About this Blog

"In the future everybody will be world-famous for 15 minutes." So said the bleached-out, late lamented artist Andy Warhol. Having lived and worked in New York City, Warhol came to fully grasp the hold celebrity has on us. In this very famous sentence, he meant to point out that in a culture fixated on fame, many people will suddenly flash brightly onto the public screen, then--poof--will just as quickly disappear from public view--like shooting stars. Other individuals derive their celebrity from one stellar accomplishment (one hit song, one iconic role, etc.) that they never again match.

This blog is devoted to the one part of our celebrity culture that no one has written much about: temporary/one-shot celebrities.

The pace of modern life has quickened, and now we hear people speaking of someone's 15 seconds of fame. These "celebrities with a lower-case c" who will appear in this blog sometimes come to us from the world of entertainment, sometimes from the world of news. All are fascinating.

The need of our communications media for a continual stream of new material assures that we will have no end of colorful people who go quickly, where celebrity is concerned, from zero to hero (or villain) and back to zero. Now you see 'em, now you don't. What a crazy world, eh?

Temporary celebrities coming from the world of entertainment include one-hit recording artists; TV and movie icons who, although they might have had a great many accomplishments in their career, are remembered for one big role; standouts of reality TV; sports figures remembered for one remarkable accomplishment; and people whose celebrity came from one big role in a commercial or print ad.

News-based temporary celebrities come in many forms: mass/serial killers, other murderers of special note, sex-crime offenders, disgraced figures of government/military/business/media/religion, spies/traitors, hoaxers, femmes/hommes fatale, heroes, whistle blowers, inventors/innovators, and victims.

Celebrity Blogsburg will consider each category in turn.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Hoaxer Anna Ayala

Note: Many a person has come to public attention by way of a hoax. Some of these hoaxes draw national attention; others become only local or regional stories.

The best hoaxes are those that are completely innocent in that they test public credulity or deflate the pompous but don't try to profit financially nor do they injure another person or organization. Some hoaxes have considerable fallout, leaving angry people in their wake. Others delight and appeal to our enjoyment in having been fooled, so long as we are finally let in on the gag.

Hoaxes in America have been many. Ben Franklin pulled off his Polly Baker hoax, Richard Locke his Moon hoax, Edgar Allan Poe his balloon hoax, H.L Mencken his bathtub hoax, and Orson Welles his radio drama War of the Worlds, which wasn't intended as a hoax but functioned like one all the same.

The sample of hoaxers whose efforts are presented here all have done their pranks since the end of World War II. There are, of course, many other such pranksters and rascals who could be added to this sample.

In March 2005, Anna Ayala of Las Vegas claimed that while eating a bowl of chili at a San Jose, CA, Wendy's restaurant, she bit into a human finger. She indicated that she might sue and appeared on ABC's Good Morning America show.

The finger had actually belonged to a friend of Ayala's husband. It had been severed in an accident at an asphalt plant. The Ayalas had apparently cooked the digit before slipping it into the bowl of chili.

It soon came to light that Anna had been involved in a whole series of scam legal claims dating back to 1998. She pled guilty in the Wendy's case and received a nine-year prison sentence. Her husband got 12 years.

Hoaxer David Bodney

Lawyer/journalist/professor David Bodney perpetrated a 1992 hoax that caused several hundred people to descend on an Arizona shopping mall bent on finding gold.

No, not the gold items sold in jewelry stores, but in a vein of gold that Bodney, then editor of a free newspaper, the New Times, reported having been found beneath the floor of the Galleria mall in Scottsdale. The hoax story said that illegal alien worker Sergio Alonzo had struck gold while repairing floor tiles there.

To lend credence to what sounds like a transparently fraudulent tale, the newspaper account added that the mall was on federal land and that the mall owners did not hold mineral rights. The Bureau of Mines had supposedly set up a registry in the mall where gold miners could file claim stakes. The story included a photo of someone posing as Alonzo happily holding in his palm a large gold nugget.

As implausible as it sounds, many hopefuls were taken in by the hoax.

Bodney said he did it to alert people not to believe everything they see in print. He has since been managing partner of a Phoenix law firm and an adnjuct professor of journalism at Arizona State University.

Hoaxer Tawana Brawley

It is perhaps a wee bit mean to include Tawana Brawley here, inasmuch as she was a hard-pressed 15-year-old when, in 1987, she hoaxed the public into thinking she had been raped. Her allegations were happily seized upon by the Rev. Al Sharpton and two lawyers to advance their anti-discrimination agenda, but the matter backfired on them when it became apparent that Miss Brawley had been fibbing.

Brawley, an African American, came from a troubled home and was afraid that she would be beaten for having skipped school to visit her boyfriend, who was in prison in a nearby town. Instead of 'fessing up, she went missing for four days, then smeared herself with dog excrement, used charcoal to scribble racial slurs on her own body, crawled inside a big green garbage bag, and lay down in the street.

