Sunday, November 23, 2014
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The secret life of Betty Crocker
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Betty Crocker's image has changed many times over the past 80 years. On the left, her 1986 image. On the right is her image from 1936. (Images courtesy of Susan Marks)

St. Paul, Minn. — A new book by a Minneapolis author looks behind the veil of one of America's most famous women. She's 84 years old now. And she's had it all -- a career with a Fortune 500 company, a reputation as the ideal homemaker. She even hosted a radio program starting in the 1920s.

Her name is Betty Crocker.

Betty Crocker's radio show was on the air for almost 30 years. She's also promoted Minnesota-based General Mills products on TV and in print. Her public image is still one of the most successful marketing campaigns in business.

But it's the private side of Betty Crocker that interested Minneapolis author Susan Marks, who has written a new book called, "Finding Betty Crocker: The Secret Life of America's First Lady of Food."

Marks was a tour guide for the Minnesota Historical Society, and became interested in Betty Crocker because people came to life when she talked about her.

Mark says over the years, many people wrote letters to Betty Crocker, seeking cooking advice or sharing recipes. And they got letters back, signed by Betty. Marks' own grandmother got a letter from Betty in 1950. This practice, combined with the radio show, led many to believe that Betty Crocker was a real person.

Marks talked with MPR's Cathy Wurzer about writing the book, which General Mills was initially cautious about.

To listen to the interview, choose the audio link in the right column.

Marks also produced a documentary based on her book. You can listen to the presentation by choosing the appropriate audio link in the right column.

Documentary writer and producer, Susan Marks.
Speakers were University of Minnesota historians Sara Evans and Elaine Tyler May, author Karal Ann Marling, New York culinary historian Laura Shapiro, and General Mills archivist Katie Dishman.
Audio production by John Dehn and Jeff Sylvestre.
Commercial spots courtesy of General Mills.
Production assistance from MPR's Sam Keenan.

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