17 Simpsons Cultural References Explained for Younger Viewers

Fox
Fox

The Simpsons is great for a whole slew of reasons, not least because of the near-perfect satire it's produced throughout (most of) its nearly three decades on air. Any given episode of The Simpsons is a bombardment of cultural references, some more arcane than others. The show has been on since 1989, and allusions that were once obvious may now be opaque for younger fans who are catching up via re-runs.

These 17 favorites have been hand-picked for no real reason beyond the fact that they're favorites. There are thousands more, but this should be a fun place to start.

We're sure many of these are obvious for die-hard fans who have been watching since the late '80s, and we congratulate you. Feel free to brag in the comments, Genius at Work, or take that time to find out why, in episode 2F09 when Itchy plays Scratchy's skeleton like a xylophone, he strikes the same rib twice in succession but produces two clearly different tones.

1. Billy Beer.

Homer excitedly drinks this beer in two separate episodes. In season three’s “The Otto Show,” he finds a can in his old “concert jacket” and chugs it, and in season nine’s “Lisa the Skeptic,” Homer gulps down an old can and says, “We elected the wrong Carter.”

Billy Beer was named after and endorsed by Jimmy Carter’s younger brother, Billy. This hard-drinking, down-home first sibling owned a gas station in Plains, Georgia and became a cause celebre (and a bit of a liability) during his brother’s presidential campaign.

In 1977, the failing Falls City Brewing Company wanted to capitalize on his fame, so they approached Billy Carter and offered to partner with him to sell a beer that bore his name. At first, Billy Beer flew off the shelves, but its skunky taste and Billy’s proclivity to get hammered at promotional events and admit that he still drank PBR hurt the brand, and Falls City Brewing Company closed for good in 1978.

You can still find unopened cans of Billy Beer on eBay, but check your concert jacket first.

2. Ayatollah Assaholla.

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In season seven’s “Two Bad Neighbors,” Homer looks through the attic to find things to sell at Evergreen Terrace's street sale. Marge urges him to part with his “Ayatollah Assaholla” shirt, saying, “Can we get rid of this Ayatollah T-shirt? Khomeini died years ago,” to which Homer replies, “But Marge, it works on any Ayatollah! Ayatollah Nakhbadeh, Ayatollah Zahedi... Even as we speak, Ayatollah Razmara and his cadre of fanatics are consolidating their power.”

Khomeini became Ayatollah after the 1979 Iranian Revolution and supported the hostage crisis in which 52 U.S. citizens were held captive at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran for 444 days. In America, ticked-off citizens expressed their hatred for Khomeini in many ways, including T-shirt designs (although “Ayatollah Assaholla” looks to be a Simpsons original).

Many point to Jimmy Carter’s inability to resolve this crisis as the reason his re-election bid failed. Well, that and Billy Beer.

3. "A Young Joe Piscopo."

Narrating a flashback in season four’s “Lisa’s First Word,” Marge takes us to "the unforgettable spring of 1983” when “a young Joe Piscopo taught us how to laugh.”

In 1980, SNL creator Lorne Michaels left the show and ratings plummeted due to an unpopular cast. Two standouts, however, were Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo, and their talent carried Saturday Night Live through its lowest years. In 1984, Piscopo was at the peak of his fame and decided to leave the show to pursue greener pastures. His career never recovered, but he did manage to appear on a couple bodybuilding magazine covers.

4. "Just ask Claus von Bulow."

In season five’s “The Boy Who Knew Too Much,” Bart witnesses an accident that results in Mayor Quimby’s nephew being wrongfully accused of assaulting a waiter. After the mayor clumsily tries to rig the trial, Bart explains, “the system works. Just ask Claus von Bülow."

Claus von Bülow is a wealthy socialite who was accused of trying to murder his wife in 1980 by administering an insulin overdose. He was convicted of murder in 1982 but appealed the ruling and earned a second trial where his high-powered defense team managed to get that original conviction reversed.

