"Your talks... have given me hope," wrote one listener to the Betty Crocker radio program during the Depression, and according to Marks's largely chronological "biography" (there was no real Betty Crocker), it was human connections like this one that made Crocker one of the most successful marketing tools ever. Filled with treasures from the General Mills archive-including letters sent to Crocker during WWII, reprints of famous recipes and advertisements, and portraits updated through the years-Marks's book introduces readers to the people who breathed life into Crocker's image as the happiest of homemakers. There's Samuel Gale, her inventor, and Florence Lindeberg, who provided her trademark signature in 1921. Other important figures include Neysa McMein, who painted the first Crocker portrait in 1936, and Adelaide Hawley, who played Crocker on television in the 1950s. Marks, who created a documentary film on Crocker, devotes a chapter to the Betty Crocker Kitchens and chronicles the products that Crocker's folksy persona sold to the world, like Bisquick and various cake mixes. In another section, she touches upon-albeit too briefly-Crocker's role in "the fundamental shift in American diets toward... factory-processed convenience foods." Light on analysis but abundant with anecdotes, this is a solid basic history for casual culinary, marketing and American historians. Photos, illus. Agent, Dawn Frederick. (Apr.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
She hosted a radio show that reached millions and at the height of her popularity received more than 4000 letters a day. Her "Big Red" cookbook sold more than 30 million copies. She not only helped get America through a depression but boosted morale on the home front during World War II. And she became America's foremost cooking authority. Yet Betty Crocker was never a real person but instead one of the most successful brands in history. This deliciously fun "biography" begins with Betty's "birth" in 1921 in Minneapolis-the result of a wildly successful promotional effort by Gold Medal Flour executives, who needed a woman to respond to letters from customers. Marks, whose interest was stimulated by a Betty Crocker letter her grandmother received and who spent six years researching the General Mills archives, traces Betty's evolution as a corporate spokesperson and brand, offering a fascinating look at American culinary history. Spiced with a small selection of recipes from Betty's files and graced with some wonderful illustrations, this is popular history at its best: both informative and entertaining. A natural complement to Anne Mendelson's Stand Facing the Stove: The Story of the Woman Who Gave America The Joy of Cooking; highly recommended.-John Charles, Scottsdale P.L., AZ Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Cheerful social history follows the career of General Mills's long-lived celebrity spokeswoman. First things first: Betty Crocker isn't a real person. She was created, in an unwittingly brilliant move, by the publicity department of Washburn Crosby, makers of Gold Medal Flour, after a magazine contest brought in a flood of cooking questions to the company. The letters were answered, but the male publicity director certainly couldn't sign his own name to the responses; thus was Betty created. Her last name was given in honor of then-recently retired company director William G. Crocker, but her first name was chosen simply for its "wholesome" sound. From these simple origins, an empire grew-one supported by a large staff of cooks and home economists who were constantly testing recipes and looking for kitchen innovations. Betty was a radio pioneer, with a first show debuting in 1924 and, later, with her Betty Crocker Cooking School of the Air. She went to Hollywood in the '30s to interview the stars, Marjorie Child Husted being the public face of Betty Crocker on these occasions. Betty assisted homemakers in stretching their budgets during the Great Depression and offered innovative ways to cook with rations during WWII. And while Betty Crocker was always firmly in the woman-as-homemaker camp, she advocated greater recognition for what was often thankless work, creating the Betty Crocker Home Legion. In the 1950s, Betty Crocker offered convenience foods-Bisquick, cake mixes-that matched the shiny new postwar prosperity. Though her popularity hit its high-water mark in the middle of the 20th century, she remains a force even in the General Mills of today. Marks excels in putting her subjectin context, and alongside her historical account, she places numerous letters from women who wrote to Betty to ask questions or inform her about their lives. Like a Betty Crocker recipe: goes down easy.