In one of its rare departures from presenting a film about food, the Plow to Plate curators have chosen to serve up a side dish - an important innovation in food delivery, the ubiquitous Tupperware container. Love it or hate it, Tupperware plays an important part in both food and women’s history in the workforce. Plow to Plate’s very own Robin Hessman, co-produced this delightful documentary and will be hosting the screening.
Tupperware! tells the remarkable story of Earl Silas Tupper, a life-long tinkerer and inventor who finally came up with the product of a lifetime and his stormy partnership with Brownie Wise, who led Tupperware Home Parties, the part of the company in charge of sales, public relations, and marketing. After seeing Tupperware languish on store shelves, Wise paid a visit to the reclusive Mr. Tupper and pitched the idea that Tupperware be sold in the home through fun and festive home demonstrations. He hired her on the spot and Wise, became the Queen Bee, the first and mother to all subsequent “Tupperware ladies.”
Tupperware! strikes a balance between telling the stories of Mr. Tupper, Ms. Wise, and the myriad of Tupperware ladies for whom the American workforce was opening up and providing unprecedented opportunities. A stereotypical image of the woman worker at the time had been Rosie the Riveter, a tough-looking broad decked in a blue denim shirt, wearing a bandana, and flexing her biceps. However, by the 1950s, women were increasingly expected to play a more domestic role. The Tupperware Lady opposed this pressure and represented a whole new image of the female worker: a white gloved, genteel, and feminine, saleswoman. It was a far cry from Willy Loman.
Brownie Wise was no Willy Loman. A natural and self-taught marketer, she convinced Tupper to allow her to build a Disney-like headquarters in Kissimmee, Florida, just outside of Orlando. From here she threw annual, themed, Jubilees for all her Tupperware Ladies. These four day long events, filled with games, rewards, food, and fun, were part employee appreciation retreats and part rallying calls to further motivate and energize. Brownie Wise planned, coordinated, and presided over these events, beloved by everyone for her energy, charm, and leadership, a topic on which she had even written a book. At the height of her fame, at a time when women still faced glass (or should I say plastic) ceilings, Ms.Wise was the first woman ever to grace the cover of Business Magazine.
Yet, as in Arthur Miller’s fateful drama, things ended tragically for Ms. Wise, as well. For a variety of reasons, she and Mr. Tupper’s business relation soured and he fired her. With a severance package of $35,000 she attempted, but failed, to create a cosmetics company, Cinderella, based on the same model. Earl Tupper, on the other hand, cashed out by selling his company for $16 million dollars, renounced his American citizenship, and bought an island in Central American where he lived out his remaining days continuing to tinker and invent.
Tupperware! tells an important story about American cultural history. And a cautionary business tale. And, refreshingly, you’ll hear nothing about the dangers of Bisphenol A (BPA). We’ll save that for another day.
Tupperware will be screening at the Park Slope Food Coop (782 Union Street) on Tuesday, July 10th, at 7:00 p.m. on the second floor. Refreshments will be served.