Charlie the Tuna
is the cartoon mascot and spokes-tuna for the StarKist brand. He was created by Tom Rogers of the Leo Burnett Agency after StarKist hired Leo Burnett in 1961. StarKist Tuna is the name of a brand of tuna currently owned by Dongwon Industries, a South Korea-based conglomerate. StarKist itself is based in Pittsburgh, the home of its former parent company, H. J. Heinz Company, sharing its headquarters on the site of Three Rivers Stadium with another former parent company, Del Monte Foods’ Pittsburgh headquarters.
As reported in news stories about Rogers, Charlie the Tuna was based on Rogers’ friend, the actor-songwriter Henry Nemo. B-movie actress Maila Nurmi claims that the character was originally sketched six years earlier by the actor James Dean while she was sitting with him one night in Googie’s coffee shop in Los Angeles. However, StarKist and Burnett both give full credit to Rogers, and there is no actual evidence for Nurmi’s claim.
The advertisements depicted Charlie (voiced by actor Herschel Bernardi) as a hipster wearing a Greek fisherman’s hat and coke-bottle glasses, whose goal is to be caught by the StarKist company. Charlie believes that he is so hip and cultured that he has “good taste,” and he is thus the perfect tuna for StarKist. Charlie is always rejected in the form of a note attached to a fish hook that says, “Sorry, Charlie.” The reason given by the narrator (voiced by Danny Dark) for the rejection was that StarKist was not looking for tuna with good taste but rather for tuna that tasted good. Some of the commercials ended with Charlie appeasing the viewers: “Tell ’em, Charlie sent you”. These commercials were animated by DePatie-Freleng Enterprises.
“Sorry, Charlie” became closely associated with StarKist and was also a popular American catchphrase. Charlie appeared in more than 85 advertisements for StarKist until the 1980s, when the campaign was retired. Charlie made a comeback in 1999, when StarKist revived him to introduce their new line of healthier tuna products. He has been the mascot of the company since then.
Bernardi, the original voice of the character, died on May 9, 1986. Dark died on June 13, 2004. Rogers died on June 24, 2005.
Los Angeles radio personality and voiceover artist Charlie Tuna (real name: Art Ferguson) chose his on-air name early in his career upon the departure of another Oklahoma City disc jockey. All disc jockeys at KOMA were told to draw their on-air names out of a hat, and by the time Chuck Riley picked his on-air name out of a hat, every name had been drawn except for “Charlie Tuna.” Riley used the name for a week, and then left. His replacement, Art Ferguson, inherited the name, and he would keep the Charlie Tuna name upon relocating first to Boston and then Los Angeles.
American football head coach Bill Parcells earned the nickname “The Big Tuna” when he responded to an obviously false statement from a player with the incredulous “Who do you think I am? Charlie the Tuna?”
American hip-hop star Chali 2na chose his rap name by slightly modifying the name Charlie Tuna, a nickname his uncle gave him in his youth.