In 1954, General Mills debuted Trix Cereal. The copy of one of the original advertisements is delightfully hyperbolic:
“Trix… world’s first breakfast cereal with wholesome fruit-flavor sweetness… and bright fruit-colors! Gay little sugared corn puffs in a happy mixture of colors – red, yellow and orange. Fun to see! A joy to eat! A real honest-to-goodness body-building breakfast-food besides! No sugar needed! Just pour on milk or cream and it’s ready to eat. The most exciting thing that ever happened to breakfast cereal. The most wonderful thing that ever happened to breakfast! A terrific between-meals snack, too… and wholesome. At your grocer’s now! Get Trix… the fruit-flavor c ereal!”
That same year, Brer Rabbit appeared on one of the earliest Trix boxes, pictured above.
Like other Disney characters, Brer Rabbit was often used in advertising partnerships with General Mills (Mickey Mouse, for example, made his way onto the Trix box, too). Brer Rabbit had also promoted Song of the South on a Cheerios box in 1946:
For the next few years, General Mills experimented with the Trix brand, occasionally adorning the box with, say, a different rabbit or a juggling kid on a unicycle, but nothing stuck.
Then, in August of 1959 illustrator Joe Harris (no relation) created Trix Rabbit, the cartoon rabbit who would fail miserably in tricking children out of their cereal.
Here’s an early commercial featuring Trix:
The rest is history.
Joe Harris went on to bigger and better endeavors (most notably, creating Underdog), but “Trix are for kids” became one of the most recognized corporate slogans of the 20th century, and the Trix Rabbit is still alive and kicking fifty years later.
Until recently, I’d thought that the Trix Rabbit was perhaps a subtle nod to Brer Rabbit, mostly because he’s a rabbit classified as a “trickster hero.” But the connection seems to be much more overt.
First of all, Brer Rabbit was one of the few characters that’d actually appeared on a Trix box before. A trickster promoting Trix cereal wasn’t lost on General Mills.
Then, of all the names in the world, Trix Rabbit’s illustrator was named Joe Harris — the very same name that Joel Chandler Harris went by everywhere except the book jacket.
Perhaps this nod to Brer Rabbit was a little bit more obvious in the 1950s, when (Joel Chandler) Harris’ name enjoyed considerably greater renown. Given the time period and the circumstances, Joe Harris creating Trix Rabbit is sort of like me naming my kid “Billy Shakespeare.” If it happened, it sure wouldn’t be by accident.*
Sometimes when I’m talking to guests and trying to explain the significance of Brer Rabbit in American culture, I feel like the copy on the original Trix ad: “The most exciting thing that ever happened to breakfast cereal children’s literature! The most wonderful thing that ever happened to breakfast American folklore!”
Or worse, like Carlton on the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air bemoaning the unjust treatement of his favorite rabbit :
But in truth, the echoes of Brer Rabbit and African-American folklore really do resonate throughout more than just our Saturday morning cartoons — they’re in our cereal bowls, too. That is, if you’re six.
* Please do not let me do this.