your atoms produces what is commonly called relaxation.
The manufacturer, William Ferguson, also claimed that life rays from the body flowed into the Zerret, were rejuvenated and invigorated, then flowed back into the body. The police weren’t convinced, and arrested him and his sales director, Mary Stanakis, together with saleswoman Elay Smith, in September 1948. They were charged with operating a confidence game and conspiracy to defraud. In court, they were supported by a number of satisfied customers, who insisted that the Zerret had cured them. Some admitted, however, that after purchasing the device they, like Smith, had signed up as agents, earning $25 commission on each sale.
Judge Charles Dougherty said: ‘I think you’re all suckers, but I’ll keep an open mind.’ He adjourned the case while the Zerret was analysed. The composition of the devices varied – of three samples investigated, one contained paraffin-soaked cotton, another dry cotton, and the third contained water.
The case continued for over a year, but in May 1950, Ferguson and Stanakis were convicted. Ferguson was sentenced to two years in jail, Stanakis to one year. Most of the devices were destroyed, with a couple being retained for museum display and for starring in PSAs.