Mad about Marathon – The bar that lasts a good long time…

Mad about Marathon – The bar that lasts a good long time…

The name of this website is CollectingCandy and no single candy wrapper has been as responsible for my starting to collect candy than the Marathon’s.

My love of Marathon is reflected throughout the site.  The current Collecting Candy logo is an homage to the typeface on the Marathon wrapper.  A Marathon is also featured prominently in the collage background of our masthead banner.  Check out our About page and you will see me gleefully holding a Marathon.  In short – I’m mad about Marathon.

An early favorite of mine, the Marathon bar’s lifespan was paired almost perfectly with my own pre-teen childhood.  Introduced in 1973, it was last seen on shelves in 1981 or 1982.  So this bar was a part of my candy life from kindergarten into Junior High, years when candy typically makes a big impression.

I didn’t notice when Marathon disappeared.  I expect that I looked for it a few times and wondered why it wasn’t in stock, eventually realizing it wasn’t around anymore.  As the years ticked forward, Marathon’s striking red-orange wrapper and wave-filled logo remained a powerful memory, long into adulthood.  Those memories would eventually guide me back to Marathon, and be the seed that grew into my passion for vintage candy.

For those that don’t know or are too young to remember, the Marathon was a flat braid of chocolate-covered caramel.  It was delicious, and the wrapper was a thing of beauty and disputable subtext.  On the back of the wrapper was an 8-inch ruler – a fact I will move past without comment.

The television commercials also remained ingrained in my noggin.  When I began to look online to find those humorous spots, I learned that the spots’ star, Marathon John, was played by a young Patrick Wayne.  A perfect fit, considering that Patrick Wayne was the son of Hollywood legend, John Wayne.

1974 Marathon trade ad featuring Patrick Wayne as Marathon John. Courtesy Dan Goodsell.

When I began looking for Marathon-related items online, the first things I found were the classic commercials.  They were also the first places I glimpsed the Marathon’s wrapper again.  But I wanted more – so I searched online for a photo of the wrapper.  I eventually did find one.. though it was painfully tiny.

Little tiny internet Marathon wrapper image – source unknown.

So that was it, my glorious internet that seemed to have all the answers – all of recorded history available at my fingertips – and it provided me with that… a Marathon bar wrapper image for a Barbie doll.  I was not satisfied.

This thumbnail was simply not enough, I wanted to see my Marathon up-close, to perhaps relive that rush of salivation that came at the moment-before-opening.  This postage stamp Marathon was akin to the elevator muzak version of your favorite song.

I did not know about collecting candy wrappers at the time, only that I wanted this one.  So I did what anyone might do, in the post-eBay world – I set up a saved search for Marathon bar on eBay, and waited… and waited.  And waited some more.

I waited quite a while.  In the ensuing time, I started to learn more about candy, driven by my similar quest to find a Hot Tamales box.  I found one of those along the way, and I also realized that I was becoming more and more of a collector.

Not satisfied with a thumbnail image of a Marathon, I took a black-and-white illustration of a wrapper and worked up my own clean version for my computer desktop.  It was a digital placeholder that would have to suffice.

My Marathon wrapper digital Photoshop recreation

Two years later, I found a seller that was offering a few candy items on eBay.  I inquired if he might have a Marathon bar wrapper and he answered back that he did.  Not only that, but he explained that that it was unopened.

The following day, he sent along photos. I was amazed and delighted at what I saw:

Unopened 1977 Marathon bar photos

I couldn’t believe it – I’d found my Marathon!  The seller and I worked out a price for the treasure, and I paid.  I even paid extra for insurance and signature required service – I wasn’t going to take any chances with this one.

The following week I eagerly anticipated the arrival of my Marathon bar in the mailbox.  So I waited… and waited.   And waited some more.

After three weeks with no Marathon, I contacted the seller, who assured me that he had sent it out the very next day.  Uh-oh…

With that disturbing information in hand, I took the tracking number to my post office… and from there weeks of frustration would follow.   Initially told the package never arrived  at that post office branch, I was later given conflicting information; they now explained that it had been delivered and signed for – by me.  Huh?

I was presented with a digital copy of the signature sheet – and there it was – my name signed.

Hey, that’s not my signature!

After an appropriate amount of confusion and outrage, I accepted my Marathon-less fate.  I never did figure out where it ended up, but a happier chapter in this quest comes next.

The following Spring, many months after the case of the missing Marathon bar, a friend and fellow collector traded this wrapper to me.

Marathon bar wrapper – M&M Mars – 1976

I was thrilled – I finally had an actual Marathon bar wrapper in hand.  It was a bit tattered and torn, but I didn’t care – it was awesome.

A month later, my candy karma kicked it up another notch when a flawless, year-one, printed-on-price, pre-UPC Marathon wrapper would turn up on Ebay.

