'Life of the Party': The forgotten woman behind the Tupperware Party craze
July 17, 2016 12:00 AM
By Virginia Kopas Joe / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
She’s been to all your parties, knows what’s in your refrigerator and is not afraid to demonstrate a loud burp. Now you really get to know Brownie Wise.
"LIFE OF THE PARTY: THE REMARKABLE STORY OF HOW BROWNIE WISE BUILT, AND LOST, A TUPPERWARE PARTY"
By Bob Kealing Crown Archetype ($26).
Long before Martha Stewart, Mary Kay and other celebrated mavens of domesticity, there was Ms. Wise, the face and genius behind the iconic Tupperware Party. In “Life of the Party: The Remarkable Story of How Brownie Wise Built, and Lost, a Tupperware Party Empire,” we learn the remarkable story of how she built — and abruptly lost — a Tupperware Party empire.
Author Bob Kealing offers an unvarnished look at how Ms. Wise used post-WWII optimism to not only create an early social networking system to sell the home plastics products line, but also to recruit thousands of women into the workforce at a time when a woman’s apron strings tied her to the home.
It was 1951 and Ms. Wise — christened Brownie by her parents for her expressive dark eyes — was a divorced mom who worked as a rep for Stanley Home Products when she caught the attention of Earl Tupper, an inventor whose plastic storage containers were collecting dust on store shelves. She insisted he market his products through parties where women invited their friends into their homes for a combined sales and social presentation. It was she who came up with the idea to fill those Tupperware bowls with liquids and fling them across the room to demonstrate their durability. It was Ms. Wise who famously showed moms how to “burp’’ the lid to force air out of the bowls and create a vacuum. Sales took off, as women previously had to put shower caps over dishes to prevent food from spoiling.
Her business savvy invented much of the corporate culture of Tupperware and soon, combined with her Doris Day looks and Dale Carnegie skills, she was a household name. And, the book reports, she started a relationship with the two-time Democratic presidential nominee and U.N. ambassador Adlai Stevenson.
Sadly, Ms. Wise’s ascent was matched only by her fall. Mr. Tupper, who had myriad creative differences with Ms. Wise, and perhaps fueled by the fact she had become a celebrity, fired her abruptly in 1958. Strangely he even wrote her out of the company’s history and left her with just one year’s salary. (About $30,000 in today’s dollars.) She had no stock. Her life became modest, even messy. She died in 1992 at age 79 from cancer and in obscurity.
The first woman to make the cover of BusinessWeek (in 1954) does not have a gravestone, let alone a proper epitaph, at her resting place in Kissimmee, Fla., not far from company’s original headquarters.
The concise, conversation style in “Life of the Party” reflects Mr. Kealing’s impressive resume. He is a four-time Emmy Award-winning television journalist who is the author of three books and whose articles have appeared in magazines and newspapers across the country. His writing could help restore Ms. Wise to her rightful place in the history of American business.
Originally published in 2008 by the University Press of Florida as “Tupperware Unsealed,” this revised edition puts Ms. Wise’s life at the forefront. The book has been optioned by Sony Pictures with Sandra Bullock to star as Ms. Wise. But don’t wait for the movie. Join the “Party” now.
Virginia Kopas Joe: 412-263-1414 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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