It wasn't just the cast of comic geniuses including Don Knotts, Tom
Poston, Louis Nye, Pat Harrington and Bill Dana who, along with the host
Steve Allen Show" of the 1960s into an unrivaled classic. There was
also Leo Pearlstein. Don't recognize the name? Steve Allen does.
"Leo was always so good ' so right on the mark with what he does ' that
if he said he had Miss Cranberry or Miss Apple or Miss Chicken for a spot
with us, we just booked that spot, no further questions asked. We knew
it would work and be both hilarious and informative," said Allen,
interviewed from his Los Angeles home.
The biggest stars of the '50s and '60's ' Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Groucho
Marx, Shirley MacLaine, Lloyd Bridges, Jayne Mansfield, Jack Webb, Abbott
and Costello, Burns and Allen and Ozzie and Harriet, among many others
' placed that same of confidence in Pearlstein.
He was the man hovering just outside the frame of hundreds of publicity
stills the stars posed for while eating turkey, potatoes, eggs, grapefruits
and scores of other foods Pearlstein represented as a public relations
and marketing whiz.
This year, Pearlstein, 77, marks 50 years as the country's king of culinary
public relations, a niche he pioneered and of which he is still on the
cutting edge (See accompanying story regarding the "direct hit" his
company just scored involving Chick Hearn's 3000th consecutive Lakers broadcast
and Pearlstein's mustard company client.)
But don't think Pearlstein looks for publicity for himself. He's the
consummate behind-the-scenes man. He didn't pitch this story. I found
him through a web of other cover stories I wrote.
Minutes after meeting him, you know you're with a star.
Movie star Eddie Bracken had that same feeling about Pearlstein 50 years
After starring in the two 1944 Preston Sturges classic comedies, "The Miracle
of Morgan's Creek" and "Hail the Conquering Hero," Bracken was one of the
biggest stars of the '40s, a decade during which he eventually made 19
films. In between "Fun on a Weekend" (1947) and "The Girl from Jones Beach" (1949),
the paths of Bracken and Pearlstein collided.
Bracken owned the Jenkins & Large Advertising Agency in Los Angeles.
(His interest in business continues today. After selling his last advertising
agency 15 years ago, he's currently a partner in a company that's poised
to be a major player in the high-definition television industry.) One of
his vice presidents had just hired 27-year-old Pearlstein.
"You could tell right away that there was something special about Leo," said
Bracken, who now lives in a New Jersey suburb just outside of Manhattan
and last appeared on film in 1992 in "Home Alone 2: Lost in New York."
Pearlstein, who had been an award-winning student in the first classes
of marketing students to be graduated from the University of Southern
California, had helped run his father's Los Angeles supermarket and worked
briefly in sales at Hunt-Wesson Foods, immediately made a mark by bringing
in Jenkins & Large's
first food accounts.
One of Pearlstein's early milestones: He produced the country's first
frozen food commercial (for a Chinese food company) for Television, which
was still in its infant stages.
Of course, what was in anything but its infant stage was the thriving
movie industry. Bracken was not just a major player in films, but worked
regularly with other big stars who posed for his advertising campaigns.
Although busy with his food accounts, the observations that Pearlstein
made concerning that area of the business would later help launch the
unique niche he's nested in for almost 50 years.
On his own
In 1950, Bracken decided to close Jenkins & Large.
"I said something to Leo like, 'Go forth, young man, and make a big mark
with your own company. Take all the food accounts with my blessing,'" said
Excited, but a little nervous, Pearlstein rented a tiny one-room office
near Farmer's Market on Fairfax and opened Lee & Associates. (The 2,300-square-
foot offices that currently house Pearlstein's commune and its Western
Research Kitchens division are not far from that original location.)
His wife Helen and a USC intern were the only help he had ' except for
the huge stars who started to promote his food products.
"People often ask me how I got someone like Groucho Marx to pose with long
white potatoes or Jack Webb in his home holding up a packaged turkey or
Bing Crosby with a musket wearing a Pilgrim's hat," Pearlstein said.
'But I could see from early on that this would give them a much wider area
of publicity than they could otherwise.
'I'd tell them, 'Hey, your new film may be mentioned in the Hollywood
Reporter or maybe in the entertainment pages of the newspaper, but I
could get you right into everyone's home through the kitchen ' I can
get you more exposure than you ever dreamed of by getting you front and
center in newspaper food sections.' Remember, this was way before the
days of "Entertainment
Tonight' and all these shows. There weren't as many opportunities for celebrities
to get publicity."
