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Ron Popeil/Facebook

Fun Facts About Ron Popeil, In 5 Easy Installments

Ron Popeil/Facebook
Ron Popeil/Facebook

Long before there was Billy Mays, Anthony Sullivan, Matthew Lesko, or Vince “ShamWow” Offer, there was Ron Popeil, the so-called “Godfather of the Infomercial” and/or “Salesman of the Century.” But Popeil is much more than a straight-up pitchman. Here are 5 things you might not know about the Ronco founder.

1. HE’S AN INVENTOR FIRST.

Unlike other pitchmen (and pitchwomen) who are simply hired spokespeople for a particular product, Popeil is the brains behind the products he’s promoting. And that, according to Popeil, makes all the difference. "The fact that I’m an inventor first and salesperson second is the reason why so many people buy my products,” Popeil told Forbes in 2006. “If you create a product that’s needed in the marketplace, or a drug that will solve a medical problem, people are going to buy it. It’s so easy for me to sell my products because the market exists.”

But wait, there’s more…

2. NONE OF HIS INFOMERCIALS WERE SCRIPTED.

In addition to his many best-selling “as seen on TV” products, Popeil also invented many of the very same catchphrases you hear being shouted at the screen by today’s infomercial spokespeople, including the ubiquitous, “But wait, there’s more…” In a 2014 interview with the Tampa Bay Business Journal, Popeil claimed that the chatter heard on his infomercials was completely unscripted, including the Showtime Rotisserie’s famous “Set it and forget it” slogan.

But wait, there’s more…

3. HE INVENTED ‘GREAT LOOKING HAIR’ TO COVER UP HIS BALD SPOT.

In an interview with Forbes, Popeil explained that some of his inventions have arisen out of personal need. Case in point: Great Looking Hair, a.k.a. hair in a can. “I have a bald spot on the back of my head, and I saw the need for a product to fix [the problem],” Popeil explained. “So I created the spray-on hair. I carry a can of it in my briefcase wherever I go.”

But wait, there’s more…

4. NOT EVERY INVENTION HAS BEEN A WINNER.

In an interview with People, Popeil explained how his mind is always thinking of new products that the market needs. “While other people are shopping for clothes, I'm in the housewares department thinking out a new concept,” he explained. And while he’s undoubtedly one of the most successful inventors in the history of late-night television (he estimates that he has sold more than $2 billion worth of product), he has also brought a few clunkers to market. Including a home handwriting analysis kit and a subliminal message tape meant to help customers quit smoking.

But wait, there’s more…

5. THE BEASTIE BOYS REFERENCED HIM IN “CRAWLSPACE.”

The lyrics to The Beastie Boys’ song “Crawlspace,” off their 2004 album To the 5 Boroughs, begin with: “There's a party going on in here for real / I got more product than Ron Popeil.”

Contrary to many reports, the 1984 Weird Al song “Mr. Popeil” is not about Ron. As Yankovic explains in the album's liner notes, “It's not about Ron Popeil, the founder of Ronco, but about his dad, the guy who invented the Vegamatic and the Pocket Fisherman. He did pitches for them on TV before Ronco was started. Mr. Popeil was a big facet of American pop culture; he started the whole genre of marketing these gimmicky gadgets on TV. Around the time I was writing the song, I came across a magazine article about me, and right next to it I saw a story about Mr. Popeil's daughter, Lisa Popeil, who was a classically trained singer who had worked with Frank Zappa. I thought it would be great if we could get her to sing on the track, and she agreed to do it. It was very odd, though, to be in the studio directing Lisa how to sing her own name!”

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10 People Who Have Misplaced Their Oscars
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Winning an Oscar is, for most, a once-in-a-lifetime achievement. Unless you’re Walt Disney, who won 22. Nevertheless, owning a little gold guy is such a rarity that you’d think their owners would be a little more careful with them. Now, not all of these losses are the winners' fault—but some of them certainly are, Colin Firth.

1. ANGELINA JOLIE

After Angelina Jolie planted a kiss on her brother and made the world wrinkle their noses, she went onstage and collected a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as Lisa in Girl, Interrupted. She later presented the trophy to her mother, Marcheline Bertrand. The statuette may have been boxed up and put into storage with the rest of Marcheline’s belongings when she died in 2007, but it hasn’t yet surfaced. “I didn’t actually lose it,” Jolie said, “but nobody knows where it is at the moment.”

2. WHOOPI GOLDBERG

In 2002, Whoopi Goldberg sent her Ghost Best Supporting Actress Oscar back to the Academy to have it cleaned and detailed, because apparently you can do that. The Academy then sent the Oscar on to R.S. Owens Co. of Chicago, the company that manufactures the trophies. When it arrived in the Windy City, however, the package was empty. It appeared that someone had opened the UPS package, removed the Oscar, then neatly sealed it all back up and sent it on its way. It was later found in a trash can at an airport in Ontario, California. The Oscar was returned to the Academy, who returned it to Whoopi without cleaning it. “Oscar will never leave my house again,” Goldberg said.

