Huffpost Miami

Merck Funds Little Miss Coppertone Maintenance For Five Years

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Pharmaceutical company Merck will fund maintenance of the Little Miss Coppertone sign, according to Open Media Miami. For the next five years, the parent company of Coppertone will donate $1,800 to cover insurance costs and any repair of the iconic billboard, which now sits at 73rd Street and Biscayne Boulevard. It was designated a historic landmark in 2008.

The pig-tailed tiny sunbather, with her backside partially revealed by a playful dog tugging at her bathing suit, was created in 1959 by pin-up artist Joyce Brand (nee Ballantyne). The same year, the ad became a 35-foot billboard on the side of the Parkleigh Building near the Freedom Tower on Biscayne Boulevard. With the tagline “Don't be a pale face,” Little Miss Coppertone defined the Miami skyline for the next 30 years.

In 1991, when the Parkleigh Building was torn down, the sign was donated to the Dade Heritage Trust before it was reinstalled on a building downtown on Flagler. Little Miss Coppertone's face was demolished in a 2005 hurricane and the neon lights no longer worked. The damaged sign was donated to the MiMo Biscayne Association in 2008. With generous funding by Schering-Plough, who then owned the Coppertone brand, the sign was restored and outfitted with energy-saving LED lights.

Before it was installed in its current home, the MiMo association had to obtain a "certificate of appropriateness" from the city’s Historic and Environmental Preservation Board. And this appropriateness had nothing to do with the toddler's bare bottom, which might not pass many's pedophilia radars these days. The certificate was to ensure that the sign, although historic itself, would not mar the facade of the now-protected Miami Modern architecture.

There were also logistics to consider. The sign must be insured for $1,200 a year just in case it topples down on people and cars on Biscayne Boulevard.

The real-life Coppertone girl is Cheri Brand, who at 3 years old, was the model for her artist mother. Both lived in Ocala since the 1970s. When interviewed in 2005, artist Brand told a St. Peteresburg Times reporter, “Yeah, it was a good billboard, but it was hardly the only art I ever produced. But that's what everybody remembers. That's what everybody wants to talk about. The Coppertone Girl." Brand died in Ocala in May 2006.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story indicated that Joyce Brand passed away in July 2006; she died in May.