Scores of celebrities bit, and clients such as the California Turkey
Advisory Board, and the National Potato Board and Mrs. Cubbison's Stuffing
feasted on the resulting publicity.
Pearlstein scored ' and created classic, collector-quality photos ' by
using some of the top movie studio celebrity photographers he'd met at
Bracken's, rather than traditional food photographers.
Egg on their faces
Celebrities began to learn of the power of Pearlstein
and this led to some interesting tie-ins.
For some reason, when Pearlstein thought of the story behind the movie "Jack
and the Beanstalk," a 1952 film which was to star Abbott and Costello,
he remembered a golden egg rather than dwelling on the magic beans that
started the stalk.
Maybe that's because Pearlstein represented a board that was the forerunner
to the California Egg Commission.
In a cross-promotion, Pearlstein got Abbott and Costello to pose for
pictures while cracking eggs on each other's heads, dancing in the world's
largest frying pan while surrounded by broken eggs and posing with a
golden (painted) egg and a Lloyd's of London insurance policy of $1 million
Pearlstein had taken out on it.
The campaign also included a farmer from the midwest who contacted Pearlstein
claiming to have a chicken who laid a real golden egg and all the publicity
that occurred when Pearlstein had the egg tested at a university (which
showed the chicken was probably suffering from an infection that made
the egg a golden color.)
Finally, Pearlstein's client stuffed 3 by 4-inch yellow cards in 11 million
egg cartons. On them was a photo of Abbott and Costello showing off a
frying pan with eight cooked eggs in it asking people to enjoy a giant
breakfast of eggs and to go see "Jack and the Beanstalk." The
link to the golden egg got lost along the way ' but Abbott and Costello
still became the world's most famous pitchmen.
Soon, television became the leading weapon in any publicity man's arsenal.
Almost all the food-related guests who appeared on "The Steve Allen
Los Angeles in the early 60s were booked by Pearlstein.
"Our usual bits were funny man on the street, regular hilarious characters
we created," said Allen, "But I'm glad that Leo brought the
Miss Prunes of the world to our attention, because the spin I gave my
interviews with them could be just as funny. Plus I got to taste every
food known to man made from potatoes or prunes or cranberries."
Having to create dishes and recipes from the foods he represented )before
he created his Western Research Kitchens division which employs the home
economists who currently do it), often presented another arena in which
Pearlstein covered new ground.
"I was a chive pioneer," he recalled.
"The chive board was my client. We selected a Miss Chive and we were able
to book her on Steve Allen's and other shows, but nobody ever used chives
in their kitchens before. I sat around my conference table and thought
of 25 ways you can use chives. Chives in omelets: that was me. I thought
of that. Just about everything anybody does with chives today stems from
my original list."
Such imaginative efforts also got Pearlstein more food-related guests
than anyone booked on "The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson" '
and such achievement as being responsible for the longest segment ever
on "Dinah," Dinah
Shore's long-running 1970's afternoon talk show.
"That segment ran 17 minutes. They went right through the commercial break," Pearlstein
said proudly of one for which he booked the world's fastest omelet maker
and Shore, Lucille Ball, Jimmy Stewart, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gourme
watched as he created a masterpiece ' including not only eggs, which
Pearlstein represented, but chives, and many of Pearlstein's other clients' foods
"Turkey tours" he still books also follow that philosophy: "It's
always more effect to team products."
They were originally conceived as a way to publicize Mrs. Cubbison's
Stuffing. However, now a chef is able to get booked on scores of television
talk shows each Thanksgiving season because she shows off not only stuffing
recipes, but turkey preparation and a number of side dishes featuring
foods that Pearlstein also represents. Although food is still his specialty,
Pearlstein also handles a wide variety of clients.
When you are such an out-and-out pioneer in an industry, though, the
history books occasionally come calling. Pearlstein, for instance, was
part of the five-man team who in 1960 created the pop-up timer most turkeys
sport that has become a convenience to millions of home cooks. The group
later sold the device (which was based on the principle behind springs
in ceiling sprinklers that work when they reach a certain temperature)
to 3M Company.
A sadder distinction for Pearlstein is being behind one of the last photos
that was ever taken of President John F. Kennedy.
Pearlstein was able to get his client, the California Turkey Advisory
Board, the opportunity to be the group to deliver the annual live Thanksgiving
turkey to the president in 1963.
