The Weirdly Controversial History of Count Chocula, Franken Berry, and Boo Berry

Mike Mozart via Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Mike Mozart via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

After finding success with their marshmallow-infused Lucky Charms in the late 1960s, the cereal think tank at General Mills believed they had discovered the next great evolution in processed breakfast: Something so rich in chocolate flavor that it would turn a bowl of milk into mud.

The as-yet-unnamed cereal was developed at the same time as a similar marshmallow and grain concept that used a strawberry flavor. The company wanted to debut them at the same time and asked their advertising agency, Dancer Fitzgerald Sample, to come up with a commercial campaign that would personify the products in the same way Tony the Tiger and the Rice Krispies trio had become grocery aisle celebrities.

Mike Mozart via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

“My boss, Tony Jaffe, gave me the assignment,” Laura Levine, a former copywriter for the agency, tells mental_floss. “At the time, Cap’n Crunch was very popular, and Tony wanted something funny.”

It was 1969, and Levine had just been hired by Jaffe. Because there wasn’t yet a free office, she worked at a desk in the secretary’s area, coming up with—and often crossing out—a list of possible duos that could represent both cereals while playing off one another in commercial spots.

Levine doesn’t remember what suggestions she gave Jaffe other than the two he focused on: parodies of Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster, which Levine had dubbed Count Chocula and Franken Berry, respectively.

“The whole concept was monsters, but monsters who were scaredy cats,” she says. “They’d act tough, and then they’d be terrified by the sight of a little kitten.”

Jaffe brought the concept to General Mills, which had an enthusiastic response. Since late movies had started appearing on television, the Universal horror film monsters had become familiar to a new generation of fans, who embraced merchandise like Aurora model kits and Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine.

Levine, illustrator George Cern, and animators Bill Tollis and Bill Melendez defanged them further, making them look and sound kid friendly. Still, Levine recalls that General Mills took nearly two years to refine her scripts, deliberating on wording and design before the cereals made their debut in March of 1971.

The products were an immediate hit: General Mills added Fruity Yummy Mummy, Boo Berry, and Fruit Brute in short order. But the “Monster Cereals,” as they came to be called, had more problems than their questionable nutrition.

In 1972, the press delighted in reporting some gastronomic difficulties suffered by children who ingested the red dye used in Franken Berry. While harmless, it had a tendency to turn their stool pink or red, leading anxious parents to believe their child might be suffering internal bleeding.

In 1972, the journal Pediatrics published a case study that dubbed the condition “Franken Berry stool.” After being hospitalized for four days with suspected rectal hemorrhaging, a boy was found to have been enjoying the cereal in the days prior. Physicians realized it was the culprit.

In 1987, with everyone’s bowels in order, the company came under fire once again when a commemorative cereal box featuring actor Bela Legosi as Dracula was perceived by some to feature the Star of David. Jewish groups protested, offended that a piece of religious iconography was adorning a vampire. General Mills apologized but didn’t recall the 4 million boxes that had been shipped.

medea_material via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

 
Despite the occasional misstep—fans also cried foul when the company briefly made Chocula a live-action character in a vaguely disturbing ad—the cereals have become special attractions for Halloween. Since 2010, a rotation of horror mascots are distributed to stores in the fall, feeding the demand of nostalgic fans. Some even hoard boxes to resell on eBay; a man in Fort Collins, Colorado who made an unauthorized Chocula craft beer nearly emptied out his town’s supply.

Although Levine had moved on to another agency just before the cereals hit shelves, she's happy to be the originator of a character that has been a beloved cereal mascot for 45 years—and she's not the only one. “It comes up often,” she says. “I do the New York Times crossword every day and remember being very excited when Count Chocula was one of the answers.”

But with the cereals both a regional and seasonal affair, she doesn’t often come across them at home. “In Los Angeles, I don’t ever see them.”

11 Unusual Cutting and Cheese Boards

Fred & Friends, Amazon
Fred & Friends, Amazon

Planning a wine and cheese party? Make sure what you're using to serve snacks is just as cute as your food is delicious.

1. Mouse Trap; $21

A cheese board shaped like a mouse trap

Fred & Friends, Amazon

At first glance, this item just looks like an oversized mouse trap. Ingeniously, the snapping part of the trap can be removed to reveal it's actually a cheese slicer. A chunk of cheese can be displayed and sliced on the 9-inch-long board—just don't invite any mice to the party.

