PERSONAL: Female. Education: College graduate.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Thorndike Press, 295 Kennedy Dr., Waterville, ME 04901. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Writer and video producer. Writer and producer of videos for corporations, nonprofit groups, and the arts. Formerly worked as a tour guide for Minneapolis, Minnesota, milling district.
Finding Betty Crocker: The Secret Life of America's First Lady of Food, Thorndike Press (Waterville, ME), 2005.
WORK IN PROGRESS: A nonfiction book titled Stuck on BAND-AIDS!
SIDELIGHTS: Susan Marks was working at as a tour guide in the Minneapolis milling district when she came up with the idea for her first book, Finding Betty Crocker: The Secret Life of America's First Lady of Food. "I used to tell people about the history of flour milling … and how flour milling was once king in Minnesota," Marks told Cynthia Bowers, as reported on the CBS Web site. Marks went on to note, "And I noticed that, whenever I told people that they were standing near the birthplace of Betty Crocker, the old Washburn Crosby mill, people would start to come to life with stories about Betty Crocker."
In her book, Marks, who began writing the history of Betty Crocker as her college graduate thesis, details the history of one of America's most iconic advertising symbols. Marks writes that many fans are surprised to learn that Betty Crocker is not an actual person; she was created after an advertisement run by the Washburn Crosby Company. The company, which was the precursor to General Mills, ran an advertisement in the form of a picture puzzle that the reader put together. It appeared in the Saturday Evening Post in 1921 and touted the company's Gold Medal Flour. Surprisingly, a few hundred readers also wrote to the company asking for advice on cooking. The letters were answered by the company's advertising director, Sam Gale, who signed the letters Betty Crocker, the last name coming from a retired company director.
Marks traces the origins of "Betty Crocker"'s phenomenal rise in popularity to her local radio show beginning in 1924. The show, which featured an actor playing Betty and answering listener's mailed-in questions, became so popular it went nationwide and featured guest appearances by the day's biggest movie stars, such as Claudette Colbert and Robert Taylor. In her history, Marks details the symbol's role in the war effort during World War II on through Betty's phenomenally best-selling cookbook that first appeared in the 1950s. She also discusses Betty's numerous makeovers, which many of Betty's devout fans seemed to ignore as clues that she was not a real person. The author even writes about the class-action lawsuit filed by the Minneapolis-St. Paul chapter of the National Organization for Women against General Mills concerning the role the fictitious Betty played in stereotyping women.
In a review of Finding Betty Crocker for the Wall Street Journal Online, Joanne Kaufman called the book "a fine slice of Americana," while a Kirkus Reviews contributor noted that "Marks excels in putting her subject in context." Lisa Schwarzbaum, writing in Entertainment Weekly, was impressed with "the heartfelt letters Marks has collected" from fans who wrote to the advertising creation. A Publishers Weekly contributor called the book "a solid basic history for casual culinary, marketing and American historians," and John Charles commented in Library Journal that "this is popular history at its best."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, February 1, 2005, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Finding Betty Crocker: The Secret Life of America's First Lady of Food, p. 926.
Entertainment Weekly, April 22, 2005, Lisa Schwarzbaum, review of Finding Betty Crocker, p. 67.
Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 2005, review of Finding Betty Crocker, p. 105.
Library Journal, February 1, 2005, John Charles, review of Finding Betty Crocker, p. 111.
Publishers Weekly, February 14, 2005, review of Finding Betty Crocker, p. 60.
Seattle Times, June 10, 2005, Clark Humphrey, review of Finding Betty Crocker.
Baltimore City Paper Online, http://www.citypaper.com/ (July 13, 2005), Joab Jackson, review of Finding Betty Crocker.
Bookpage, http://www.bookpage.com/ (July 13, 2005), Kelly Koepke, review of Finding Betty Crocker.
CBS Web site, http://www.cbsnews.com/ (May 8, 2005), CBS Sunday Morning: Cynnthia Bowers, "Betty Crocker Unveiled."
Finding Betty Crocker Web Site, http://www.findingbettycrocker.com/ (July 13, 2005), includes brief profile of author and some reviews of Finding Betty Crocker.
Lazy Susan Productions Web site, http://www.lazysusan.tv/ (July 13, 2005), author's business Web site.