tampabay.com

She's in love with one shell of a guy

A married woman has an exciting man on the side: Mr. Peanut. She wants all of his fans to convene here.

By ANNE LINDBERG
Published September 12, 2006


PINELLAS PARK - Anne Ruben has heard all the nut jokes many times over, but she still laughs.

Would you expect any less of a woman nutty for Mr. Peanut? So nutty, in fact, that Ruben has collected 500 - "give or take a hundred" - pieces of the monocled advertising icon's memorabilia.

"Most everybody collects something," Ruben said. "They tell me I'm nuts. I'm okay with that."

She began collecting several years ago when she spotted a Mr. Peanut bank and thought it was cute. She decided to collect the banks but soon expanded to ceramics, cutlery and glasses.

But other collectors can be ruthless. There are dry spells when few things are on the market. Antique shop owners also can have a hard time understanding exactly what it is that she seeks. To solve that problem, Ruben now has a T-shirt picturing Mr. Peanut so she can simply point to his face to show dealers what she wants.

"Anne has dragged me through every antique store in the state," said her husband, Jeff. "The woman has no shame."

One thing led to another and soon she joined the goober's fan club, the Peanut Pals, a nationwide group of collectors.

"When I first heard about it, I thought, 'Peanut Pals. Hmm, sounds a little weird,' " Ruben confessed.

But she attended a Peanut Pals festival in Winter Haven and was hooked.

"The people are great," she said. "They're nice. They're friendly. They obviously have good taste."

Jeff Ruben is a bit more dubious.

"Their enthusiasm for their collections embarrasses me at times," he said.

One picture from a convention shows the Rubens with a giant Mr. Peanut. Mrs. Ruben is smiling with her arm around Mr. Peanut. Jeff Ruben seems to be trying to slide of out camera range.

Mrs. Ruben wants to host a Peanut Pals convention in Pinellas Park in 2008. The festival would feature collectibles dealers and, if everything goes right, a "Mr. Peanut on parade kind of thing" in which members of the Pals dress up in their Mr. Peanut costumes and, well, march around.

The parade does not happen at every Peanut Pals convention, she explained. The giant costumes are difficult to pack because of their hard shells. But generally at least one person manages to get a costume to the event, because what's a Mr. Peanut festival without Mr. Peanut?

"I have my costume," she said. "I bought my costume for New Orleans."

Another coveted feature is the Peanutmobile.

"It's far, far better than the wienermobile," Ruben said, referring to the Oscar Mayer frankfurter advertising campaign.

Because the Rubens live in Pinellas Park, they figured, what better place for a Mr. Peanut festival.

But, like collecting, the request did not go smoothly at first.

Jeff Ruben called the city and left a message that was forwarded to Tim Caddell, the city spokesman who also oversees city entertainment.

"The message that was relayed to me ... was that they had called and they were interested in having a peanut convention in Pinellas Park," Caddell said. "I immediately called because we're a small community and we have to worry about Hillsborough stealing the big conventions from us. They're greedy. They go after the Olympics, the Republican convention. I thought they'd go after the peanut festival."

When Caddell finally spoke with Jeff Ruben, he thought there was something a little strange about the conversation. The two seemed to be talking at cross purposes.

"I was talking on the premise that this was a peanut convention," Caddell said. "I thought Jimmy Carter would come. It'd be kind of cool."

Finally, Caddell said he asked for more details and Jeff Ruben said, "'Oh, no, it's Mr. Peanut collectibles,' which actually made it a lot clearer."

While there may be some logistical problems, such as hotel space for hundreds of Mr. Peanut nuts, Caddell said he hopes the city can work something out.

"I think we would welcome the Mr. Peanut mobile," he said. "In fact, I think it would be great if we coordinate it so they would be in town when we do the children's festival. ... It would be a fun thing to have."

Caddell has a small personal interest in Mr. Peanut.

"I have to confess to you, I am the owner of a Mr. Peanut collectible," he said.

When Home Shopping Network first began, it was on the radio. Caddell used to listen and order quirky-sounding items as long as they cost less than $5.

"They had this Mr. Peanut peanut butter maker. Now how can you resist that?" he asked.

It works by putting peanuts in Mr. Peanut's plastic head and turning a crank on the back. The peanut butter comes out of the front of the machine.

"I've never actually made peanut butter with it," he said. "It's Mr. Peanut in all his monocled glory, with his hand on his hip, spewing out peanut butter."

Caddell plans to ask his wife to get to work on a Mr. Peanut costume for him.

Mr. Peanut "would be right at home here. I think he'd enjoy a stay in Pinellas Park," Caddell said. "Just don't tell Hillsborough, those greedy so-and-sos."

Nutty Facts

* Planters Peanuts, a company founded by Italian immigrant Amadeo Obici, turned 100 this year.

* Mr. Peanut is almost that old. He was born 90 years ago, in 1916, when Antonio Gentile, a 14-year-old schoolboy submitted his idea as part of a contest for an ad campaign for Planters. A commercial artist later added the top hat, monocle and cane.

* The first television commercial featuring Mr. Peanut aired during the 1950s.

* The Peanut Pals formed in 1978 to celebrate all things Mr. Peanut.

* The NUT mobile made its debut in 1999.

* In 2004, Mr. Peanut won a place on Madison Avenue's Advertising Walk of Fame.

* As part of Planters' 100th anniversary celebration, the company is considering adding something new to Mr. Peanut's outfit. Go to www.planters.com to vote. Choices are adding cufflinks, a bow tie, a pocket watch or leaving him as is. You won't be able to add glasses. He has no ears to keep them on his face.

Source: www.planters.com