When police were summoned, she told of having been raped by three white men, one of whom wore a badge.

The black community was understandably incensed. Bill Cosby helped raise money for her legal representation, and around a thousand people marched in her support through the streets of her hometown, Newburgh, NY.

Joining in her support were the Rev. Sharpton and two prominent civil rights attorneys. One of Miss Brawley's alleged attackers was identified as Dutchess County Assistant District Attorney Steven Pagones,who promptly sued the three, plus Brawley, for libel.

Brawley's story fell apart when a neighbor came forward and said that she had seen Brawley crawl into the garbage bag and lie down on the sidewalk and no physical evidence of rape was found. Pagones won his suit.

This appears to have been a hoax that was used to advance a social agenda--an important social agenda, but one better advanced in more honest ways.

Brawley converted to Islam and assumed the name Maryam Muhammad.

Hoaxer Paul Castronovo

A typical wild and crazy guy-type disc jockey in South Florida is Paul Castronovo, who in 1991 perpetrated a hoax of the aggravating variety.

On his early-morning show, around 6 a.m., he instructed listeners to set their clocks and watches ahead one hour, because, he said, the moon was aligned with Uranus following the vernal equinox. Many did, and got to work to find the doors still locked. Fallout from the little hoax soon blew over, and Castronovo's DJ/show-host career continued its merry way on different stations in Fort Lauderdale and Miami.

Again like so many DJs, Castronovo aims for the outrageous, telling listeners that he is trying to adopt a 22-year-old Vietnamese dancer, that he likes playing nude badminton, and that his hobby is dissecting dead horses while eating Hawaiian pizza.

In the video clip below, Celebrity Blogsburg reaches a new low in taste, showing Castronovo having his nose hair waxed. One can only hope that this, too, was merely a gag.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Hoaxer Elizabeth Chapman

Some hoaxes are perfectly harmless. Some are deliberately harmful to others, and still others are unintentionally harmful. The fantastic hoax pulled off by single mom Elizabeth Chapman was of the third variety, and the person most harmed was her own son.

Many a mother is anxious about opening doors for their children and sometimes ask more of the kids than the little tykes can deliver. This was clearly the case with Elizabeth and her son Justin.

Justin was born in 1993, and his upbringing, and later his home schooling, was in the hands of his mother, Elizabeth, an aspiring gymnast. The child developed early and showed signs of considerable intelligence. According to reports, he walked at seven months and could read by 2 years and four months, around the same time he began practicing the violin.

At age 3, his mother said that a Wechsler Intelligence Scale test showed his IQ to be 160. He took up chess, and at 4, signed up for distance learning courses for gifted children. A year later, Justin took high school coursework, also via Internet.

When he was 6, his mother got him registered for coursework at the University of Rochester, where he took a course in religion and audited physics. This feat got him a fair amount of public notice, and in early 2000, an educational psychologist tested him and declared, grandly, that the boy's IQ was 298, the highest score ever recorded.

It was close to this time that Paradigm News gave little Justin his own nationally syndicated weekly newspaper column, which was titled "The Justin Report." By this time, Justin had also taken up piano and was said to be writing a book about innovations in education.

Justin's column ran from July 2000 until May 2001. In November 2001, the boy was hospitalized due to an apparent suicide attempt by Motrin overdose. The pressure on him had proved too great. Realizing this, his mother admitted that she had hoaxed the public by greatly exaggerating his mental gifts. He was a bright boy, but he had nowhere near the 298 IQ ascribed to him.

Human Services in Colorado, where the Chapmans had moved from New York, removed Justin from his mother's care, placing him on a quiet farm.

The saddest thing about this hoax was, of course, its effects on the boy. The hoax's silver lining was that it smeared egg on the face of a syndicate that clearly should have known better, and that the embarrassment was shared with those newspapers that chose to run the column. The press is supposed to be skeptical of things that sound too good to be true.

Hoaxer Rory Emerald

A stay-at-home dad and Los Angeles artist with a truly eccentric sense of humor is Julian Lee Hobbs, who pulls off his serial hoaxes under the name Rory Emerald.

Hobbs' harmless pranks--more than 40 of them so far-- follow a pattern. He places a classified ad in a local newspaper somewhere in the USA indicating that he has found some unlikely object and lists his own phone number. When people call, he informs them that the ad is a prank. Some laugh; some are angry.

Hobbs' first such hoax ad, in 2005, claimed that he had found a prosthetic nose outside Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch.

He has not attempted to profit financially from these bogus ads, and his motive for going to all this trouble is not clear, but he refers to himself as a "merry prankster" and a "professional hoaxer."