5. The Toilet Where Lupe Velez Drowned.

While giving the Simpsons a tour of Springfield’s gossipy landmarks in season eight’s “Homer’s Phobia,” new friend John (voiced by John Waters) points out the plumbing supply store where Lupe Velez “bought the toilet she drowned in."

Velez was a Mexican actress who killed herself in 1944 by swallowing 75 sleeping pills. An urban legend propagated by a 1959 book about Hollywood states Velez’s initial suicide attempt failed when she became sick, so she stumbled to the bathroom to vomit and, as the rumor goes, plunged her head into the toilet and drowned. While proven categorically untrue, the story is still often retold as if it were fact.

6. Gerald Ford’s Clumsiness.

In “Two Bad Neighbors,” Homer and Bart clash with their straight-laced new neighbor, George H.W. Bush. After Bush moves out, Gerald Ford replaces him, and he and Homer get along swimmingly, their bond highlighted when they trip in unison while walking to get nachos.

Even though he was an accomplished athlete at the University of Michigan, Gerald Ford’s presidential term was full of highly publicized examples of physical ineptitude. He fell on a ski slope, hit his head on a train’s door frame after a speech, and, most famously, slipped down the slick stairs of Air Force One in Austria.

7. “It's you! You're him! You're Tony Randall!”

In season ten’s “Maximum Homerdrive,” the family dines at a steakhouse that features a promotion where you can eat for free if you finish “Sir Loin-a-Lot,” a 16-pound steak “the size of a boogie board." On the restaurant’s wall of fame, only two men are listed as having successfully taken down Sir Loin-a-Lot: Tony Randall and trucker Red Barclay, who Homer challenges to an eating contest (after mistaking him for the tuxedo-wearing Randall).

Tony Randall was a stage and screen actor, most famous for his role as the persnickety Felix Unger in The Odd Couple. The svelte Randall is an unlikely Sir Loin-a-Lot conqueror, but you can’t argue with the wall of fame.

8. "I Ordered a Zima, Not Emphysema."

Actor Troy McClure and Marge’s sister Selma become an unlikely couple in season seven’s “A Fish Called Selma.” When the two have dinner at a swanky restaurant, Selma smokes a cigarette, which causes a commotion and prompts a yuppie diner at the next table to say, “Excuse me, I ordered a Zima, not emphysema.”

In 1993, Coors introduced Zima, a “clearmalt” beverage meant to compete with wine coolers in the non-beer market. Zima didn't catch on, as it was perceived to be a gimmicky, effeminate drink—one that would frequently be ordered in establishments that “don’t serve contemporary California cuisine in your lungs.”

9. The Twirl King Yo-Yo Champions.

At the start of season three’s “Bart the Lover,” the Twirl King Yo-Yo Champions perform during a Springfield Elementary assembly and spark a yo-yo craze at the school.

In the ‘80s and ‘90s (primarily), yo-yo companies like Duncan would send one or more skilled “yo-yo professionals” on school tours to perform for students and drum up excitement for their product. If any questions about the academic value of these performances arose, they could always say “check out this centripetal force” while performing an around the world.

10. Laramie Slims.

In “Homer’s Phobia,” Homer tries to “cure” Bart of his supposed homosexuality by making him stare at a billboard for Laramie Slims that features two women smoking and having a pillow fight. When Homer returns, Bart asks him for a cigarette. Excited that his plan may be working, Homer asks Bart what kind of cigarette he wants, to which he replies, “anything slim,” thoroughly disappointing his father.

Laramie was an actual American cigarette company that went out of business in the 1950s, and the brand serves as The Simpsons' catchall device to lampoon the tobacco industry. Their Menthol Moose is a parody of Joe Camel, and Laramie Slims are a takeoff of Virginia Slims, a type of cigarette that was marketed to lure female smokers.

