Girl Scout cookies
The Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine
Clara Peller, the lady from the "Where's the beef?" commercial
Shag carpeting (white)
A really good radio station
The scent of fabric softener
24-hour Taco Bell
The entire state of Vermont
At least three roller rinks
Paunchy, slightly balding middle-aged men in Hawaiian print shirts
All of the frogs that have given their lives in the name of science.
A NOTE ABOUT CLARA PELLER
Just an inch under five feet tall, the silver-haired, shriveled, 81-year-old manicurist from Chicago became a sensational marketing icon so singular in size and scope as to be hitherto unparalleled in the industry. Clara Peller, born in 1903 to émigrés from Czarist Russia, was plucked from grandmotherly obscurity to star in a comedic thirty-second television commercial for the fast-food chain Wendy’s that bragged of the restaurant’s hegemony owing to the magnitude of its beef patties. Alongside fellow octogenarian carnivores Mildred Lane and Elizabeth Shaw, the trio played crotchety, curmudgeonly dowagers with discriminating tastes that visited competitor’s stores in search of decent hamburger. Ms. Peller’s brutally honest remark when served an embarrassingly inferior burger: “Where’s the beef?” Though she had no prior theatrical experience, a lifetime of Windy City suffering enabled Ms. Peller to infuse the role with inimitable personal intensity, thus elevating a simple interrogative to transcendent, existential koan. Also, her hearing had greatly deteriorated, and she was cued to deliver her line by a P.A.’s tugging on her skirt.
The enormously popular ad, produced by the advertising agency Dancer, Fitzgerald, & Sample, inspired a series of sequels and spinoffs that featured Ms. Peller’s matronly beefeater on further wacky adventures, and her provocative query became a catchphrase mimicked by wiseacres across the nation.
In the coming months, the oft-repeated question, vaguely suggestive enough to allow infinite misappropriations of “beef” as metaphor, served as a sturdy punch line to topical comedy routines, a marketable merchandizing gimmick for T-shirts and bumper stickers, and an apt slogan for Walter Mondale’s presidential campaign. It also proved an infectious hook, as Ms. Peller’s voice was repetitively sampled in the novelty single “Where’s the Beef,” composed and performed by Coyote McCloud (Awesome Records, 1984).
Wendy’s sales shot up a stunning 31% during the “Beef”-saturated year following the campaign’s début, and the actress was rumored to have earned close to half a million dollars in royalties.
Though her unlikely fame would forever be eclipsed by her own words (tragi-comically inaudible to her), Ms. Peller enjoyed her 15 fleeting minutes during the 80s’ midpoint. She parlayed her position as trustworthy spokesmodel into movie stardom; she lit up the screen alongside Hollywood luminaries Wendy Jo Sperber and Fred Willard in Moving Violations, a film widely regarded as the best ensemble D.M.V. comedy of the modern age. (Also, the acting début of eventual Golden Globe-winner Don Cheadle in the small role of "Juicy Burgers Worker"!)
But, like the tragic Icarus, Ms. Peller rode her waxen-wingèd fame too close to the sun; when she appeared in a 1985 TV spot for Prego spaghetti sauce, wherein she declared, “I found it!”, Wendy’s got all wicked pissed and fired her, the no-good, two-timing hussy.
Ms. Peller died in August, 1987, a week past her 84th birthday.
*BEA SHIRT! BEA SHIRT!*