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Snap! Crackle! Plot!

The Family Histories of Some Product Mascots Feature Dysfunctional Twists and Turns That, Until Today, Have Been Kept Hush-Hush From an Unsuspecting Public

October 18, 1998|ROY RIVENBURG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Now that it's open season on the warped personal lives of presidents and politicians, we decided to investigate a few other American icons, such as the Pillsbury Doughboy, Betty Crocker and Count Chocula.

What we uncovered is shocking.

For example, when the Jolly Green Giant first appeared in 1925, he was neither green nor jolly. He wore a bearskin outfit and scowled. It wasn't until the 1930s that someone in marketing apparently realized that "Angry White Endocrine Freak" probably wouldn't sell very many frozen peas. So the giant donned a suit of leaves, started reading Dale Carnegie and had his skin surgically altered to green (which also came in handy for affirmative-action programs).

And that's just the beginning.

Consider the case of Mrs. Butterworth and Mrs. Paul. When we phoned Aurora Foods for biographical information on the mascots' husbands, a spokesman confessed that both characters had never been married. He acknowledged that the "Mrs." title is misleading but said it is legally accurate and not impeachable.

Next we called Quaker Oats to ask about Aunt Jemima. Whose aunt is she, exactly? Answer: nobody's. Corporate genealogists could produce no evidence of nephews, nieces or relatives of any kind.

In fact, someone should open a dating service for product mascots because none seems to have a spouse. A few possible exceptions are at General Mills, home of the Trix rabbit, the Lucky Charms leprechaun, Betty Crocker, Frankenberry, Count Chocula and Sonny the CooCoo for Cocoa Puffs bird. When asked about the marital status of those characters, spokeswoman Pam Becker said, "I don't know. We don't delve into their personal lives."

But nearly every other mascot we scrutinized--from the Ty-D-Bol man to Charlie the Tuna (sorry, Charlie)--is single. The Energizer bunny's official biography, for example, says he is "interested in a long-term relationship but too busy at the moment." No wonder the divorce rate in this country is so high, with role models like these.

About the closest we came to a nuclear family was 46-year-old Tony the Tiger and his son, Tony Jr.

Is there a Mrs. Tony?

"Uh, no," admitted a Kellogg publicist.

Wait. How can that be?

Good point, said the publicist: "We can't have Tony fathering children out of wedlock. Let me look into this." About a week later, Kellogg called back to report that Tony Jr.'s mother, who has no name, once appeared in a TV commercial on an unspecified date. The publicist also discovered that in 1974, which was the Chinese year of the tiger, Tony briefly had a daughter, Antoinette.

Another suspicious family history involves Jack in the Box's clown mascot, Jack, who had a near-death experience in 1980 (when his own company blew him up) and remained in hiding until 1995. The new Jack, who lives in La Jolla and wears Armani suits, has a look-alike son and a human wife. Company officials say Jack Jr.'s physique "proves that the gene for large white plastic heads is passed down on the male side of the family."

Maybe so, but it's still a biological miracle. That's because Jack Jr. is actually older than his mother, who wasn't created by the company's ad agency until July 31. Perhaps that also explains why Jack's corporate associates are tight-lipped about the woman's background, identifying her only as "Mrs. Box."

Of course, being related to a product mascot can be hazardous.

The Chicken of the Sea mermaid originally had an older sister, but the sibling must've been rammed by a Russian fishing trawler or something because company officials cannot account for her whereabouts now. Nor can they provide a name or exact birth date for the mermaid herself.

"She's a very mysterious person," a company spokesman said. "We think she's about 45 years old."

Likewise, the Pillsbury Doughboy--who has been poked in the gut an estimated 57,000 times during his 33 years of existence--once fraternized with a doughgirl and a doughdog, but they also vanished quickly and mysteriously. (Perhaps in a baking accident?)

Even Toucan Sam's innocent young nephews were given the Jimmy Hoffa treatment shortly after they hatched.

Sam must have known too much about that incident because, in the early 1970s, he underwent a Witness Protection Program-style identity change. He had a "beak job" to shorten his nose, cosmetic surgery to brighten his feathers, and he was ordered to stop speaking Toucanese (a variation of Pig Latin) and dump the towering Carmen Miranda-style fruit hat worn in his 1963 debut.

Other mascot make-overs include the Brawny paper towel man (who recently moved the part in his hair and discarded his Lizzie Borden-esque ax), the smiling Kool-Aid pitcher (which in 1975 inexplicably sprouted legs, arms and a torso) and Kellogg's Snap, Crackle and Pop (who began life as gnomes with huge noses, floppy ears and oversized hats but in 1949 adopted boyish haircuts, new uniforms and smaller facial features).

But sometimes cosmetic surgery can backfire.

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