11. Red Tick Beer.

When Homer wants to depart from his usual Duff in season eight’s “The Springfield Files,” he orders a Red Tick Beer (slogan: “Suck One Dry”) at Moe’s Tavern. After Homer wonders what tastes different about it, there is a cutscene to the Red Tick brewery where dogs swim around in the beer.

Red Tick is an overt parody of Red Dog, a beer made by Miller that featured an English bulldog on its label. Red Dog was introduced in the mid-nineties and faded into obscurity before the decade was over.

12. "Don't Look at Me, I'm on Sugar Busters."

When Homer produces a tobacco/tomato hybrid—“tomacco”—in season 11’s “E-I-E-I-(Annoyed Grunt),” executives of the aforementioned Laramie Cigarette Company steal his secret formula. As they helicopter away from Homer’s farm, a sheep mutated by the plutonium Homer used to make the tomacco sneaks onboard. When the pilot says, “We seem to be carrying a little extra weight,” one of the executives responds, “Don’t look at me, I’m on Sugar Busters.”

Sugar Busters was a self-published diet book from the mid-nineties that was re-released by a larger publishing house and skyrocketed to the top of the New York Times bestseller list in 2001. The weight-loss plan in Sugar Busters! Cut Sugar to Trim Fat is pretty self-explanatory.

13. Hooray for Everything.

In season two’s “Bart vs. Thanksgiving,” Homer listens to a football game on the radio, and a cheery group of youngsters called Hooray for Everything perform a “salute to the greatest hemisphere on earth…the western hemisphere!” during halftime. In “Selma’s Choice” from the following season, Hooray for Everything is seen at Duff Gardens performing a kids’ version of “Take a Walk on the Wild Side” with the lyrics, “And all the races sing, doo bee doo, shoo bee doo bee doo!”

Hooray for Everything makes fun of Up With People, a traveling singing group that rose to fame in the 1970s. The troupe sprouted from the Moral Re-Armament movement, and its members sang cheesy songs about love and happiness with smiles plastered on their faces. Amazingly, Up With People performed at four separate Super Bowl halftime shows. (Their "Salute to the Big Band Era" from Super Bowl XIV is above.)

14. I & S Productions Logo

In season four’s “The Front,” Lisa and Bart submit an Itchy & Scratchy script using Grampa Simpson’s name. At the end of an Itchy & Scratchy episode, there’s an involved sequence where Scratchy pulls a sheet of paper from a typewriter and throws it in the air, forming an “I & S Productions” logo.

That sequence is a faithful recreation of the Stephen J. Cannell Productions logo bumper that came at the end of television shows like The Greatest American Hero, The A-Team, Hardcastle and McCormick, and many others.

15. Dolph’s Apple Newton

At a school assembly during season six’s “Lisa on Ice,” Kearney tells fellow bully Dolph to take a memo to beat up Martin on his Apple Newton. When Dolph writes “Beat up Martin” with the device’s stylus, it changes to “Eat up Martha,” so Kearney just hurls the Newton at Martin’s head.

Apple released the Newton in 1993 during a period of time when Steve Jobs was not with the company. The overpriced handheld computer proved to be a massive flop, and its lousy handwriting recognition software was just one of the reasons for its failure.

Years later, Apple's iPhone development team used the Simpsons reference as a mantra to get their keyboard perfect. "In the hallways and while we were talking about the keyboard, you would always hear the words 'Eat Up Martha,'" Apple engineer Nitin Ganatra told FastCo. "If you heard people talking and they used the words 'Eat Up Martha,' it was basically a reference to the fact that we needed to nail the keyboard. We needed to make sure the text input works on this thing, otherwise, 'Here comes the Eat Up Marthas.'"

16. "Remember ALF? He’s back...in POG form!”