Hobbs, who was born in Pontiac, Michigan, has also claimed to have found Elton John's platform boots, the bottle from the TV show "I Dream of Jennie," Leonardo Da Vinci's brushes and palette, a two-headed cat, and the very first VW Beetle.

Prior to all these hoaxes, when he was 23, he hoaxed the Associated Press into reporting that he was actress Elizabeth Taylor's lover.

Hobbs is living proof of the old saying that it takes all kinds.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Hoaxer James Guckert

One of the saddest and most revolting of modern-day hoaxes was the George W. Bush administration's use of a ringer calling himself Jeff Gannon to lob softball questions in presidential briefings and press conferences.

The man's real name is James Guckert, and he is a fellow who has quite a past.

In his phony role as a reporter, Guckert was credentialed as a correspondent for an equally phony news organization called Talon News Service, controlled by a major GOP supporter of President Bush.

Questions about Gannon finally began to be asked in February 2005 after one especially loaded, unprofessional question addressed to the president by "reporter" Gannon.

Soon it came to light that Guckert had no journalistic experience, but had worked as a male escort (male prostitute) and had posed nude for unsavory websites. He had used the same alias for those jobs.

This dreadful indication of how low the Bush administration was prepared to go came roughly one month after three syndicated columnists had been outed as taking money from the administration in exchange for supporting Bush policies--without revealing the payoffs to their readers. The three were Armstrong Williams, Maggie Gallagher and Mike McManus. The third of these writers, remarkably,did a column on ethics and religion.

Lord, Lord.

Hoaxer Tom Hauser

Young Wall Street lawyer Tom Hauser was the only hoaxer in this collection to have posed as a small child, or to have used a Teddy bear as part of the hoax.

The genesis of the hoax letters Hauser wrote to prominent government figures was a 1970 gift from a friend upon Hauser's graduation from law school: a small, brown stuffed bear, which was given the name Martin. Thereafter, when Hauser travelled, he sent his pals postcards signed Martin Bear. They enjoyed the gag and sent return mail addressed to Martin rather than to Hauser.

In 1974, on a whim, Hauser scrawled in a child-like hand a letter to New York Senator Jacob Javits, asking the senator to please make April 11, his birthday, a national holiday, then signed the letter Martin Bear.

Javits, or more likely, someone on his staff, took the letter seriously and wrote a reply, explaining why it is really, really hard, even for a senator, to establish a new national holiday.

Pleased with the prank, Hauser wrote other such letters and continued to pose as a little boy. One sent to New York Senator James Buckley told that eminent worthy that for a class project, the boy had to write letters to someone he liked and someone he didn't like. With child-like innocence, the letter identified Buckley as the one he didn't like.

Buckley's office responded with a vacuous form letter, which was even funnier to Hauser.

In his role as Martin, Hauser mailed a dime to New York Mayor Abe Beame, indicating that the dime was to be used to help the city with its financial troubles. The mayor thought this was cute and sent Martin a warm letter of thanks.

About that time, the New York Times got wind of Martin Bear and his letters printed some of them, and also began asking to interview little Martin. Soon the cat--or rather the bear--was out of the bag. In typical political style, the mayor's office issued a statement saying that they had seen through the hoax right away, which obviously they had not. The mighty Times also huffed with righteous indignation at having been bamboozled.

In a Wall Street Journal interview, Hauser remarked that by that time, Martin had become the world's most famous bear other than Smokey the Bear and Winnie the Pooh.

Much later, in 1998, Hauser, who had developed a literary streak, published a book titled Martin Bear and Friends. Oh, what good, clean fun.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Hoaxer Bob Hanson

Under the on-air name Ludlow Porch, radio show host Bob Hanson of Atlanta has pulled off many a harmless, delightful hoax.

Hanson owes the start of his long radio career to his late brother-in-law, Atlanta's great humor columnist Lewis Grizzard, who told Sports Illustrated about Hanson. The story that appeared in that magazine in 1972 resulted in an offer for Hanson to appear on WSB Radio in Atlanta.

Hanson's on-air humor was such that he was signed to do a regular show for station WRNG. A decade later, when that station changed its format, Hanson's show was moved to station WSB, and more recently, it moved again, to FunSeekers Radio Network.

One of Hanson's earliest radio hoaxes was an "interview" with the Rev. Anthony Slats of the Dunk 'n Dine Baptist Church of New Hope, TN. The good reverend's aim was to ask for help in his movement to stamp out animal nudity. "A nude dog is a rude dog" was his motto, and Hanson pictured the reverend placing large paper fig leaves on Atlanta's equestrian statues.

Another success was his vampire hoax, featuring an "interview" with a man who claimed to be one of only six practicing vampires in Georgia. This "interviewee" also claimed that his family members had been the first Methodist vampires is Hiawassee, GA.