In the photograph with a smiling Kennedy, the head of the California
Turkey Advisory Board and the Secretary of Agriculture was a white turkey,
one of the first ever produced of that breed. The turkey wore a sign
around it's neck hand-lettered by Pearlstein that read "Good Eating,
Mr. President! "
The president was assassinated about a week later. The photo was one
of the last in which he appeared.
"For years, I couldn't do anything with the stacks we'd made of those photos.
It would have been in bad taste to have mailed them out for publicity
purposes as we'd planned," Pearlstein said. "I just keep them in boxes
in my garage, and every few years I'd go stare at one of the photos."
About 10 years ago, Pearlstein threw out most of the photos.
However, in 1994, when Time magazine featured eight photos ' including
the one of Kennedy ' of Presidents accepting the yearly Thanksgiving
turkey, Pearlstein's dead-on publicity skills quickly bubbled to the
He sent a press release titled "Good PR always stands the test of Time" to
With the Time spread attached, Pearlstein wrote of his "Good
Eating, Mr. President!" hand-lettered sign (the only such touch
that had ever appeared in a presidential turkey photo): "Looking
at all the photos, we're pleased to see ours was the only one with an
actual 'sell' message on behalf of our client, the turkey industry."
Jumping on the "Chickism" Gravy Train
Lakers broadcaster, the late Chick Hearn, with
Morehouse Mustard CEO David Latter, Sr.
Chick Hearn was already a master at knowing how mustard gets off the hot
dog. the question was: Would he put it back on?
A resounding "yes" was the answer, thereby becoming a publicist's dream.
well, actually make that a publicist's well-executed plan that a dash of
luck turned into a slam dunk.
Anyone who read the newspaper or watched television recently knows that
it was legendary Lakers announcer Hearn's 3,000th consecutive broadcast
on Jan. 19. Even infrequent viewers know that Hearn's all-time "Chickism" is "the
mustard came off the hot dog," meaning that a show-off "hot dog" player
had missed a fancy shot.
Other "Chickisms" talk of refrigerators, cookie jars and popcorn machines,
but the principals at Lee & Associates, which specializes in food marketing,
weren't chewing on those; it's mustard that's their bread and butter.
Morehouse Foods, a Los Angeles company that makes Morehouse Mustard, is
a fairly new client of owner Leo Pearlstein.
"We sat around a table brainstorming how we could link Morehouse to Chick's
often-quoted mustard remark," said Pearlstein.
Pearlstein and his sons Howard and Frank (both vice presidents in the firm)
hit upon making a beautiful plaque from Morehouse to Hearn congratulating
him on his feat.
The impressive black and gold plaque was soon created. In addition to congratulating
Hearn, it also mentioned Morehouse (which is celebrating its 100th anniversary
this year) four times, including having the name printed in the company's
bright red flag logo at the bottom of the plaque.
Howard called both Hearn's and the Lakers' public relations representatives.
Both said the plaque sounded like a nice gesture but they could not guarantee
a personal presentation to Hearn.
Nevertheless, on a day about a week before Hearn's momentous game ' when
the PR reps said that media would be interviewing Hearn all day at the
Forum for later broadcasts and that Howard was welcome to come over ' Howard
packed up the plaque, three prop hot dogs, a few bottles of Morehouse Mustard
and David Latter, Sr., Morehouse's CEO.
After Hearn finished a CNN interview, the mustard started flowing.
"I couldn't believe my ears," Howard said. "At the end of the long CNN
interview they started talking about Chick's mustard one-liner."
Afterward, Howard rushed over to Hearn, introduced himself and mentioned
that, coincidentally, they had a congratulatory plaque regarding the mustard
manifesto that the CEO of Morehouse Mustard would like to present to him.
Hearn said he'd be honored.
"I couldn't believe it, because Chick started squirting gobs of the Morehouse
Mustard on the hot dog while David presented the plaque and I was taking
pictures," Howard said. "Then, when they saw there was some sort of presentation
going on, the CNN people came over, turned their camera back on and taped
the whole thing."
The clip may very well make it on the air nationally when the Hearn interview
is broadcast at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 7 on CNN.
Before he returned to the Fairfax area office that afternoon, in his head
Howard had already written a brief press release about Morehouse and the
plaque presentation. Soon, it was on paper and faxed to scores of radio
stations. The photographs were quick developed and ready to be sent out
to print outlets.
"By the end of the day, we heard a number of radio stations read the press
release verbatim,' Howard said.
"What we dream about in public relations is a direct hit. And the whole
thing was one big direct hit. Chick loved the plaque, and that's great,
too, because we're always looking for win-win situations."