6 Unfamiliar Champions Who Appeared on Wheaties Boxes

Muhammad Ali touches the image of himself in his youth on this special edition Wheaties box.
Muhammad Ali touches the image of himself in his youth on this special edition Wheaties box.
HENNY RAY ABRAMS, Getty Images

As the "Breakfast of Champions," Wheaties won't put just anyone on their iconic orange boxes. Most of the athletes to appear on the General Mills cereal's boxes since Lou Gehrig became the first in 1934 have been household names from a major sport. Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, and Ken Griffey Jr. come to mind. But there have been a handful of exceptions to the rule. Here's a closer look at some of the less familiar names to hit the breakfast table on boxes of Wheaties over the years.

1. Denny Brauer, Angler

After he won Angler of the Year honors in 1998, Wheaties made Brauer the first fisherman to appear on the front of the box. PETA objected to Brauer's depiction and distributed postcards in protest that referred to fishermen as "cereal killers" and included the message, "Weenies: the Breakfast of Lip-Rippers." Wheaties issued the following statement in response: "We certainly respect their right to object and protest our decision, but we must disagree with PETA when they say that fishing is not a sport." According to the New York Post, nearly 75 percent of the boxes featuring Brauer were bought within the first week of their release. David Walker, the 1999 Angler of the Year, also appeared on a Wheaties box.

2. Myriam Bedard, Biathlete

Representing Canada, Bedard won two gold medals in the biathlon at the 1994 Lillehammer Games, including the 7.5 km race on a pair of mismatched skis. Following her Olympic triumphs, she was the toast of the town in her native Quebec. In addition to landing on the front of a Wheaties box, Bedard appeared on various magazine covers and was named to the Order of Canada. She married fellow biathlete Jean Paquet in a highly publicized ceremony in Hawaii, but her life would later take a bizarre turn for the worse. Bedard divorced Paquet and was arrested in 2006 for allegedly abducting their 11-year-old daughter and bringing her to the United States, a violation of a child custody order. Bedard returned to Canada in 2007 and appealed the ruling earlier this month, arguing for an unconditional pardon that would wipe her criminal record clean.

3. George Murray, Wheelchair Racer

In 1961, 14-year-old George Murray was paralyzed in a hunting accident. Twenty-three years later, he appeared on the cover of a Wheaties box. Murray, a two-time Boston Marathon champion in the wheelchair division, was one of six athletes selected in Wheaties' first "Search for Champions" contest. A native of Maine, Murray won in Boston in 1978 and 1985 and was the first wheelchair racer to break the 4-minute mile barrier. Murray, who graduated from the University of South Florida with a physical education degree, was selected by a panel of judges from a pool of more than 6,000 entrants. The other winners in the contest were Jody Lynn Beerman (Ms. Indiana Basketball), Sammy Chagolla (Arizona high school wrestling champion), Leslie Deniz (discus thrower and Olympian), Mary T. Meagher (swimmer and three-time Olympic gold medalist), and Chris Spielman (high school linebacker). Spielman would go on to star in the NFL.

4. Peter Gagarin, Orienteer

When Gagarin learned he was one of six winners in Wheaties' second "Search for Champions" contest, he told reporters that the honor fell "some place between mind-boggling and hokey." Gagarin was a five-time U.S. champion in orienteering, which involves using a map and compass to navigate unfamiliar terrain while competing against other teams. Gagarin hoped his appearance on boxes of Wheaties would bring some recognition to the sport, which originated as a military exercise in Scandinavia in the late 1800s. Gagarin recounts the tremendous backing he received from the orienteering community throughout the nomination process on his personal website. A panel of judges, including Hank Aaron, Walter Payton, and Peggy Fleming, selected the six winners, one of whom was a whitewater canoeist.

5. Marie Bartoletti, P.E. Teacher and Marathoner

In 2001, Wheaties sponsored a contest in search of an everyday champion from all 50 states, six of whom would be selected to appear on boxes of General Mills' new Wheaties Energy Crunch cereal. Bartoletti, a marathon runner, triathlete, P.E. teacher, and mother of two from Finleyville, Pa., won the contest, which required entrants to submit a 300-word essay. In addition to appearing on the front of the box—the five runners-up were relegated to the back—she received $5000 and General Mills donated $25,000 to the charity of her choice, the American Heart Association.

Some people's life goals might start and end with appearing on a Wheaties box, but not Bartoletti's. Three years after appearing on the box, she achieved her goal of participating in a marathon in all 50 states.

6. Eiji Oue, Conductor

Just how does a conductor wind up on a box of Wheaties? Being appointed music director of the orchestra in the same city as the corporate headquarters of General Mills is a start. Oue appeared on 8000 boxes distributed in Minneapolis, a small part of a $500,000 advertising campaign to coincide with the appointment of the little-known conductor to his new post after five years as director of the Erie (Pa.) Philharmonic. "I never used to have breakfast, but I guess I will now," Oue, a protégé of Leonard Bernstein, told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Oue left the Minnesota Orchestra three years later to expand his career in Europe.

Friday’s Best Amazon Deals Include Digital Projectors, Ugly Christmas Sweaters, and Speakers

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As a recurring feature, our team combs the web and shares some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. Here’s what caught our eye today, December 4. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers, including Amazon, and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!

10 Illuminating Facts About A Christmas Story's Leg Lamp

It's a Major Award!
It's a Major Award!
Tim Evanson, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

When A Christmas Story was first released in 1983, it was a sleeper that attracted only a small (but quite cultish) following. Over the past three decades, however, the film has steadily become a holiday staple on par with classics like A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) and Miracle on 34th Street (1947). And as the film itself has grown in popularity, so has one of its most recognizable props: the leg lamp, that glowing gam otherwise known as “A Major Award.”