This is the only pre-UPC Marathon wrapper I’ve ever come across and the only example with a printed-on price I’ve ever seen, before or since.  This wrapper is the favorite piece in my collection, and it resides framed on the wall, in view, as I write this.  And here it is:

Marathon bar 15-cent wrapper – M&M Mars – 1973-1974

To note about this one:  This could be the earliest style of Marathon bar wrapper – the “Best By” of June 1974 would place the initial on-sale date for this one in late 1973 – the year of Marathon’s launch.  Experience tells me that somewhere out there might be a Marathon with “New!” printed on it – as companies would typically include an indicator on the wrappers of any new launch.  I’ve yet to learn of one being found.  But with candy, never having seen one doesn’t mean it wasn’t produced.

Those two wrappers nicely represent the earliest style as well as one indicative of the main run of the bar.  Near the end of Marathon’s life, Marathon did get one more refresh, with tweaks to the design and logo.  My pal Jon has one of these wrappers in his collection from late 1979.  Chances are, this is what Marathon bar wrappers looked like until production ceased in 1982.

Marathon wrapper 1979-1980. Courtesy Jon Mankuta.

This wrapper retains the fundamental look of that earliest wrapper from a decade earlier.  The biggest change is the loss of the cool 70’s color-wave that ran through the type, and the “M” in the name getting highlighted and over-sized next to the rest of the logo.

On the reverse:  The UPC code narrowed, and the M&M-Mars logo updated to the then-current M&M-Mars Snack-Masters sub-branding.

[Note: I'd sure like to add one of these late run Marathon wrappers to my collection - and this is one I get to keep hunting for.  Thanks to Jon Mankuta for allowing me to include his example here today.]

Though I don’t have any additional variety of Marathon wrappers in  my collection, I do have a great newspaper clipping for a coupon:

Marathon – color newspaper ad-coupon – 1979

I have an image of an earlier version that was good for a free Marathon, or 15-cents off a Marathon 6-bar-pack:

Marathon newspaper ad – free bar or 15-cents off – 1973-1975

I’ve also sought out any other M&M/Mars packaging that cross-promotes Marathon:

M&M-Mars – 3-Musketeers Fun Size – also try Marathon bar – one-pound bag – 1975

Mars Chocolate Almond six pack – Marathon bar promo – candy package – 1970’s

That’s the scope of the actual Marathon items in my collection.  You might wonder what else is out here – I certainly did.

I know that Marathon received the Fun Size treatment, as you can see in this newspaper archival image:

Marathon Fun Size newspaper ad – December 11 1974

There’s also a singular rumor that is included in the Wikipedia entry for Marathon, that states:  “Note: There was also a 15″ version of The Marathon Bar sold in Southern California at local 7/11 stores. These had the 15″ ruler on the back of the red wrapper.”

I’m skeptical of the existence of this mythical Southern-California 7-Eleven 15″ Marathon.  I’ve investigated and thus far, I have found nothing to corroborate the Wikipedia mention.  As I’ve said before, Wikipedia’s knowledge of candy should be taken with a grain of salt.   If a 15″ Marathon did exist, finding a wrapper for one would be amazing.

Here’s one last piece of visual fun – a newspaper ad featuring an illustration of Marathon John and a few of his commercial adversaries.  If anyone has an original clipping, I’d love to see it.

Marathon Fun Size newspaper ad – 1976

That’s everything I have on Marathon proper.  I’m going to continue this thread tomorrow with more on M&M-Mars confusing use of Marathon, Snickers and 3-Musketeers.  They’re more connected than you might guess.

Then, on Friday I’ll be covering the Marathon-bar like offerings from around the world – most notably with Cadbury’s Curly Wurly.  You won’t want to miss it.

————————————————-

Oops… almost forgot!   Last year, as part of Topps’ Wacky Packages “Old School” Series Two, Marathon got the Wacky Package treatment in the form of Meltathon [painted by my pal and Wacky Package painter extraordinaire, Dave Gross]:

Topps Wacky Packages Old School Series 2 – Meltathon

 

About Jason Liebig

A New York City based writer, editor and sometimes actor. After spending much of the 1990′s in the comic book business helping tell the stories of Marvel Comics’ X-Men as series editor, he has since split his time between developing his own entertainment properties while still consulting and working on others. Having been described as “the Indiana Jones of lost and forgotten candy”, Jason is one of the country’s premier candy collectors and historians with his discoveries appearing in countless blogs, magazines, newspaper articles, and books. Always happy to share his knowledge and unique perspectives on this colorful part of our popular culture, Jason has consulted with New York’s Museum of Food and Drink and has also been a featured guest on Food Network’s Heavyweights, France’s M6 Capital, and New York’s TheActionRoom.com. My Google Profile+
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14 Responses to Mad about Marathon – The bar that lasts a good long time…

  1. cybele says:

    Great round up.