Find it: Amazon

2. MOUSE BOARD; $30

A board shaped like a mouse hole with a mouse-shaped cheese cutter on top

Fred & Friends, Amazon

If a mouse trap is a little too macabre for your shindig, consider this adorable alternative. Assemble your cheeses on the 8-inch-long board and slice them up with a mouse-shaped knife that can be stored in the Tom and Jerry-esque mouse hole at the bottom.

Find it: Amazon

3. STATE SLATE; $20

Cheese and crackers arrayed on a slate cheese board

Bison Hill Stonecrafts, Amazon

Celebrate cheese from all over the United States with this patriotic slate. You can even grab a piece of chalk and write down the names of all the cheeses for hungry guests. Creator Bison Hill Stonecrafts will even personalize your board with a laser engraving, if you'd like.

Find it: Amazon

4. Log and Axe; $25

A cheese board shaped like a cut tree trunk

Fred & Friends, Amazon

Give your cheese a rustic presentation with this log and axe set-up. The solid beech cutting board is shaped like a log and comes with an axe-shaped knife to help you bring out your inner lumberjack.

Find it: Amazon

5. Mariner Wheel; $35

Invite all your sailor friends over for snacks with this nautical cheese board. When each of the four differently-shaped knives are placed into their respective holes in the board, the board looks like a ship's wheel.

Find it: UncommonGoods

6. Cheese Degrees; $20

A cutting board with a protractor design

Fred & Friends, Amazon

Make sure everyone gets an even amount of cheese with this obsessively precise cutting board. Whether you want perfect cubes or exactly portioned triangles, this cheese board can help ensure that everything is perfectly sliced.

Find it: Amazon

7. The States; $28

A cheese board in the shape of New York state

Amy Stringer-Mowat and Bill Mowat, UncommonGoods

Celebrate your home state with a bamboo cutting board created by New York-based woodworkers Amy Stringer-Mowat and Bill Mowat. You can see all the available state shapes in this PDF.

Find it: UncommonGoods

8. Voodoo Doll; $20

Pull out this voodoo doll-shaped board when you're feeling a little vindictive. You can hack away at meats and cheese and then store the knife appropriately in the wooden doll's back.

Find it: Overstock.com

9. Ampersand; $48

Delight your guests with some knowledge about where the ampersand comes from while using this board, which lets you fill a twisting line of crackers around three different cheeses.

Find it: UncommonGoods

10. Say Cheese; $19

A cheese board shaped like a smiling mouth

Fred & Friends, Amazon

Smile! It's cheese time. This mouth-shaped cheese board looks just as happy about the selection as you do. Underneath all the food, the board says "say cheese" in the center.

Find it: Amazon

11. The Obsessive Chef; $27

A cutting board with measurements on it

Fred & Friends, Amazon

This product comes with a series of lines to guide the cutter, including how to medium dice, small dice, brunoise, fine brunoise, batonnet, allumette, julienne, and fine julienne. The lines are burnished instead of printed, so they'll never get worn away.

Find it: Amazon or at one of the retailers below:

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don't return, so we're only happy if you're happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

A version of this article first ran in 2017. It has been updated to reflect current availability.

A Massive Beef Recall Due to E. Coli Might Affect Your Memorial Day Meal Plans

iStock/Kameleon007
iStock/Kameleon007

If your Memorial Day weekend plans involve grilling meat, you're going to want to take some extra precautions. The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Wednesday that 62,112 pounds of raw beef are being recalled due to possible contamination with E. coli bacteria, which causes food poisoning.

The meat originated with the Aurora Packing Company of North Aurora, Illinois on April 19. Aurora Packing is recalling the products, which have an EST. 788 number on the USDA mark of inspection found on packaging and were shipped to stores around the country. The meat was packaged in multiple cuts, including ribeye and briskets.

Escherichia coli, better known as E. coli, is bacteria that affects the gastrointestinal system, causing cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, and other serious symptoms that can derail one's celebratory mood. If you think you've purchased any of the contaminated meat, it's recommended that you immediately discard it.

[h/t USA Today]

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