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So Who Is / Was Jeremiah Weed?

"A Hard Man to Know" - by Bob Greene

Originally printed in The Post-Standard of Syracuse, New York - October 30, 1981


THIS is the story of how I went looking for a hero. I will tell you now that it has a sad ending.

Everywhere I have turned in the past few months, I have bumped into the name "Jeremiah Weed." Jeremiah Weed is a new brand of bourbon; it's a hundred proof, and it's manufactured by Heublein, - and it's being advertised in a lot of big magazines.

THE ADS are about Jeremiah Weed, the man. The first ad I noticed featured a vintage photograph of an 1890s dancehall girl, who was identified as "Kate Kincaid."

The text of the ad quoted Miss Kincaid as saying: "Jeremiah Weed? They say he was a real loner.. I know better."

Just in case I missed the point, the other copy in the advertisement told me that "Jeremiah was a lot of things. Loner was not one of them. He was a magnet for women. And the attraction was mutual."

SO Jeremiah was kind of a stud. Great. The next ad I saw him informed me that he had a sense of humor, too.

The picture in this ad was of Sean Sweeney, a railroad boss, Mr. Sweeney was saying: "We were stopped dead... 'cause Weed had traded all the railroad ties for two dozen oysters and a French piano."

All right! Jeremiah was a sly prankster. But just when I was thinking he might be too much of a gadabout. I learned about his more somber side.

This was in the third ad, which featured a picture of an old prospector named Pappy McCoy. Pappy said: "Jeremiah and me was surveying together for two months. He never said a word. That's what I call good company."

I WAS getting intrigued. Whoever this Jeremiah Weed was, I wanted to know more about him. Not only had they named a bourbon after him, but apparently he was one of the finest characters ever to come out out of the turn-of-the-century America.

Romantic, funny, taciturn ... in an age when we can't seem to find heroes. Jeremiah Weed was a guy I felt like knowing.

So I decided to do some research on Jeremiah and find out what made him tick. That's when I got the unhappy news.

"Uh ... Jeremiah never existed," said the liquor executive at Heublein.

"We made him up out of whole cloth," said the chairman of the board of Heubleins's advertising agency.

IT TURNS out that not only does Jeremiah Weed sound too good to be true. He is too good to be true.

"We wanted to create an image to associate with this new brand," said David Boyle, brand manager for Jeremiah Weed at Heublein. "We wanted something to compete with Wild Turkey and Yukon Jack and the rest.

We decided to build the image around a person. And since we didn't have any real person in mind, we decided to make up a Jeremiah Weed."

SO RATHER than stress the taste of the liquor, Heublein determined that it would romanticize this fellow Jeremiah Weed. The company wanted the young male drinkers to identify with Jeremiah.

When the drinkers thought of Jeremiah Weed, Boyle said, they were supposed to conger up certain feelings. "Ruggedness... maverick ... potent."

Heublein wasn't worried about whether a credible job of building up this fictional character was possible.

So Jeremiah Weed was born. I said that, in the ads, I have never seen Weed's face or heard him quoted directly.

"And you never will," Coleman said. "Our research showed that we didn't have to show Weed in order for people to identify with him. All we had to do was put the right words in other people's lips."

BESIDES, Coleman said, it would be virtually impossible to come up with a picture or drawing of Weed.

"I don't know who he is."

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