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Meeting a real-life Focker proves difficult

Universal came up empty when it tried to unite Americans who shared the last name at a family reunion.

January 07, 2005|John Woestendiek | Baltimore Sun

The movie is called "Meet the Fockers," but finding true-blue American Fockers -- as Universal Studios found out -- is no simple task.

Before the movie's highly successful Christmas weekend opening, Universal's publicity people came up with the idea of holding a "Focker Family Reunion" -- inviting anyone in the country who shared the "unfortunate" last name of the movie's central character to enter a sweepstakes.

Twenty-five Focker families, the movie company said, would be chosen for an all-expenses-paid weekend and "reunion" at Universal Orlando Resort.

As they waited, and waited, for entries to flood in it became clear that somebody had, uh, messed up. There are few, if any, real Fockers in America.

To sidestep a public-relations fiasco, the movie company was forced to alter its original sweepstakes rules and allow entries from Canada, where the only significant concentration of Fockers in North America lives.

Universal ended up inviting about 20 Fockers from British Columbia and a Cleveland family whose name was close -- Foecking.

Those lucky Fockers, and the Foecking family, were treated to airfare, lodging and an early screening of the movie, which Terri Focker of Sussex, British Columbia, said is even better than "Meet the Parents," despite its repeated mispronunciation of the name.

It's FOH-ker, she says, not FAH-ker.

"Meet the Fockers" is the sequel to "Meet the Parents," released in 2000.

Ben Stiller stars in both as male nurse Greg (real name Gaylord) Focker. Throughout both films, the last name is a running gag.

In the first film, Focker meets his soon-to-be in-laws; in the second, his fiancee and her family meet Greg's parents, played by Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand.

Despite those big names, Universal decided to give the movie an extra push, scheduling a Focker family reunion for the week before the film's release.

In its five-page listing of sweepstakes rules, Universal said only legal residents of the United States could enter and only those whose legal surname was Focker, spelled exactly that way.

The winners and their families would receive three-day passes to Universal Studios Florida and Universal's Islands of Adventure while at the reunion, held last month.

Contestants had one week to enter online, but few did.

"It's not as popular a name as we had originally thought," explains Susan Storey, senior public-relations representative for Universal Orlando.

The oversight is understandable. Fockers can be found in many American phonebooks, both hard copies and Internet databases.

Several Internet phonebooks list nearly a dozen Fockers nationwide, a third of which, strangely, share the first name Gaylord. LexisNexis, an online provider of databases, lists -- though some of them are repeats -- about 75 Gaylord Fockers in America, most, if not all, of whom got there as a result of a phony phonebook entry.

All are entries recorded since 2000, when "Meet the Parents" was released.

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