I love potatoes. It could be an Irish thing.
Give me a potato, any potato, and I’ll eat it with delight – and usually a little butter and some salt and pepper. Bake it, boil it, mash it, roast it, or stuff it, doesn’t matter, I’ll greet that potato with a fork and a smile.
I like potato skins, potato wedges and potato chips. Au Gratin? Au sure!
But potatoes neutered?
Sorry. The only knife I like around my potato has sour cream slathered on it.
Which is why I’m feeling a little queasy about poor old Mr. Potato Head, who recently lost his manhood, so to speak.
Hasbro caused a stir when the toy manufacturer said it would remove the Mister from Mr. Potato Head, leaving us with only Potato Head. It was a dizzying announcement. My own potato head was racing. Could it be that without a Mr. Potato Head there would be no small fries in the Potato Head household? No tater tots?!! Excuse me, but I need a moment for my mind to ketchup with this new reality.
And yes, I can do potato puns all day.
The Hasbro announcement created a social media uproar, as most things seemingly do these days. The idea behind the gender-free, brand-name change, Hasbro said, was to be more inclusive so that all could feel “welcome to the Potato Head world.” Which is a good thing. We should all be more comfortable playing with our food, despite moms scolding us otherwise for years.
Hasbro also said it would sell a playset in the fall without the Mr. and Mrs. designations, allowing kids to create their own type of potato families, with two moms or two dads.
The hullabaloo over how a toy potato identifies itself soon passed when Hasbro later announced that Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head would remain.
Confused? You bet I am. But then the history of Mr. Potato Head is wonderfully confusing.
To begin with, Mr. Potato Head was the first toy advertised on television, appearing on “The Jackie Gleason Show” in 1952. The ads invited kids to “Meet Mr. Potato Head – the most wonderful friend a boy or girl could have.” Now, I’m no psychiatrist but when an anthropomorphic potato is pitched as the best friend you’ll ever have, well kids, you can be sure therapy is in your future.
The original Mr. Potato Head was simply plastic body parts – eyes, nose, mouth, eyebrows, ears, feet and hands – all meant to decorate food. The pieces had small pointed spikes that went directly into raw vegetables.
Were kids delighted? Absolutely.
With the help of TV, Hasbro sold a million units of Mr. Potato Head in 1952. What’s more, the pieces promised unlimited “fun” since they were endlessly reusable. The Hasbro catalog showed the face pieces inserted into apples, bananas, cucumbers, oranges, pears and peppers, turning an otherwise mundane trip to the super market into an opportunity for kids to literally make new friends.
In 1953, Hasbro introduced Mrs. Potato Head, a son and a daughter. But real change came in 1964 when the first plastic potato was supplied in the kit. Once Mr. Potato Head had crossed the Plastic Rubicon, his universe grew to include roots, fruits and vegetables.
Dubbed his Tooty Frooty Friends, they included – and I am not making this up – Katie the Carrot, Cooky the Cucumber, Oscar the Orange and Pete the Pepper. Later, there would be Picnic Pals, including Mr. Soda Pop Head and Franky Frank.
Mr. Potato Head’s crowning achievement, however, came at the end of the 1960s with the “Mr. Potato Head On the Moon” playset, finally fulfilling President Kennedy’s vision of putting the first yam on the moon.
It’s no wonder then that Mr. Potato Head ranks as one of the top toys for many Baby Boomers and that Mr. Potato Head had a memorable role in Toy Story, only the greatest film series about toys and friendship ever made.
As a Boomer myself, I can safely say, Mr. Potato Head, whether you’re a mister or not, I will always love you … but not as much as garlic mashed potatoes, which are to die for.
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