Last week America lost one of its greatest inventors with the death of Ron Popeil. He ranks in the pantheon of legendary device-developing geniuses, alongside Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, and Henry Ford.
No, Ron Popeil did not give us the lightbulb, the phone, or the car. But he did give us the Veg-O-Matic, the Popeil Pocket Fisherman, and the Ronco Chop-O-Matic!
Popeil also invented the Showtime Rotisserie (“Set it and forget it!”), the Popeil Pasta Maker, the Popeil Pocket Barber (“Give dad the latest razor cuts!”), the Popeil Egg Flipper (“With auto-spatula!”), and Mr. Microphone, that led to the ubiquitous barroom pastime, Karaoke.
And all these products really, really worked!
I first met Ron Popeil when I was a little boy growing up in the 60s. My parents let me stay up late on Friday nights, and I would entertain myself by watching quality programming on UHF TV (Channel 42!) such as horror movies, westerns, and Roller Derby. But what I enjoyed most were the Ron Popeil infomercials for his line of Ronco products. The commercials featured an excited announcer almost screaming (into his Mr. Microphone) something like this:
It’s the Veg-O-Matic! It slices! It dices! It turns your potatoes into delicious French fries! And it really, really works!
It’s the Popeil Pocket Fisherman! A retractable and expandable rod and reel that will fit in Dad’s fishing jacket pocket! And when Dad gets home, he can filet the fish he caught with his Bass-O-Matic!
Actually, Ron Popeil did not invent the Bass-O-Matic. It was “invented” by Dan Aykroyd in a classic Saturday Night Live Popeil send-off.
The Popeil infomercials always ended with a product price tag:
How much does the Popeil Pocket Fisherman cost? … Not the Nine-Ninety-Nine ($9.99) you expect to pay! … No! For a limited time you can get yours for just Seven-Seventy-Seven! ($7.77)… But wait! There’s more!
One Christmas morning I surprised my mother with a Veg-O-Matic that I had ordered from Ron Popeil for only Eight-Eighty-Eight!
My delighted Mom took it into the kitchen where she used it to help prepare Christmas dinner. The Veg-O-Matic sliced and diced carrots and beans, creating tasty souffles. And yes, it really, really worked!
The Veg-O-Matic did not carve our Christmas turkey. For that, Dad used the Popeil Pocket Turkey Carver!
I wish I still had my Mr. Microphone. I would turn it on and announce, “Thank you, Ron Popeil! I hope you are in Heaven showing the angels the Popeil Angel Food Cake Baker!”