Comic Book Guy is shown as a buyer and seller of Pogs in at least two episodes. When Bart wins $500 after suing Krusty the Clown in season six’s “‘Round Springfield,” Bart thinks about buying the “Steve Allen Ultimate Pog” from Android’s Dungeon. Also, when Bart sells his soul in season seven, he writes “Bart Simpson’s Soul” on a piece of paper and trades it to Milhouse for $5. When Bart seeks to get this back from his best friend, Milhouse tells him he traded it to Comic Book Guy for some ALF Pogs.

Pogs were part of a popular game in the 1990s. In it, players would stack cardboard discs (“Pogs”) and then hit with a heavier disc (a “slammer”), which would cause the Pogs to scatter. POG is a fruit drink that's popular in Hawaii, and it’s name is an acronym meaning passionfruit, orange, and guava. The original Pogs were caps from actual POG bottles.

And, while we’re at it, ALF was a popular TV show about an alien who lives with a suburban family (ALF means “Alien Life Form”), and Steve Allen was Steve Allen, former host of The Tonight Show, The Steve Allen Show, I’ve Got a Secret, What's My Line, and more.

17. Ravi Shankar

In season six's "Bart of Darkness," Bart breaks his leg and has to spend summer inside. The Krusty the Clown Show episode he watches is a re-run from the 1970s, and the special guest is Ravi Shankar, who plays "what you've been waiting for, another long raga."

Shankar was an Indian sitar player who famously inspired George Harrison's love of the instrument and taught him how to play it in 1966. The Krusty appearance is most likely inspired by the above clip from a 1971 episode of The Dick Cavett Show.

17 Animated Facts About BoJack Horseman

Netflix
Netflix

BoJack Horseman, which is getting ready to debut its final episodes on Netflix at the end of January, surprised viewers and critics with its gradual dive into the depression of an anthropomorphic horse that used to be the star of a banal, early 1990s, TGIF-type sitcom. On the series, the town of Hollywoo is made up of both humans and talking animals full of hopes, dreams, and regrets.

Will Arnett stars as the voice of the titular equine who, at the beginning of season 3, is faced with the consequences of getting what he wants: legitimate acting recognition for playing the lead in a movie about his hero, Secretariat. Breaking Bad star Aaron Paul plays BoJack's human roommate, Todd; Amy Sedaris stars as BoJack's agent, Princess Carolyn; and Alison Brie portrays BoJack's ghostwriter, Diane Nguyen.

1. BoJack Horseman’s creator and production designer have been friends since high school.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 01: Lisa Hanawalt and Raphael Bob-Waksberg attend the after party for Netflix's "Tuca & Bertie" Tribeca Film Festival Premiere at American Cut Tribeca on May 01, 2019
Lisa Hanawalt and Raphael Bob-Waksberg attend the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival.
Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for Netflix

BoJack Horseman creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg and production designer/producer Lisa Hanawalt met in a high school theater class, coming up with ideas for TV shows. Even while still in high school, Bob-Waksberg had anthropomorphism on the brain. It was there that he wrote a play about a boy with udders who just wanted to fit in. While the two were in college, they teamed up to make a web comic titled Tip Me Over, Pour Me Out.

Years later, while Hanawalt was becoming a regular James Beard Award finalist for her illustration collections of characters with animal heads on human bodies, Bob-Waksberg was living like his future creation Todd: In a small bedroom "that was more of a closet" in a big beautiful Hollywood Hills house formerly owned by Johnny Depp. It gave him the idea of coming up with a character "who had every success he could have wanted and still couldn't find a way to be happy," someone who felt "simultaneously on top of the world and so isolated and alone."

Since the two had always wanted to collaborate on a television project, Bob-Waksberg proposed combining his feeling of isolation with Hanawalt's drawings.

2. Some BoJack Horseman characters are modeled on Raphael Bob-Waksberg and Lisa Hanawalt’s former classmates.

One day Bob-Waksberg asked Hanawalt, “Oh, do you remember that girl who was in our English class senior year of high school? Draw her, but as a dolphin.” Sextina Aquafina, singer of "My C*itoris is Gynormous," was born.