Perhaps the most widely publicized of the various Ludlow Porch hoaxes, however, was the claim he made on his show one day that there is no such state as Montana. Have you ever been there? he asked his listeners. Have you ever met anyone from there? Of course not. There is no such state.

Sadly, more than 15,000 phone calls and 500 letters came in from listeners who solemnly assured Hanson that Montana really did exist. This spoof showed with crystal clarity the sorry state of public gullibility at that time in his listening area.

Hanson has also published at least 13 books of humor having titles such as Who Cares About Apathy? This one-time insurance adjuster has shown a rare abililty to find the humor in everyday life. He has been highly active in Georgia charities, and in 2007, he was inducted into the Georgia Radio Hall of Fame. Hanson is pictured in the video clip below regaling a group of geezers.

Hoaxers Birdie Jo and Becky Hoaks

The Hoaks sisters certainly have the perfect last name for what they seem to have selected as their life's work: hoaxing kind, generous people in the name of sweet charity.

Birdie Jo and Becky were born into very difficult circumstances in the small town of Hoopeston, Illinois. The two girls stuck together to the extent that their local nicknames were Bread and Butter. Following their high school years,in 1988, they joined the National Guard. By 1991,they left Guard service and lived for a time in New York City.

Exactly when the pair began their life of hoax-driven crime is unclear, but they appear to have used the same general scam in many states. Their modus operandi was for Birdie Jo to show up in a small town dressed as a teenage boy and for Becky to appear later in the role of his "Aunt Becky." Kind, generous locals would be readily taken in by the hard-luck stories the two women told and would provide them support until it finally came to light that Birdie Jo was female. Embarrassed, most such communities let the two go rather than press charges and spread their embarrassment abroad.

Birdie Jo came to the nation's attention in 1995 in Salt Lake City, Utah, where she pretended to be a 13-year-old boy named Mark born during a Christmas Day blizzard and abandoned by uncaring parents. Money poured in, as did a few offers of adoption.

Finally it came to light that he was a she, and 25 years old, at that. This time Birdie Jo got an 18-month sentence.

Reports of the pair's similar capers in other states filtered in. Even so, the wily Birdie Jo and Becky struck again in Galena, Kansas, where in 2003, Birdie Jo, then 33, assumed the identity of 13-year-old Chris Gomez, child abuse victim. Here, the two bilked the well-meaning congregation of the Galena Assembly of God church. People finally became suspicious due to Birdie Jo's claim of being only 13, and the cat was once again out of the bag. Charges were dropped, however, and goodness only knows where these inventive "thesbians" will appear next.

Hoaxer Clifford Irving

A hoaxer who was in it for the cash was Clifford Irving, author of a bogus autobiography of reclusive billionaire businessman/engineer/movie producer Howard Hughes.

Hughes' long-standing status as a recluse was what made this 1971 hoax possible. Irving and his co-hoaxer, Richard Suskind, bet that Hughes' desire to avoid contact with the world would keep him from exposing the hoax. They bet wrong.

Publisher McGraw-Hill, after handwriting "experts" authenticated Irving's bogus Hughes letters, coughed up a large advance. Life magazine paid additional money to publish excerpts from the book. Irving claimed that he and Hughes had met many times in the Bahamas and Mexico to discuss the book.

In 1972, Hughes came out of seclusion by holding a phone conference call with a number of journalists, telling them that the "autobiography" was a fraud.

Irving and his wife Edith, who had participated in the hoax, eventually confessed. Found guilty, they were required to return the advance royalties. Irving was sentenced to 17 months, Suskind to six months, Edith to two months. Since his release from prison, Irving has made his living as a writer.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Hoaxer Mike McGrady

It has been said that in most parts of the world, people have sex, but that Americans commit it. The nation's preoccupation with this naughty topic was the cause of a marvelous 1966 hoax in which a group of friends and co-workers wrote a steamy, sleazy novel--by committee.

The success of sexy novels by such authors as Jacqueline Susann and Harold Robbins and the failure of far better manuscripts to find a publisher caused Newsday columnist Mike McGrady and roughly 20 of his Newsday colleagues and other pals to tackle the writing of a purposely bad, sex-obsessed novel. One writer did the first chapter, the next person did chapter two, etc. The only stipulation was that their work had to be as devoid as possible of quality and social value.

The book was titled Naked Came the Stranger, and its author, purportedly, was Peneploe Ashe." The part of Ashe was played by McGrady's sister-in-law. The book's plot involved an unfaithful husband whose wife gets her revenge by sleeping around at a dizzying rate.

Naturally, the book was a huge success in terms of copies sold--even before the literary hoax was revealed.

Awful as it is to have to admit it, this hoax proved an adage: "No one ever lost any money by underestimating the taste of the American public."

