Last week, I shared Mom’s experiences and memories from the first time she appeared on the Phil Donahue Show, in July 1981. The whole year, following that appearance was, probably, the most chaotic time in the 40-year history of Mom’s family-run, dining room table, cottage-style operation. We were definitely not set up for that massive response!
Secret RecipesTM was JUST A FAMILY AFFAIR! Other than one full-time Administrative Assistant, who was also a family friend, it was just my parents, taking care of the day-to-day operations of their mail-order business, with a little help, now and then, from me and my siblings. That is, until that summer of 1981! Then my parents needed to bring in a lot of extra help. Even some of my high school friends were asked to help out, temporarily, with all of the extra mailings we had.
We sent out hundreds of thousands of Mom’s “free recipes and product-ordering information” sheets, in exchange for the self-addressed stamped envelopes that came in, per the offer that aired on that Donahue episode. We were also sending out thousands more newsletter issues than previously, from all of the extra subscription orders that came back from those “free sheet” mailings. But even with the extra help, we just never seemed to get totally caught up, as every day the hundreds of trays of mail kept piling up!
However, as frenzied as it was, in the end, it really did open a lot of doors for Mom that might never have happened otherwise; bringing Mom’s unique style of “copycat cookery” to the attention of MILLIONS of new eyes. The 1981 episode reran for about six months or so, after the initial airing on July 7th, appearing on television screens, WORLD-WIDE!
There’s no denying that Mom pioneered a ‘movement’, so-to-speak; carving out a NEW niche in the cookbooks and food industries! There was nothing else like it, on the market, at that time. But, soon enough, many “copycats” certainly followed, copying Mom’s focus on imitating the “junk food”, fast food and restaurant industries’ products that so many people craved – some followers even copied Mom’s work, to the point of straight-up plagiarism!
Amazingly, when the Phil Donahue Show people called again, 12 years later, in 1993, Mom agreed to return for another episode; but only with the stipulation that they not give out any contact information for Secret RecipesTM or our family. That stipulation inadvertently resulted in a record-breaking event! It turned out to be the show’s most requested transcript of all time, shattering the last record into tiny bits! The Donahue Show sent Mom a congratulatory letter and plaque to commemorate the historic event. It’s unfortunate that the show ended it’s 29-year stretch (1967-1996) a few years later.
There are recordings of that 1993, hour-long episode on YouTube, in a series of 5 “staticky” segments. In fact, I have my own “staticky” VHS tape of it, as well! Though, I did get it copied to a DVD, a couple of years ago, before it was no longer playable. Nonetheless, I wish I knew where I could find a recording or transcript from Mom’s July 7th, 1981 appearance. If anyone reading this knows, PLEASE, send me an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org – and thank you, in advance!
FROM MOM’S MEMORIES…
As seen in…
My Cup Runneth Over and I Can’t Find My Mop (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; Dec. 1989, p. 68)
BIG SHOWS & INTERVIEWS
AFTER DONAHUE, PM Magazine, The Home Show, even being mentioned on Jeopardy and complementary reviews in Catholic Digest, The Christian Science Monitor, Campus Life, Mother Jones, National Observer, as well as The National Enquirer (absolutely accurate, too, I swear!) Plus, a write up in Playboy Magazine [and] Home Cooking. We said no to People magazine. We did not want another 1 million letters [like we received after the Donahue show] and surely that would be inevitable, considering their circulation.
On a side note: Michael Neill, a writer at People Magazine, was persistent about wanting to interview Mom and she eventually gave in. His story, ‘For Gloria Pitzer, Unlocking the Secrets of Fast-Food Recipes is Easy: Just Fake and Bake’, appeared in People Weekly’s May 7, 1990 issue, on pages 81-82; including a couple of Mom’s recipes and the two photos of Mom, below, by Susan L. Tusa, but not Secret RecipesTM exact contact information.
Still, the article contained enough information, that a large amount of mail and orders arrived anyway for Mom and Dad at the St. Clair Post Office, during that spring/summer season; just not quite as massive an amount as the bombardment that followed after the first Donahue episode.
[BIG SHOWS & INTERVIEWS – Cont’d]
We knew that making a lot of money in a big hurry was not what we wanted, even though it might have been what others thought we should have done. We were afraid, then, that our cup would REALLY have run over. We also declined an invitation to be on Good Morning America the week after we were on ‘Donahue’.
And just as recently, we declined to appear on the Will Shriner Show… Also, I never did the ‘Kelly and Company‘ show at channel 7 in Detroit, even though they had invited me to be on with them several times. Jack McCarthy’s TV interview with us on Christmas Eve … for [‘Friday Feast’ on] Channel 7, in Detroit, was one of the highlights of our experiences.
And a few months ago, [I had] an even more enjoyable experience with Erik Smith, doing a segment in our kitchen for their ‘Friday Feast’, during which we prepared the hot fudge [sauce] like Sanders’ and the ‘McFabulous Biscuits’, from our information sheet of sample recipes.
Of all the wire services and all of the hundreds of newspaper stories about us across the country in the past 14 years [1975-1989], since our fast food recipes have become popular, I can still honestly say that I prefer radio to it all.
