Surrounded by a nice filet with a Kona rub, roasted carrots, and broccoli, a mashed Mr. Potato Head was called to his final kitchen earlier this month. He is survived by Mrs. Potato Head, their sons Russett and Spud, two younger daughters affectionately known as the Tater Tots, and assorted nieces and nephews.
Raised in the Darlington Section of Pawtucket, the son of Irish immigrants who traced their roots to the Great Irish Potato Famine of 1845, he was adopted at an early age by the Hassenfeld family of Providence who immediately put him to work at their toy manufacturing facility, Hasbro.
From these humble beginnings, he quickly grew to become an international icon. Mr. Potato Head hit the streets in 1952 and cost under a dollar, but was soon featured in a national television campaign that generated over $4 million in sales in just a few months – equivalent to over $104 million in today’s dollars!
When he married Mrs. Potato Head in 1953, The New York Times announcement headlined their wedding as “Sweet Potato marries Hot Tomato.” Over the course of their almost 70-year marriage, the couple accumulated a variety of pets, cars, boats, even a locomotive, plus the entire many, many spare parts necessary to keep them all running.
In 1995, Mr. Potato Head made his Hollywood debut appearing in Toy Story with Don Rickles’ voice. There was a physical resemblance between the two but only Rickles’ voice was used. Joining him in the three movie sequels that followed were his lifelong friends Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and Slinky Dog.
Noted for his uncanny ability to adapt to bit parts, Mr. Potato Head, or Mr. P as he preferred to be called as his career skyrocketed, found himself featured on album covers and T-shirts by the likes of Smashing Pumpkins and Devo and even had jazz tunes written about him by Louis Armstrong (Potato Head Blues) and Joe Satriani (The Mystical Potato Head Groove Thing).
In 1996, League of Women Voters asked Mr. & Mrs. Potato Head to sponsor their "Get Out the Vote" campaign. Four years later he was inducted into the National Hall of Fame along with his friend Slinky. And, more recently he even showed up in ads for presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain.
But perhaps his biggest audiences were at the Macy’s Parade in 2005 2006, 2007 when he was sponsored by the US Potato Board and over 44 million saw a healthy Mr. Potato Head floating along the parade route sporting new workout shoes and a sports watch. He was bringing attention to his new healthier lifestyle that was literally the center piece of USPB’s “Healthy Potato” campaign. Sadly when the promotion fizzled, he was dropped like a once Hot Potato.
A gravy side ceremony was held in March 4 and followed by a tableside reception at Our Lady of the Salt and Pepper.
Fittingly, National Mr. Potato Head Day, named in his honor, will be celebrated this month on April 30.
Please make donations in his memory to your local food bank.