In the 1958 film Rally 'Round the Flag, Boys! starring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, Newman, a Connecticut commuter/husband sadly recollects the lost appeal of his wife's (Woodward's) pink peignoir after she spilled her son's daily dose of cod liver oil on it. Cultural references to cod liver oil are rare these days, as rare as references to pink peignoirs. But what better testament to the notoriously noxious quality of cod liver oil could there be than this -- that the allure of the pink peignoir was forever spoiled by the spill, and could not be restored -- even after repeated washings?
I have been intrigued by cod liver oil ever since I encountered the "Man With a Fish on His Back" in the back corner of the old period Drugstore exhibit at the National Museum of American History. The man is made of papier mache and stands over five feet tall; the fish he carries on his back, a Norwegian cod, is as big as he is. The figure served as an oversized advertisement for a medicinal cod liver oil product called Scott's Emulsion, and it probably stood prominently in a drugstore window some 100 years ago.
The man with a fish on his back was also reproduced on advertising trade cards and booklets, and printed on the packaging and embossed on the bottles of Scott's Emulsion. Prolific advertising made Scott's Emulsion one of the most successful patent medicines of the late 19th and early 20th century, and made its manufacturers, Alfred Scott and Samuel Bowne, very wealthy men.