I didn't choose Betty. She chose me.

I didn't choose Betty. She chose me.
The Betty Crocker Kitchens 1940

Friday, September 12, 2008

From Devil's Food to the Dark Side

(Photo from Betty Crocker event this past June)

This article was originally publish in April of 2008 by Anna Dilemna for The Rake.


I like the way it blends my interst in both Betty and dead dolls.

Thank you, Anna Dilemna for writing the article!

Betty Crocker is perfect. She bakes flawless pies and gives sage advice, such as: "A fricasse without dumplings is like a wedding without a bride." Also, unlike another domestic goddess that we know of, she's never been in the slammer. It's easy to be the perfect woman, though, when you don't actually exist. An invention of General Mills, Crocker was created to sell flour and serve as the company's face.

Susan Marks, on the other hand — a Minneapolis-based writer and filmmaker — is quite real. In her book, Finding Betty Crocker, she tells the history of Betty Crocker and the person who was largely responsible for creating her image—Margerie Husted, a woman who was anything but the typical image of Betty Crocker. A company exec who married late and never had children, Husted served as Betty's voice on her popular radio show. She endeavored to empower women by validating domestic work and later lectured about issues such as the inequality of pay and recognition for women in business.

Marks has since moved on from Betty Crocker, however; and her new project takes our homespun peppermint rooms into much darker territory. As her mother says, she has gone from Devil's Food to the dark side. Marks is filming a documentary about murder. And dolls.

When Corinne May Botz's book The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death first came out, Marks devoured it and then wanted to know more. Her new documentary, Our Wildest Dreams: A True Crime Documentary of Dolls and Murder explores the story behind the Nutshell Studies, a series of dollhouses built by Chicago heiress Frances Lee Glessner in the 1940s. Each dollhouse depicts a murder scene in minute detail, from the blood spattered candy-striped wallpaper to the victim's stockings (knit by Glessner on a pair of straight pins). The dollhouses were built in order to train police officers and are still used for this purpose today. Susan's documentary is currently in production with the king of campy noir himself, John Waters, providing the narration.

At first it may seem a bit odd that Susan should go from studying strudel recipes to examining miniature murders with a magnifying glass. When you talk to Susan though, she'll tell you that the stories of Betty Crocker and Frances Lee Glessner have more in common than one might think. Both involve women who yearned to do something outside of the role that society had prescribed for them, and both succeeded in doing so by taking their "womanly" interests, flipping them upside down, and then climbing right up on top of them in order to succeed in the male-dominated realms of business and forensic science. However, if you're still left wondering what the hell a fricassee is, I'll bet Susan Marks knows.

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