Hoaxer Jack Moore

A harmless little hoax that made a stir in its own backyard took place in the town of Culpeper, Virigina, in 1984.

Jack Moore, sports editor of the Culpeper Star-Exponent, had already submitted his resignation two weeks before he ran a story about an enormous domed sports stadium that supposedly was about to be built in tiny Culpeper. Illustrating the story was a photo of the Houston Astrodome.

Despite the consideration that anyone who actually took this story at face value would have had to be an idiot,the owners of the paper, huffing with righteous executive indignation, fired Moore's boss, the paper's news editor who apparently had been in on the gag, and filed a misdemeanor complaint against Moore, which they later dropped-- presumably to keep from looking even sillier.

Hoaxer George Plimpton

A wonderful hoax perpetrated by writer/editor George Plimpton in Sports Illustrated magazine was the Sidd Finch affair.

Plimpton achieved celebrity via his participant journalism stories and TV specials, wherein he "played football" in the NFL, boxed (more or less) with the heavyweight champ, made a floppy-ankle attempt to play in a pro ice hockey game, etc. He also was founder and longtime editor of the Paris Review, a high-quality literary periodical.

The Sidd Finch hoax was a 14-page story, with illustrations, that appeared in the April 1, 1985, issue of Sports Illustrated. It told, in fine Plimpton style, about a 28-year-old English-born mystic who had lived in a Buddhist monastery in Tibet and there leaned mind-over-body techniques that enabled him to pitch a baseball at inhumanly fast speeds.

The story said that Finch, who had never played the game before, was working at the New York Mets' training camp in Florida, where he was throwing fast balls clocked at 168 miles per hour. (The fastest actual pitch ever recorded--for real-- was 103 mph.)

The Mets were in on the hoax. A tall, gangling high school teacher posed as Finch, who was pictured in the magazine alongside actual members of the Mets squad.

Sports-crazed Americans went wild over Sidd Finch, and mail poured in from readers wanting to know more. A week later, however, Plimpton and the magazine "revealed" that Finch had walked away from baseball stardom with a gallant wave, complaining of decreased pitching accuracy. The next week, Sports Illustrated told its readers the whole thing had been an April Fool hoax--all in good fun.

Baseball, of course, along with guns and Rush Limbaugh, is a topic that only the most reckless will kid about. While many readers enjoyed the hoax for its entertainment value, others were furious--some even were sore enough to cancel their subscription.

In his usual fashion, Plimpton spun the story of this hoax out into a novel.

Hoaxer Christophe Rocancourt

Most children enjoy playing make-believe, but French-born Christophe Thierry Daniel Rocancourt made a profitable career of it.

Rocancourt reportedly had a difficult childhood, then ran away to Paris, where he discovered the joys of large-scale criminal hoaxing.His initial caper involved the "sale" of high-end real estate he didn't actually own.

Moving to the Untied States, he made use of several different aliases and posed variuosly as a film producer, Sophia Loren's son,the nephew of two famous fashion designers, a boxer, and a venture capitalist. The hoax that best captured the public imagination, however, was when he posed as a free-spending French member of the Rockefeller family.

During the height of his hoaxing, Rocancourt married Pia Reyes, a particularly pulcritudinous Playboy model.

His house of cards began to collapse in 1997, and in 2002, he pled guilty to theft, bribery and other charges. He was extradited to New York from Canada, where he had been arrested, and was sentenced to four years. AT the time, he estimated that he had duped people out of more than $40 million.

Hoaxer Rosie Ruiz

One of the most-remembered hoaxers of them all is Rosie Ruiz, a Cuban-born woman who "won" the 1980 Boston Marathon.

Ruiz started the race with the other runners, dropped out and took public transportation, then jumped back into the front of the pack and finished first, ahead of the actual winner, Jacqueline Gareau, and the other 446 women in the race.

A few days later, reports appeared that someone had seen Ruiz during her mid-race bus ride. It also came to light that in order to qualify for the Boston event, Ruiz had cheated in a similar manner to qualify for the 1979 New York Marathon, this time taking the subway before crossing the finish line.

Ruiz had a run-in with drug-related legal trouble in the early 1980s, then moved to Florida.

Her temporarily successful and much publicized hoax has been responsible for increased camera monitoring of marathons to prevent repetitions of this kind of hoax.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Hoaxer Joey Skaggs

Joey Skaggs is a man of varied accomplishment. He has taught for Manhattan's School of Visual Arts and is a painter and sculptor. His celebrity, however, rests solidly on his uncommon talent for pulling off hoaxes.

Skaggs' earliest fame as a hoax artist came with his 1976 Cathouse for Dogs hoax, in which he advertised a brothel for canines supposedly located in Manhattan. Many a credulous pet owner who wanted to help his dog get lucky was fooled, as was ABC News.