3. None of BoJack Horseman’s characters have tails.

A still from 'BoJack Horseman'
Netflix

Despite the fact that about half of the characters in the BoJack Horseman universe are animals, none of them have tails. That’s a decision production designer and co-producer Hanawalt made early on. "I’ve drawn a couple animal people with tails in my personal work, but it makes more sense to draw them without, and I’m not sure why,” she told Business Insider in 2015.

The only minor exception is in the season 2 episode “Escape From L.A.,” which features a scorpion—with its trademark stinger—as a prom DJ.

“So he’s got this big tail thing, but I rationalize it by saying it’s coming out of his upper back,” Hanawalt told Business Insider.

4. Michael Eisner signed off on BoJack Horseman.

Former Disney CEO Michael Eisner's Tornante Company agreed to produce the BoJack concept and sold it to Netflix. After a nervous and inexperienced Bob-Waksberg pitched the show to Eisner himself, Eisner expressed reluctance about putting another series satirizing show business on the air. Once Bob-Waksberg talked about why it was still interesting to him, Eisner agreed to just let him do it his way.

5. BoJack himself was fairly easy to come up with.

Bob-Waksberg doesn't remember where he got the name of his protagonist. "BoJack just sounded like a horse name to me," he said. "I don't know where I heard it or how I came up with it."

Hanawalt claimed that BoJack Horseman was one of the easiest characters to design, quickly picturing the sweater, the shoes, and his grumpy expression as soon as Bob-Waksberg described him to her.

6. BoJack Horseman's human characters were the hardest to create.

For Hanawalt, Diane and Todd were the hardest characters to create. "Humans are generally much trickier to draw because we’re so used to looking at and analyzing human faces," she said. "The slightest tweak makes a huge difference in how we perceive that character. Todd went through dozens of variations before we got him right, and then we changed him even more."

7. Todd Chavez is one of the first openly asexual characters on television.

Aaron Paul as Todd in 'BoJack Horseman'
Aaron Paul voices Todd Chavez in BoJack Horseman.
Netflix

Todd Chavez is one of very few television characters to use the word asexual to refer to himself, a development some critics have described as revolutionary. Other television characters who openly identify as asexual include Brad, a background character in Faking It; Valentina “Voodoo” Dunacci in Sirens; Lord Varys on Game of Thrones; and Florence, a minor character in Netflix’s Sex Education.

8. Lisa Hanawalt takes inspiration from real-life fashion to design clothing for BoJack Horseman’s characters.

“I’ll often reference celebrities,” Hanawalt told Racked in 2017 of how she comes up with character's outfits. “Like Jessica Biel, who’s actually on the show—she has the best street style, so I look at what she wears a lot. There was this leather army green one-sleeved mini dress she wore that I definitely put on a character. And I recently drew a dress that Constance Wu wore to the Critics’ Choice Awards; I love her.”

Once, Hanawalt even put Princess Carolyn in the mint green Gucci dress Katy Perry wore to the 2013 Grammy Awards. To draw the characters who work at the fictional Manatee Fair, she turned to Prada for inspiration.

“That was crazy fun to draw, and I liked that they’re the opposite of model body types,” she told Racked. “It was fun to take runway fashions and put them on manatees!”

9. Yes, that was really Sir Paul McCartney's voice you heard on BoJack Horseman.

Not every celebrity agrees to do a voice on the show—after a writer on the show "poured his heart out" to Cameron Crowe, Crowe was still too busy to voice the raven named Cameron Crowe. In season 1, the show still managed to snag J.K. Simmons to play the tortoise Lennie Turtletaub and Naomi Watts to portray herself. More celebrities followed; an unnamed guest actor told Bob-Waksberg, "Well, I guess if Naomi Watts is willing to make a fool of herself like this, I can too."