    I have to wonder if part of the issue with the Marathon bar was the pre-existing Curly Wurly. Is there any indication that Cadbury put pressure on Mars because the Marathon was an exact copy of their bar?

    • jasonliebig says:

      Cybele: If Cadbury had anything to do with it, I’ve never see any evidence to that. It’s certainly a possibility, but I’d guess it’s unlikely that Cadbury could make any claim to chocolate-covered caramel in a braid. As you’re well-aware, the demise of Marathon was probably just an issue of decreasing sales, or possibly one of rising costs for that kind of bar. At some point, I do hope to learn more of the story, and to share it.

      • cybele says:

        One thing I heard, it may have been a comment on my blog, was that the stores didn’t like the non-standard format of the box and its display. Which meant that it wasn’t placed in as many stores as it could be, which might have influenced sales.

        I don’t remember the fun size version, though I expect I got them in my Halloween candy.

        • jasonliebig says:

          Cybele: That makes as much sense as anything. The timing does match up somewhat with the era of the move to more and more larger nationwide chain retailers. I can certainly see shelf-standardization being an issue. It would be interesting to track if other similarly shaped items disappeared around the same time. I can think of Big Buddy bubble gum, Bub’s Daddy bubble gum – both long-form pieces and paackaging… off the top of my head, that may have also seen their end around this same time.

  2. Awesome. I shared the same fascination, can remember eating one on my porch as a 4-year-old in early 1970s, and never quite realized it was gone forever until it was way, way too late.

    My review of Curly Wurly from a few years back: http://snacks.cyberpunks.org/cadbury-curly-wurly.html

  3. azog says:

    You make an astute observation with your statement “…kindergarten into Junior High, years when candy typically makes a big impression”, one which is not obvious (at least to me) until it’s stated. I started high-school in 1980, which began the unfortunate process of “putting away childish things” (to borrow a phrase). Looking at some of these wrappers, I find myself with strong emotions, and judging from the comments, I know I’m not alone, even if the comment might be of a different generation.

    • ChiTownKim says:

      YEA!!!! I loved Marathon Bars……. was it because it felt like you were getting so much for your Quarter? Or was it the amazingly cool Marathon Man kicking the door of the Old Western Saloon in the middle of a blizzard & demanding “Gimme A Marathon Bar”??
      This was a great article that took me back to childhood days of fun & candy.

  4. Glen says:

    Great post Jason! I hadn’t thought about a Marathon Bar for decades, but the memories of biting into one and pulling away that long string of caramel is as vivid as the the day (days!) it happened in the 70s thanks to your post. Thanks again for all your work on this amazing blog!

    Note: That might be Angelo (Mad Magazine) Torres’ art in the b&w newspaper ad.

  5. Brandon says:

    I miss the Marathon bars, too! Thanks for the comprehensive history that you’ve put together.

    Seeing that Marathon John comics ad reminds me of another one I have. It’s nearly the same, but from years earlier, and he’s saying something like “Nobody eats a Marathon fast!” — something like that. I’ll have to find it.

  6. Hendu says:

    Great article!
    Also a big fan of the caramel delight that “lasts a good long time…”
    No review would be complete of course, without the “Quick Carl” commercial that was indelibly etched in my brain long ago.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-XDaQUd6Qv4

    Keep up the good work!!

  7. Anthony Martini says:

    Great article – I am also a lover of Marathon Bar. HS graduate of 1980. I was the Asst. Candy Buyer at Walgreens 8-9 years ago when Candy companies were into the Nostalgia/ Limited Edition candy years. I put together a Nostalgic program for all stores and looked all over for Marathon to go with my assortment. Tried to get MM/Mars to do a Limited Edition for us with no luck ! They were the best !

  8. Pingback: Maximum Marathon Part 1: The Wrappers! | CollectingCandy.com

  9. Clay says:

    Thank you for the wonderful trip down memory lane. My oldest daughter always gives me a bag of retro candy for father’s day every year. I was down to my last piece of candy last night. It was a curly wurly. Of course the very first thing that came to mind when I opened it was Marathon Bar. Yay!! I ate so many of them from when they were first released until they disappeared its not funny. Back then schools sold candy bars as a part of our needed nutrition and the beloved Marathon Bar fit the standards. Guess I never noticed when they disappeared because cars and girls replaced my crush on candy bars. Needless to say I ordered a box of curly wurlys today.

  10. Rick says:

    What a horrible story of the missing Marathon Bar. Someone forged your name to get at that bar. Makes me wonder if the seller sent it to himself. I’m on the look for a Marathon Bar. Just learning that they are out of business. I just figured the didn’t sell them in the South anymore for some reason. I recently saw a Chick-o-Stick in Arkansas and thought I could find a Marathon Bar as well. Guess not. Hope they bring them back.

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