3. OLYMPIA DUKAKIS

When Olympia Dukakis’s Moonstruck Oscar was stolen from her home in 1989, she called the Academy to see if it could be replaced. “For $78,” they said, and she agreed that it seemed like a fair price. It was the only thing taken from the house.

4. MARLON BRANDO

“I don’t know what happened to the Oscar they gave me for On the Waterfront,” Marlon Brando wrote in his autobiography. “Somewhere in the passage of time it disappeared.” He also didn't know what happened to the Oscar that he had Sacheen Littlefeather accept for him in 1973. “The Motion Picture Academy may have sent it to me, but if it did, I don’t know where it is now.”

5. JEFF BRIDGES

Jeff Bridges had just won his Oscar in 2010 for his portrayal of alcoholic country singer Bad Blake in Crazy Heart, but it was already missing by the next year’s ceremony, where he was up for another one. He lost to Colin Firth for The King’s Speech. “It’s been in a few places since last year but I haven’t seen it for a while now,” the actor admitted. “I’m hoping it will turn up, especially now that I haven’t won a spare! But Colin deserves it. I just hope he looks after it better.” Which brings us to ...

6. COLIN FIRTH

Perhaps Jeff Bridges secretly cursed the British actor as he said those words, because Firth nearly left his new trophy on a toilet tank the very night he received it. After a night of cocktails at the Oscar after-parties in 2011, Firth allegedly had to be chased down by a bathroom attendant, who had found the eight-pound statuette in the bathroom stall. Notice we said allegedly: Shortly after those reports surfaced, Firth's rep issued a statement saying the "story is completely untrue. Though it did give us a good laugh."

7. MATT DAMON

When newbie writers Matt Damon and Ben Affleck took home Oscars for writing Good Will Hunting in 1998, it was one of those amazing Academy Award moments. Now, though, Damon isn’t sure where his award went. “I know it ended up at my apartment in New York, but unfortunately, we had a flood when one of the sprinklers went off when my wife and I were out of town and that was the last I saw of it,” Damon said in 2007.

8. MARGARET O'BRIEN

In 1945, seven-year-old Margaret O’Brien was presented with a Juvenile Academy Award for being the outstanding child actress of the year. About 10 years later, the O’Briens' maid took the award home to polish, as she had done before, but never came back to work. The missing Oscar was forgotten about when O’Brien’s mother died shortly thereafter, and when Margaret finally remembered to call the maid, the number had been disconnected. She ended up receiving a replacement from the Academy.

There’s a happy ending to this story, though. In 1995, a couple of guys were picking their way through a flea market when they happened upon the Oscar. They put it up for auction, which is when word got back to the Academy that the missing trophy had resurfaced. The guys who found the Oscar pulled it from auction and presented it, in person, to Margaret O’Brien. “I’ll never give it to anyone to polish again,” she said.

9. BING CROSBY

For years, Bing Crosby's Oscar for 1944’s Going My Way had been on display at his alma mater, Gonzaga University. In 1972, students walked into the school’s library to find that the 13-inch statuette had been replaced with a three-inch Mickey Mouse figurine instead. A week later, the award was found, unharmed, in the university chapel. “I wanted to make people laugh,” the anonymous thief later told the school newspaper.

10. HATTIE MCDANIEL

Hattie McDaniel, famous for her Supporting Actress win as Mammy in Gone with the Wind, donated her Best Actress Oscar to Howard University. It was displayed in the fine arts complex for a time, but went missing sometime in the 1960s. No one seems to know exactly when or how, but there are rumors that the Oscar was unceremoniously dumped into the Potomac by students angered by racial stereotypes such as the one she portrayed in the film.

An earlier version of this post ran in 2013.

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"Weird Al" Yankovic Is Getting the Funko Treatment
Kevork Djansezian, Getty Images
Kevork Djansezian, Getty Images

Though the New York Toy Fair—the largest trade show for playthings in the western hemisphere—won't officially kick off until Saturday, February 17, kids and kids-at-heart are already finding much to get excited about as the world's biggest toy companies ready to unleash their newest wares on the world. One item that has gotten us—and fans of fine parody songs everywhere—excited is "Weird Al" Yankovic's induction into the Funko Pop! family. The accordion-loving songwriter behind hits like "Eat It," "White & Nerdy," "Amish Paradise," and "Smells Like Nirvana" shared the news via Twitter, and included what we can only hope is a final rendering of his miniaturized, blockheaded vinyl likeness:

In late December, Funko announced that a Weird Al toy would be coming in 2018 as part of the beloved brand's Pop Rocks series. Though we know he'll be joined by Alice Cooper, Kurt Cobain, Elton John, and the members of Mötley Crüe, there's no word yet on exactly when you’ll be able to get your hands on Pop! Al. But knowing that he's coming is enough … for now.

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