For the season 2 episode "After the Party," the show managed to get the former Beatle after some "tenacity" from the casting director Linda Lamontagne. McCartney recorded his lines in New York, with Bob-Waksberg instructing him from the studio in Los Angeles. The BoJack creator didn't know McCartney was going to do it until five minutes beforehand, when an executive producer called his cell while he was waiting to pick up a smoothie.

If he didn't do the voice, Kevin Bigley would have done an impression of Michael Bublé to end the installment.

10. Margo Martindale didn't know BoJack Horseman involved animals until after a table read.

Margo Martindale's The Millers co-star Will Arnett insisted that Martindale had to appear on his animated show. After she said she didn't want to do a cartoon, Arnett explained, "You have to do it—the part is Character Actress Margo Martindale." The day after her first BoJack table read, Martindale approached Arnett on The Millers set to tell him how much fun she had had, and how Mr. Peanutbutter oddly has a lot of doglike qualities.

Unfortunately, after Martindale was sent to jail on BoJack Horseman, her husband discovered that someone updated her real-life Wikipedia page to read that she spent the last year in prison for armed robbery. “This is what your cartoon’s done for me,” Martindale told Arnett.

11. Some actors do double or triple voice duty on BoJack Horseman.

Arnett voices both BoJack and his father, Butterscotch Horseman. Alison Brie portrays Diane Nguyen, "Vincent Adultman," and Joelle Clarke. Even Bob-Waksberg gets into the voice acting as tree frog assistant-turned-agent Charley Witherspoon.

12. BoJack Horseman’s writers love giving Amy Sedaris complicated tongue twisters.

Amy Sedaris’s character Princess Carolyn is often saddled with complex tongue twisters because the actress “hates them,” according to a Yahoo! interview with Bob-Waksberg. “She’s so annoyed,” he said “There’s a fun friction that comes out of her saying these words. Where you can almost get the sense that she doesn’t want to, but she has to, which gives it a fun charge.”

The writing team is fond of creating characters specifically for the purpose of inserting them into increasingly ridiculous word avalanches. In season 4, Amy Sedaris had several lines revolving around the fictional actress Courtney Portnoy, who portrayed “the formerly portly consort in The Seaport Resort” and “the thorny horticulturist in One Sordid Fortnight with a Short-Skirted Sorceress.”

“I enjoy doing it, and I enjoy making Amy do it,” Bob-Waksberg told Yahoo! “I think she secretly enjoys it too, even though she complains.”

13. BoJack Horseman’s running Zoe or Zelda gag was based off of a Tia and Tamera observation.

"The Zoe/Zelda thing in season one came from a Tia and Tamera observation I've had for a while," Bob-Waksberg admitted. Back in 2010, he wrote on his Tumblr that he was a Tia, despite his many Tamera qualities, and later that he was a Zoe with some very Zelda qualities.

14. Some of BoJack Horseman’s jokes take entire seasons to build.

While the mulch joke was a variation of a joke Bob-Waksberg knew for years, and the movie-star speech Rutabaga Rabbitowitz gives Princess Carolyn is something he had told to heartbroken friends before, the Marisa Tomei sneezing picture took the entire first season to come together in the writers room.

"In season 1, we were working on some episode and we knew there was some story on BoJack sneezing on Marisa Tomei that we had set up, and elsewhere, we had set up that there was a sneezing picture that BoJack hates, but everyone uses when they talk about BoJack," he explained. "It wasn’t until episode 11 that we realized, 'What if the sneezing picture is the picture of him sneezing on Marisa Tomei?' We went back to episode 2 and changed the picture and had a flashback in episode 11."

Some story arcs were invented in the writers room, like the paparazzi birds, Todd's rock opera, and the progression of Mr. Peanutbutter and Diane's relationship. Going to Boston, the Herb Kazzaz storyline, the drug trip episode, and BoJack cornering Diane at Ghostwritercon were all Bob-Waksberg's initial pitch to Netflix.