Among the Skaggs capers that followed were the Celebrity Sperm Bank hoax, also in 1976; the Gypsies Against Stereotypical Propaganda hoax (1982); the Fish Condo hoax (1983); the Fat Squad hoax (1986) in which tough guys would, for a large fee, forcibly prevent fat people from eating; and the Hair Today hoax (1990), involving the implanting of hair from dead people.

Hoaxer Alan Sokal

The amount of pretense in academia is such that one cannot but rejoice when an enterprising professor pulls off a hoax that at least temporarily unmasks that pretense.

Such a fellow is physicist Alan Sokal, who, as a New York University physics professor, submitted a nonsense-filled manuscript to the journal Social Text. This journal was at the time, not peer reviewed, and Sokol's article, which sounded duly scientific, appeared in 1996. In another journal, Lingua Franca, Sokol exposed his own hoax. His purpose, he wrote, was to satirize what he considered the trendy, nonsensical blather of non-scientist writers who, despite their lack of scientific training, like to make pronouncements about science. His hoax article about quantum physics, titled "Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity," did just that.

A year later, Sokol co-authored a book on how post-modernist leftists mangle science. (Thus always to those who write academic journal articles using the word "toward" in the title.)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Hoaxer Jennifer Wilbanks

Known by most Americans back in 2005 as "The Runaway Bride," Jennifer Carol Wilbanks of Duluth, Georgia, not only had second thoughts about her upcoming marriage, but hopped a bus and later claimed she had been kidnapped.

A few days prior to what wouold have been her lavish wedding (600 guests, 14 attendants, 14 groomsmen), Wilbanks, 32, went out jogging, cut her hair, and took a Greyhound bus to Las Vegas,Nevada then took another bus to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Tired and broke, she called 911 and reported she had been abducted by a Hispanic man and an Anglo woman who drove a blue van, but that she had escaped.

Her parents had put up a $100,000 reward and a search was on--until her phone call.

After being questioned by the FBI, Wilbanks admitted that her story was a hoax. She flew home, entered psychiatric care, and later reimbursed Duluth more than $13,000 for the city's search costs and paid other costs incurred by Gwinnett County.

Needless to say, the wedding was off. Charges against her were dismissed. She and her former fiance, like so many temporary celebrities, planned to profit from the bizarre episode by arranging a book deal. Instead, the two ended up suing and counter-suing one another-- suits that were eventually dropped.

An enterprising entrepreneur helped keep Wilbanks' public memory alive by marketing a barbecue sauce labeled "Jennifer's High Tailin' Hot Sauce." A Runaway Bride action figure also was manufactured and sold. Only in America...

Hoaxer Kitty Wuerl

Katherine "Kitty" Wuerl, age 30 in 1993, was only one of as many as 60 people who in that year reported finding a syringe, needle, or some other foreign object in a can of Pepsi. Her case, however, very likely got the most press of all these copycat hoax stories.

Two factors help account for this sudden rash of hoax reports. One was the very real Sudafed tamperings of two years earlier, which had killed two people. Also, fear of needle-related cases of AIDS was very much on the public's front burner at that time.

These hoaxes cost Pepsi a great deal of money, and at least 50 people were arrested for product tampering or filing false damage claims.

Wuerl, who was working as a telemarketer for the parent company of the Milwaukee Sentinel, falsely reported finding a syringe and needle in a can of Pepsi. She later admitted that her story was a fraud, was fired and had herself committed to a mental health facility.

The Sentinel had egg on its face for running the hoax story before checking it out carefully. Shortly thereafter, this paper was again red-faced after it ran a freelance review of a Dolly Parton concert--one that had been canceled due to rain.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Advertising icon Hector Boyardee

Note: Some temporary and one-shot celebrities came to be known to a widespread public due to one stellar role in a television commercial or series of commercials for the same company. Such a person was Hector Boiardi.

Older Americans know his face from cans of spaghetti and other Italian food products sold under his name.

Hector Boiardi was born in Italy in 1897 and emigrated to America as a youth. He worked at various kitchen jobs before moving to New York City in 1915 and finding work in the kitchen of the Plaza Hotel. He also cooked at the New York Ritz-Carlton, at West Virginia's posh resort the Greenbriar, and at the Hotel Winton in Cleveland,Ohio.

In the 1920s, he started his own Italian restaurant in Cleveland and also began selling spaghetti sauce to patrons who requested it. He began to mass produce his Italian sauces and other food products and helped Americans along with pronouncing the "foreign-sounding" name by placing it on the products as Boy-ar-dee.