On another side note: Eventually, as with the Phil Donahue Show and People Magazine, persistence paid off, again; because John Kelly and Marilyn Turner, the husband-and-wife hosts of “Kelly & Company”, eventually interviewed Mom – and, yet again, not just once but twice!
Mom insisted that she would never do another NATIONAL television show, after the fallout from her Donahue experience. But, when her good friend, Carol Duvall, called to ask Mom to give ABC’s “Home” show (aka: “The Home Show”) a try, Mom couldn’t say no to her friend. It was a new show in which Carol, herself, had come to be involved. It turned out to be a really rewarding experience for Mom; especially when she was surprised by Wally Amos, being there, in person, to taste her imitation of one of his “Famous” cookies.
ABC’s “Home” show began as a half-hour program in mid-January 1988. Mom was a guest in February 1988. Following a 60-minute trial run in September 1988, “Home” expanded permanently to an hour-long series in January 1989. After the show ended in 1994, host, Rob Weller formed a production company with someone else and, together, they developed “The Carol Duvall Show” which aired on HGTV from 1994 until 2005, when it moved to the DIY Network in 2005 and ran for another 4 years.
MORE FROM MOM’S MEMORIES…
As seen in…
Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective (Balboa Press; Jan. 2018, p. 68)
THE HOME SHOW & WALLY AMOS
The Home Show, however, in February 1988, were wonderful to us [Paul and me]. They flew us to Los Angeles, and we appeared with Rob Weller and Sandy Hill in a one-hour segment that re-created some of our recipes. They were very specific that I do our ‘Famous Nameless Cookies’ and I could not see the reason they absolutely insisted on that recipe. I had trouble finding the right ingredients an hour before airtime, but we made compromises there and came up with an even BETTER version than before.
What had happened, without my knowing it, was Wally Amos, himself [was there]. They flew him in from Hawaii to taste-test my version of HIS product. What a delightful man! What a warm and generous soul. He brought me a tin of an assortment of his favorite cookies and, after tasting my version of his product, made me promise that I would never go into the cookie business! Meeting Wally Amos was one of those cherished memories that I will always look back on warmly.
AGAIN, MORE FROM MOM’S MEMORIES…
As seen in…
Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective (Balboa Press; Jan. 2018, p. 86)
I LOOK BACK NOW… and realize how FORTUNATE I was to have had my life touched by so many helpful people – so many famous people! It’s almost incredible that what started out to be merely the frosting on the cake, of my monthly newsletter, soon became the whole cake!
While duplicating the secrets of the [fast] food and restaurant industry was only going to be a part of the publications I was writing, it was a surprise to me that the interest and the response from the public led to my specializing in the fast food division entirely!
I thought my first book was going to be my ‘only’ book on that subject, but – six books later – I was still seriously, but lovingly, engaged in the pursuit of new information and challenging recipe imitations. I’ve been asked by restaurants to give them permission to use my recipes and say so on their menus. I’ve been asked by ‘People Magazine’, at least once a month for six months – even before the Donahue show appearance – to grant them an interview.
The fact that I had declined the invitation because I couldn’t handle any additional mail, made the columns of the Detroit Free Press, when their ‘Tip-Off’ columnist said it was ‘classy’ to turn down People Magazine – refusing publicity in a national magazine because I did not want to ‘get big’!
[NOTE: As mentioned previously, Michael Neill’s story, ‘For Gloria Pitzer, Unlocking the Secrets of Fast-Food Recipes is Easy: Just Fake and Bake’, appeared in the May 7, 1990 issue of People Weekly, on pages 81-82.]
In Mom’s Better Cookery Cookbook (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; 1982), [which is the book I helped her to rewrite and republish (with Balboa Press), now called Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective (Balboa Press; Jan. 2018)] she wrote about some of the unhappy experiences she had with various companies and their legal advisers.
Their threats of lawsuits had Mom and Dad quite frightened at one time or another for attempting to duplicate their secrets in her own kitchen. But, truth is, Mom didn’t know their actual secrets unless they shared them with her. She could only make educated guesses and experiment with different combinations of ingredients until she came up with a good imitation.
However, others like Wally Amos (the former “Famous” Amos), Harland Sanders (the original “Colonel” of KFC fame), Jack Sanders (famous Michigan chocolatier), Arthur Treacher (actor turned restaurateur), the people of White Castle, General Foods, Hershey’s, and McDonald’s own Paul Duncan appreciated Mom’s flattery attempts to compliment them through her personal imitations of their products, even to the delightful caricature names that she gave her own creations. Those are the ones that made what she did all worthwhile!
In honor of June being National Country Cooking Month, here are TWO of Mom’s copycat recipes – one for Betsy Ross’ Custardy Cornbread! [As seen in Mom’s cookbook, The Original 200 Plus Secret Recipes© Book (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; June 1997, p. 7)] AND a repeat of Mom’s Kentucky Biscuits imitation, which she prepared on ABC’s “Home” show in February 1988!
P.S. Food-for-thought until we meet again, next Monday…
…22 down, 30 to go!