1. The A Christmas Story leg lamp was inspired by an old-school soft drink.

Before A Christmas Story was a movie, it was a series of short stories that appeared in two different volumes by the late writer and radio personality Jean Shepherd. The books, In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash and Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories and Other Disasters, were fictionalized accounts of Shepherd’s childhood in Depression-era Indiana (though the movie was filmed mostly in Cleveland, Ohio). Shepherd describes the leg lamp and his father’s obsession with it in a 1966 story titled “My Old Man and the Lascivious Special Award that Heralded the Birth of Pop Art.”

According to A Christmas Story House and Museum (yep, there’s an entire museum dedicated to the subject), Shepherd imagined the leg lamp after seeing an illuminated Nehi Soda advertisement, which featured two shapely disembodied legs up to the knee. Shepherd gave cloaked credit to Nehi by writing that the Old Man’s crossword contest was sponsored by an “orange pop” company whose name “was a play on words, involving the lady’s knee.”

When the lamp finally arrives in Shepherd’s essay, he writes, “From ankle to thigh the translucent flesh radiated a vibrant, sensual, luminous orange-yellow-pinkish nimbus of Pagan fire. All it needed was tom-toms and maybe a gong or two. And a tenor singing in a high, quavery, earnest voice: ‘A pretty girl/Is like a melody…’”

2. The A Christmas Story leg lamp was immortalized by production designer Reuben Freed.

Uncertain of just what a leg lamp should look like, A Christmas Story’s production designer Reuben Freed created a quick sketch and showed it to Shepherd, who surprisingly approved it right away. “I immediately thought of something I had seen in my mother’s front room, which was sort of a gold-colored silk lampshade, pleated with fringe around it,” Freed told Cleveland magazine in 2009. “I thought of it immediately and never thought of anything else—just that classic, big ugly shape.”

3. The “original” A Christmas Story leg lamp no longer exists.

Finding an original leg lamp is considered the ultimate feat for A Christmas Story aficionados, Caseen Gaines wrote in A Christmas Story: Behind the Scenes of a Holiday Classic. But “the likelihood of finding one is about as great as locating Pee Wee Herman’s bicycle in the basement of the Alamo.” Freed produced three leg lamps for the movie, but none of them survived the production. All three were broken during filming.

4. There’s a simple reason for the typo on the box the A Christmas Story leg lamp is delivered in.

When the leg lamp arrives at Ralphie’s house in the movie, it’s in a crate labeled not only with the infamous “FRAGILE,” but also “HIS END UP.” Though the use of “his” in place of “this” might seem like a subtle joke, the crate was indeed originally labeled “THIS END UP,” but no one had bothered to measure the container before trying to wheel it through the door. Jim Moralevitz, an actor who played one of the leg-lamp delivery guys, told Cleveland’s News-Herald, “I had the pleasure of delivering the major award 30 years ago. Unfortunately, the crate was so wide that it wouldn’t fit through the door. So they called in the carpenters and they took four inches off.”

5. The A Christmas Story leg lamp is big in Cleveland.

Erik Drost, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Because much of A Christmas Story was filmed in Cleveland, the city has embraced the movie as its own (possibly to the resentment of Shepherd’s native Indiana). In 2013, to celebrate the movie’s 30th anniversary, Terminal Tower in Cleveland’s Public Square was turned into a giant leg lamp, complete with a red garter.

Terminal Tower can be seen, sans leg-lamp accoutrements, in A Christmas Story’s first few opening shots, looming over Higbee’s department store, where Ralphie first spots the coveted Red Ryder BB gun.

6. The A Christmas Story leg lamp is also a big deal in Long Island.

In 2005, the Reichert family, owners of the Northport Hardware Store in Northport, Long Island, got a goofy idea after attending the mayor’s Christmas tree lighting ceremony. They browsed through the store’s generous stock of leg lamps, called over some of the guys from the bar next door, and ceremoniously lit one of the lamps in the store’s picture window. Then they all cheered.

Somehow the Reicherts’s lighting of the leg lamp caught on and it has become an annual Northport tradition, though their store no longer hosts the festivities.

7. The A Christmas Story leg lamp is a hit on Halloween.

The leg lamp has become so popular, you can now purchase ready-made Halloween costumes in its likeness. In 2012, Josh Sundquist, a paralympian, motivational speaker, and author who lost his leg to cancer when he was 9 years old, won Halloween when he decided to make his own leg lamp costume. He even shaved his leg for authenticity.

8. The A Christmas Story leg lamp has been a star on the stage.

In 2012, A Christmas Story: The Musical opened on Broadway at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater. The leg lamp was celebrated with a kick line—only the Broadway chorus kicked up not only their own legs, but also fishnet-clad leg lamps.

The year before, at the Falcon Theatre in Burbank, California, the Troubadour Theater Company performed A Christmas Westside Story, a mashup of A Christmas Story and the epic tale of the Sharks and the Jets. What song did the leg lamp get to sing? None other than “I Feel Pretty.”

9. The A Christmas Story leg lamp is a hot commodity.

Steam Pipe Trunk Distribution Venue, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

According to a post-Christmas press release that highlighted Amazon’s seasonal sales in 2012, the online retail giant boasted: “If you stacked every Christmas Story Leg Lamp purchased by Amazon customers this holiday season, the height would reach the top of Mt. Everest.”

10. The A Christmas Story leg lamp gave rise to a hilarious catchphrase.

“Fra-gee-lay. It must be Italian!” has graced everything from baby onesies to novelty shirts to kitschy home decor.