Billed as Chef Boy-ar-dee, he was his own company's commercial spokesman throughout the 1950s and 1960s. For many Americans, his mustache, chef's hat and smile were the very face of Italian cuisine in that era when steak, roast beef and fried chicken still ruled. He died in his late 80s in 1985, a great American success story and a major commercial icon as well.

Advertising icons Jayne & Joan Boyd

Doublemint chewing gum has made use of a play on words in its advertising by linking the "Double" in "Doublemint" to sets of twins.

The first twins to front regularly for the famous brand of gum were the Boyd twins, Jayne and Joan. From 1959 to 1963, these sweet, girl-next-door types from Indiana urged America (and much of the rest of the world) to double our pleasure, double our fun by chomping away on this brand of gum.

When Joan was about to become a mom, the company changed twins. Since then, several sets of twins have held this position: the Barnstables, the Daniels, the Kramers, and the first African-Aemrican Doublemint wins, Sharon Sansaverino and Sheryl Valenti.

Over the years, the twins chosen for this purpose became more glamorous. The high point of this new glamor came with Cyb and Tricia, the curvaceous, Playboy-posing Barnstable twins, who looked as if they could easily double anybody's fun.

Advertising icon Iron Eyes Cody

Aside from Jay Silverheels, who played the Lone Ranger's "faithful Indian companion" Tonto,the most famous Native American of modern times might well be Iron Eyes Cody. Ironically, Cody wasn't a Native American at all, but was born Espera DeCorti, the child of immigrants to the United States from Sicily.

Oh well. At least he looked like an American Indian. His life provided living proof of the importance of image in contemporary America. (I seem, therefore I am.)

Cody was born in Louisiana in 1904 and later moved with his family to Hollywood, where the family name was shortened to Corti, then was further Americanized to Cody.

Cody got into acting in the silent movie era and eventually made appearances in at least 100, perhaps as many as 200 movies--until 1987. He also appeared on numerous TV westerns, but his celebrity came from his 1970s public service commercial for the Keep America Beautiful campaign.

In this powerful ad, he was shown, wearing Indian garb, of course, gazing sadly at a polluted river. As the camera zoomed in on his face, a tear rolled down his cheek as he contemplated what man was doing to the environment.

Although his own Indian heritage was invented, Cody married a Native American woman and adopted two Native American children.

Cody lived into his early 90s and died in 1999. Whatever one thinks about his less than forthright claims about his heritage, he really lived the part.

Advertising icon Ben Curtis

Although he will inexorably age into an "old dude," Benjamin "Ben" Curtis will live on in public memory as the hip, cheerful yet geekish young Steven the Dell Dude in the Dell computer commercials.
This ad campaign kicked off in 2000, and Dude trade character, played by Tennessee-born acting student Curtis, seemed to work well. Curtis, who already had performed as a magician,worked some pretty good magic for Dell sales as well.

Curtis was in his early 20s when he did these commercials, and as young fellows often do of late, he got into a spot of trouble for marijuana possession. Thereafter, he was dropped by Dell but is no doubt saying the buzzword "dude" all he wants elsewhere.

Advertising icon Dena Dietrich

It might not be nice to fool Mother Nature, but actress Dena Dietrich, it certainly was nice to BE Mother Nature, the commercial role she played from 1971 through 1979 for Chiffon margarine.

Dressed in a white gown and with flowers in her hair, Mother Nature would taste this margarine from its little plastic tub and would compliment it as being butter. Corrected, she would frown and call down thunder and lightning upon those who had fooled her, saying in a chilly tone the stock line, "It's not nice to fool Mother Nature."

In addition to this celebrity-producing TV commercial role, Dietrich made many character actor appearances on such TV series as The Practice, The Ropers, The Mod Squad, Welcome Back Kotter, The Love Boat, Murphy Brown, and Trapper John, MD.

Advertising icon Len Dresslar Jr.

Very few media users would recognize his face, but most knew his voice. Celebrity came once to Elmer "Len" Dresslar by way of a TV commercial voiceover. His was the voice of General Mills' trade character the Jolly Green Giant. Even more unusual was that Dresslar's very profitable role in this long-lasting ad campaign consisted merely of the three words "ho, ho,ho."

In this campaign, a cartoon-style giant, green from head to elf-shoed toe, smiled benignly, hands on hips, as the familiar jingle played and the voices sang, "From the valley of the jolly--ho, ho, ho--Green Giant." Those who grew up hearing this jingle could never forget its tune until their dieing day--even if they tried.

The Giant dates from 1928 but wasn't green until the late 1950s. Concerned that the trade character was frightening to some children, General Mills opted for a kinder, gentler giant--one who smiled a lot and was green. Drellsar periodically re-recorded the "ho, ho, ho" part in his deep bass-baritone voice until he retired in 1999.

Dresslar was also a jazz singer and recorded frequently with the jazz quartet Singers Unlimited.

