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Finding Betty Crocker: The Secret Life of America's First Lady of Food Hardcover


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (April 6, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743265017
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743265010
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 8.6 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #790,415 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"Your talks... have given me hope," wrote one listener to the Betty Crocker radio program during the Depression, and according to Marks's largely chronological "biography" (there was no real Betty Crocker), it was human connections like this one that made Crocker one of the most successful marketing tools ever. Filled with treasures from the General Mills archive—including letters sent to Crocker during WWII, reprints of famous recipes and advertisements, and portraits updated through the years—Marks's book introduces readers to the people who breathed life into Crocker's image as the happiest of homemakers. There's Samuel Gale, her inventor, and Florence Lindeberg, who provided her trademark signature in 1921. Other important figures include Neysa McMein, who painted the first Crocker portrait in 1936, and Adelaide Hawley, who played Crocker on television in the 1950s. Marks, who created a documentary film on Crocker, devotes a chapter to the Betty Crocker Kitchens and chronicles the products that Crocker's folksy persona sold to the world, like Bisquick and various cake mixes. In another section, she touches upon—albeit too briefly—Crocker's role in "the fundamental shift in American diets toward... factory-processed convenience foods." Light on analysis but abundant with anecdotes, this is a solid basic history for casual culinary, marketing and American historians. Photos, illus.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

The 1920s brainchild of a group of advertising types looking for a leg up in what came to be called the flour wars, Betty Crocker surpassed all expectations, not only by becoming the first lady of the kitchen but also by serving as a barometer of America's changing attitudes toward women's work. Entwined in Marks' absorbing review of Crocker's evolution are a sampling of favorite recipes and letters from Crocker's loyal radio, TV, and cookbook following, as well as photos showing Crocker's changing public face--from the earliest portrait in 1936 and motherly Crocker at her peak in the 1950s to the sleek, youthful, working-mom version, a computerized composite, trotted out to celebrate Betty's seventy-fifth anniversary in 1996. As this isn't in chronological order, it's sometimes hard to follow the arc of history, but plenty of readers curious about the "woman" behind the products decorated with the big red spoon will pick this up and have a grand time seeing how an icon came to be. Stephanie Zvirin
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

More About the Author

Susan Marks is an award-winning author, documentary filmmaker and screenwriter. Susan's storytelling often includes pop culture themes and the dark side of kitsch. She has non-stop projects on the horizon.

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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I highly recommend this special book.
Mary Fuller
This book is worth reading, but I firmly believe that four stars are sufficient.
Lawrence W. Prichard
Even us good cooks need references!!!
Evelyn A. Marshall

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By David J. Gannon on March 27, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Betty Crocker may hold the distinction of being the first "virtual" corporate employee in American history. She has been seen and heard by millions on radio and TV. She has corresponded with uncounted thousands of America's 20th centaury housewives. In 1945, she was voted in a survey as the second most admired woman in the US after Eleanor Roosevelt. All pretty heady stuff for someone who doesn't actually exist.

Betty Crocker was the invention of a corporate marketing effort. This is the story of how and why she was created and how, once created, she became one of the most successful marketing campaigns in American corporate history.

One wouldn't think on the face of it that this story would make much of a book. One would be wrong. This is a fascinating story that chronicles not only the Betty Crocker story but also the development of corporate marketing in the US in the 1900's in general. The book also, along the way, provides a lot of insight into the mechanics of a modern food processing conglomerate as well as the ways in which American's were convinced to include a lot of processed foods into their diet by these conglomerates.

It is an interesting, entertaining and somewhat nostalgic story. The times and issues that were the crucible for the creation of Betty are unimaginably bucolic in nature by today's standards. This is not only a book about Betty, but about our parents and grandparents as well.

There are some shortcomings-the author tends to skip over things and becomes a bit too folksy at times, but these are quibbles-this, against all my expectations, proved to be a very enjoyable read. Highly recommended to one and all.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Lawrence W. Prichard on June 1, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed Susan Marks's "Finding Betty Crocker" a great deal, but cannot give it five stars.As a former professional cook, and still a devoted follower of food, a lot of her material is familiar, and other writers, (especially Jean Anderson and Sylvia Lovegren) have explored Betty's background. Marks has no new insights about the shift from scratch cooking to package/mix cooking starting in the 1950s. The real value of this book is in the earliest chapters, when Marks speaks about the pioneering Betty Crocker radio programs, including the "Cooking School of The Air," which ran from 1924 to 1948. Betty was of real help in the Depression of the 1930s, and the Second World War. A fascinating element in the chapter of how Betty has been illustrated through the years is Norman Rockwell's image of Betty. A near miss, in my belief. My favourite Betty is the one from 1965, sometimes called the "Presidential" Betty, for her slight resemblance to Jacquline Kennedy.This book is worth reading, but I firmly believe that four stars are sufficient.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By L. Shopp on July 6, 2005
Format: Hardcover
While Susan Marks' liberal use of uppity prose in this book helped keep my mind from my lackluster summer, I don't think "Finding Betty Crocker" performs to its fullest capacity. Marks goes to great lengths showing how Betty Crocker was a staple of '50s kitchen kitsch who served a greater purpose: helping millions of everyday women cope during the Depression and World War II. I walked away from this book with a greater understanding of why my grandmother and great-aunts spoke so fondly of their favorite anonymous homemaker. Marks' prose, however cheery, walks the fine line between nonfiction and public relations: she never mentions the role Betty Crocker and General Mills played in telling millions of U.S. housewives that culinary perfection would equal marital bliss during the mid-20th century or covering up a scientific study that showed white bread to be less healthy than perceived. If Marks had gone deeper with these issues and scrapped a 20-page chapter describing the various Betty Crocker Test Kitchens, I think this book would have been much stronger. That said, however, I could really go for some Devil's Food right now! I guess Susan has done her job.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Mary Fuller on September 11, 2008
Format: Paperback
When I got this book,I started reading it right away and it was so interesting that I could'nt put it down. It brought back so many good memories to me. Times I spent with my grandmother in the kitchen and watching her use her Betty Crocker cookbook and making such delicious recipes from it. I highly recommend this special book.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on October 5, 2007
Format: Paperback
Finding Betty Crocker: The Secret Life of America's First Lady of Food is the true story behind a commercial icon of 1950's homemaking - Betty Crocker. Created in 1921 as a "friend to homemakers" for the Washburn Crosby Company (a forerunner of modern-day General Mills), "Betty Crocker" was in fact the collective women of the Home Service Department who signed Betty's name. Betty Crocker's local radio show on WCCO expanded, as audiences across the nation learned to appreciate her money-saving recipes and wrote her nearly 5,000 fan letters a day. An amazing look at an enduring culinary and marketing history figure, illustrated with vintage black-and-white photographs.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Rita Marbury VINE VOICE on June 17, 2007
Format: Paperback
This is a delightful book! Susan Marks has researched it well, and tells the story of the selling of American women with clarity and humor. That our mothers were so shamelessly manipulated is appalling, but many good meals came out of it, and, in all honesty, Betty Crocker inspired many women to branch out and create their own recipes using mixes and prepared foods as a basis. It was a very pleasant read and a marvelous depiction of a period in the evolution of American women.
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