THE RECENT PASSING OF 86-year-old gizmo guru Ron Popeil will yield few flags lowered in his honor, despite his having waged endless war for our fleeting attention for decades. Granted, salesmen are salesmen, not men of action or valor, but give Ron props for being the perfect pitchman for the new, cathode-ray times he came up in—with the hard sell, the rat-a-tat rhythm of the immigrant boardwalk peddler only just slightly modified for the cooler medium of television.
Hearing Ron Popeil monomaniacally extol the life-changing virtues of a vegetable-shredding geegaw—for a full half-hour, no less— was a slightly higher-tech variant on the hysterical, vaudeville-era carnival barker, with juicers and food dehydrators taking the place of bearded women and vitalizing, cocaine-spiked tonics.
Ron learned the fast-talking, tricky trade at his O.G. father Sam’s knee— it was the visionary gadget-Galileo Popeil the Elder who made and marketed the hot-selling mechanical siblings, Veg-o-Matic and Chop-o-Matic. Both sold like the proverbial hotcakes.
Ron distributed said products before reinventing himself in 1964 as Ronco Inc. and competing directly with dear old dad as a grateful son should. Or perhaps Popeil II felt residually aggrieved that Sam had consigned him and his brother to an orphanage after divorcing their mother. Needless to say, considerable enmity and estrangement came to pass, as well as a great fortune for all concerned. Ron was worth an icy $200 million when he passed.
Generational warfare aside, let it be said that Ron Popeil went on to create a stainless-steel legacy of semi-gratuitous, lifestyle-enhancement products that you didn’t know you needed before seeing his latest 60-second commercial, and later, half-hour infomercial. The advent of cable TV meant 24/7 Ron-All-Day if you were a time-wasting masochist like myself. I freely admit I was a little obsessed with the guy, but may I offer a lame-but-true excuse for my unhealthy Popeil dependency?
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