His voice was used in other ad campaigns, as well, including the part of Snap in Rice Krispies' Snap, Crackle and Pop commercials and the part of Dig'Em the frog for Sugar Smacks cereal. His was for a time the voice of the Marlboro Man, and he did voiceovers for Dinty Moore beef stew and Amoco products. His celebrity, however, was built around those three little Green Giant words. He died in 2005.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Advertising icons Jose Duval & Carlos Sanchez

Jose Duval and Carlos Sanchez share a commercial distinction; both played the part off fictitious coffee bean gatherer Juan Valdez of Colombia.

The trade character Juan Valdez was originated in 1959, not for a particular company, but for the National Federation of Coffee Growers.

The Valdez character wears a sombrero and an serape and is usually pictured leading his trusty burro Lana as they trudge the lush landscape picking only the finest coffee beans (and presumably dodging drug dealers).

The two men differ in that the first, Duval, was a professional actor from New York. Duval was Valdez for a decade, then was replaced with the real McCoy. The second, Sanchez actually had been a coffee farmer in Colombia.

One of the best of all the many Juan Valdez commercials was set in a coffee house rather than in the great out-of-doors. Standing at the counter are two revoltingly trendy yuppies who place an exasperatingly prissy order for two designer coffees. Then up comes a beautiful girl, who tells the guy behind the counter, "I'll have what he's having," pointing to a quiet corner where sit Juan Valdez and Lana the burro. Sic semper yuppii.

Advertising icon Hallie Kate Eisenberg

For many TV viewers, the name Hallie Kate Eisenberg will bring to mind the cute, dimpled, curly haired little Pepsi Girl of the late 1990s.

Younger viewers might instead remember her from their visits to Regal Cinemas. For this client, little Hallie swaggered John Wayne style into a Western saloon amd warned the ornery galoots there (and the theater audience) to keep their cell phones holstered, and not to fight or cuss. This filmed segment pretty much strained the outer limits of cuteness, it must be admitted.

Still, Hallie's brand of bankrollable cuteness doesn't come along every day, and she began guesting and acting on TV shows in 1997. At this writing, she is no longer a cute little kid, but is nevertheless a cute teenager.

Advertising icon Jared Fogle

In a sense, the "biggest loser" of them all must surely be Jared Fogle, who went from 425 to 190 pounds and became the spokesman for the Subway sandwich chain.

Fogle began eating exclusively at Subway during his student years at Indiana University. His low-fat diet, plus regular exercise, melted the pounds away, gained him local media attention and got him on the AP wire.

In addition to appearing in Subway commercials,young Mr. Fogle has appeared as Jared the Subway Guy on many TV programs to inspire overweight Americans to become losers, too.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Advertising icon Euell Gibbons

Outdoorsy, nature-loving Euell Gibbons was the front man for Grape Nuts breakfast cereal.

Although Grape Nuts gave him widespread celebrity, this Texan with a lived-in face had earlier come to the attention of a fair number of Americans with his remarkably titled book Stalking the Wild Asparagus (1962).

Gibbons was a man who had done more jobs that you could count. He served in the Army, worked in a shipyard, hunted and trapped, was a cowboy and farmed. He also worked as a teacher, wrote for magazines and published a couple of additional books.

Having become a spokesman for natural foods in general, he appeared on talk shows until his death in 1975.

Advertising icon Duncan Hines

One of the earliest advertising icons to appear in this blog, which covers temporary or one-shot celebrities who made their mark since 1950, was Duncan Hines.

Hines, who died in 1959, is remembered for his name and face, which appeared on his own line of cake mixes and other food and food-related products. Another part of his celebrity was his "Recommended by Duncan Hines" seal of approval for good places to eat.

Hines began his work life as a traveling salesman and during his travels, collected material for books on both dining out and cooking at home. The first of his six books appeared in 1935.

In 1947 he went into business with businessman Roy Park,later known for his ownership of newspapers. He and Park produced and marketed food products under the Duncan Hines brand, which much later was bought by Proctor and Gamble.

Among Americans in the 1950s, Hines' name was almost universally known.

Advertising icon Wendy Kaufmann

The fruit drink Snapple dates from 1972, and the product's national spokeswoman, Wendy Kaufmann, assumed her role in or around 1987. She isn't of Vanna White glamour-girl appearcnce, but is a short, pleasantly plump woman with a big,happy smile.

Customers from the start related well to Kaufmann, who in the late 1990s also had a short-format call-in radio program with a new twist: listeners e-mailed their questions rather than phoning.

Wendy the Snapple Lady lost her job when Quaker Oats bought the product in 1994, but she was brought back in 1997 when Snapple was sold to Triarc Beverage Group.

For hard-core Snapple fans, a Snapple Lady bobble-head doll is available for purchase.