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Redenbacher in 1979
|Born||Orville Clarence Redenbacher
July 16, 1907
Brazil, Indiana, U.S.
|Died||September 19, 1995
Coronado, California, U.S.
|Cause of death||Heart Attack|
|Alma mater||Purdue University|
|Spouse(s)||Corinne Rosemund Strate (m. 1928–1971, her death)
Nina Reder (m. 1971–1991, her death)
Redenbacher was born in Brazil, Indiana, on July 16, 1907, to William Joseph Redenbacher (1873-1921), a farmer, and Julia Magdalena Dierdorff (1874-1944). He grew up on his family's farm where he sometimes sold popcorn from the back of his car. He graduated from Brazil High School in 1924 in the top 5% of his class. He attended Purdue University, where he joined the agriculture-oriented Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity and the Purdue All-American Marching Band. He also joined the Purdue University track team. He graduated in 1928 with a degree in agronomy. He spent most of his life in the agriculture industry, serving as a Vigo County Farm Bureau extension agent in Terre Haute, Indiana, and at Princeton Farms in Princeton, Indiana.
He started his career selling fertilizer, but spent his spare time working with popcorn. In 1951, he and partner Charlie Bowman bought the George F. Chester and Son seed corn plant near Valparaiso, Indiana. Naming the company "Chester Hybrids", they tried tens of thousands of hybrid strains of popcorn before settling on a hybrid they named "RedBow". This name was used due to neither Redenbacher nor Bowman wanting all the publicity. An advertising agency, however, advised them to use "Orville Redenbacher" as the brand name, advice that cost them $13,000. They launched their popping corn in 1970, and Orville was suddenly everywhere. Redenbacher first appeared on national television in 1973—long before the commercials that featured him promoting popcorn. In an episode of the game show, To Tell the Truth, he stumped the panelists (Kitty Carlisle Hart, Bill Cullen, Joe Garagiola, and Peggy Cass), all of whom were shown enjoying samples of Redenbacher's then-new novelty popping corn flavors, including chili and curry.
By the mid 1970s, Redenbacher and Bowman had captured a third of the unpopped popcorn market. In 1976, Redenbacher sold the company to Hunt-Wesson Foods, a division of Norton Simon, Inc. In 1983, Esmark purchased Norton Simon, and in 1984 Beatrice Foods acquired Esmark. In 1985, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts acquired Beatrice with the goal of selling off businesses. In 1990, they sold the popcorn business and other old Hunt-Wesson businesses to agribusiness giant ConAgra.
Redenbacher then moved to Coronado, California. He appeared as the company's official spokesman, wearing a trademark outfit in public that included horn-rimmed glasses and a bow tie. Sometimes Redenbacher appeared in commercials with his grandson. Some customers wrote letters asking if Redenbacher was a real person, and not an actor (see, e.g., Bartles & Jaymes). He responded to this by appearing on various talk shows, professing his identity. Redenbacher, in his book, states, "I want to make it clear that I am real."
After the initial sale to Hunt-Wesson, the city of Valparaiso, Indiana, started their first Popcorn Festival in 1979. Celebrating the development of Redenbacher’s popcorn in Valparaiso, the festival featured Orville and his grandson Gary appearing several times as grand marshals of the signature event, the Popcorn Parade. Purdue University granted him an honorary doctorate degree in the College of Agriculture in 1988.
Redenbacher hosted the SFM Holiday Network syndicated movie broadcast package along with his grandson.
Redenbacher was married to his first wife, Corinne Rosemund Strate (1909–1971), from 1928 until her death on May 24, 1971. He remarried later that year to his second wife, Nina Reder, who died on May 8, 1991, at the age of 91.
Death and legacy
On September 19, 1995, Redenbacher was found dead in the Jacuzzi of his condominium in Coronado, California. He had suffered a heart attack and drowned. He was cremated and his ashes scattered at sea. Redenbacher is survived by two daughters, Billie Ann Atwood of San Jose, California, and Gail Tuminello of Valparaiso, Indiana; 12 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
Since 2006, several of Orville’s commercials from the 1970s and 1980s have aired on many channels across the country. The advertisements for the brand’s "natural" popcorn snacks were introduced in 2008, 13 years after Redenbacher's death, and feature a clip of him at the end.
In January 2007, a television commercial featuring a digital re-creation of Redenbacher appeared. Redenbacher's grandson, Gary Redenbacher, responded to questions about how he felt about the advertisement by saying: "Grandpa would go for it. He was a cutting-edge guy. This was a way to honor his legacy." The ads were quickly pulled, however, as critics said the digital Redenbacher was more like, "Orville Deadenbacher - The Popcorn Zombie".
On September 4, 2012, Valparaiso unveiled a statue of Redenbacher at the city's annual popcorn festival.
- Thomas, Robert (September 21, 1995). "Orville Redenbacher, Famous For His Popcorn, Is Dead at 88". The New York Times. p. D20.
- Wieland, Phil. "Orville Redenbacher: A passion for popcorn". The Times of Northwest Indiana. Retrieved 31 October 2014.
- Gail Collins (December 31, 1995). "The Lives They Lived: Orville Redenbacher;Our Inner Nerd". The New York Times. Retrieved October 12, 2013.
- Orville Redenbacher's popcorn partner shared the wealth, if not the celebrity, Remembrances Section, Wall Street Journal, April 18–19, 2009, p. A4
- "Orville Redenbacher and his popcorn weren't always well-known". TV Squad. July 2, 2009.
- "Orville Redenbacher's Brand History". www.orville.com. ConAgra Foods. Retrieved 6 April 2014.
- Bruce Horovitz (January 12, 2007). "ConAgra revives Redenbacher for popcorn ads". USA Today. Retrieved October 12, 2013.
- "Statue honors popcorn king Redenbacher". Terre Haute Tribute Star (Associated Press). September 5, 2012.
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