Orville Redenbacher, whose superior fluffy popcorn stood as a symbol of American entrepreneurial ingenuity against Soviet aggression during the Cold War, or at least sold a lot of popcorn, and whose folksy-nerdy demeanor made him a TV commercial star from the late 70s until his death in 1995, will be honored with a statue in Valparaiso, Indiana, by Arlington Heights artist Lou Cella, best known for his Ernie Banks statue outside Wrigley Field. Redenbacher, who was such a perfect TV spokesman that he had to spend considerable effort convincing people he wasn’t just an actor playing a part, owned a seed plant in Valparaiso where he and partner Charlie Bowman developed the hybrid strain that their ad agency convinced them should bear Redenbacher’s colorful name and folksy image. Ultimately the brand was sold to a variety of corporate owners, and here’s where trouble comes in.
Initially the Valparaiso town fathers wanted the statue to show Redenbacher with some popcorn. But to show Redenbacher with popcorn required getting the permission of Con-Agra, the giant conglomerate which now owns the brand, and apparently Con-Agra couldn’t approve showing Redenbacher with popcorn in time for the statue to be unveiled at this year’s Popcorn Festival around Labor Day. Because lawyers would have had to review the art carefully to ensure passersby didn’t look at it and mistake bronze Redenbacher popcorn for bronze Jiffy Pop, thus creating brand confusion when people thought “Hey, a bronze statue that looks like Orville Redenbacher is endorsing Jiffy Pop, I’m-a gonna run to Wal-Mart and get me some now!”
Yes, Con-Agra, those lawyers you employ were worth every penny for ensuring that your corporately soulless popcorn brand would not be associated with a statue of a real farmer seen and loved by thousands every year.