15. One BoJack Horseman episode was based off of an unused Curb Your Enthusiasm script.

"Let's Find Out" was based off of a Curb Your Enthusiasm spec script by BoJack writer Peter Knight. In his script, Larry David appears on Who Wants to be a Millionaire? with Ron Howard. When Ron Howard admits he doesn't know who Larry David is, David pretends to not know who Howard is and deliberately blows the game. In "Let's Find Out," BoJack goes on the Mr. Peanutbutter-hosted Hollywoo Stars and Celebrities: What Do They Know? Do They Know Things?? Let’s Find Out! and fumes over the fact that Daniel Radcliffe doesn't know who he is. In the end, BoJack pretends to not know who Radcliffe is, losing the game.

Radcliffe was a fan of BoJack Horseman, so he was written in as the celebrity on the game show. "I’ve seen every version of a Harry Potter joke and you guys wrote my favorite," Radcliffe told Bob-Waksberg.

16. BoJack Horseman’s creator doesn’t actually hate honeydew.

Bojack Horseman is very vocal about his hatred of honeydew, which the show refers to as the Jared Leto of fruits (“It is literally the worst part of everything it’s in,” one character explains). But Bob-Waksberg doesn’t actually mind it.

“I think good honeydew’s all right,” he told Yahoo! in 2017. “I hope this doesn’t destroy my credibility. I live in constant fear that people connect to the show because it’s such a sensitive and accurate portrayal of honeydew haters, and it’s going to come out that I myself am not a honeydew hater, and they’re going to tear me down.”

17. Raphael Bob-Waksberg thinks BoJack Horseman still has a few seasons left in it.

In an interview with Vulture, Bob-Waksberg was asked whether he was surprised when Netflix announced that season 6 would be BoJack Horseman's last; his answer was somewhere between yes and no."I thought we’d go a couple more years," he said. "But you know, it’s a business. They’ve got to do what’s right for them, and six years is a very healthy run for a TV show. Frankly, I’m amazed we got this far. So I can’t complain. I think if we premiered on any other network, or even on Netflix on any other time than when we did, I don’t know if we would’ve gotten the second season."

13 Salty Facts About Mr. Peanut

Mr. Peanut attends the 90th annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.
Mr. Peanut attends the 90th annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.
Noam Galai/Getty Images

On January 22, 2020, in a morbid bit of pre-Super Bowl marketing, Planters took to the internet to announce that Mr. Peanut—the dapper little legume who has been peddling Planters peanuts for more than a century—has died at the ripe old age of 104. In order to pay tribute to the literal face of America's peanut industry, we’ve assembled some facts and history about this shell of a man.

1. Mr. Peanut was created by a 14-year-old.

Mr. Peanut wasn’t hatched from a cynical ad firm brainstorming session. His adorable visage was the product of a 14-year-old from Suffolk, Virginia named Antonio Gentile. Gentile entered a contest held by the Planters Chocolate and Nut Company in 1916 to crown a new peanut mascot. The aspiring Don Draper sketched out a doodle of a “Mr. P. Nut” strutting with a cane. After getting freshened up by a graphic designer—including donning his trademark spats and monocle—Gentile’s design was picked up and he was awarded $5.

(Postscript: The Gentile family became friendly with the Obici family, owners of the Planters empire, and Gentile’s nephews once suggested that the Obicis helped put him through medical school; he became a surgeon.)

2. Mr. Peanut has a full name.

According to Planters, Mr. Peanut is something of an informal moniker. The full name given to him by Gentile was Bartholomew Richard Fitzgerald-Smythe.

3. Mr. Peanut once weighed more than 300 pounds.

Although peanuts can be a highly sensible snack, full of healthy fats and protein, they can also be a source of too many calories. Case in point: the 300-pound cast iron Mr. Peanut, a display item made in the 1920s and 1930s. Planters would use the heavyset mascot on top of a fence post at their Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania factory.

4. Mr. Peanut survived the Great Depression.

During the economic downturn of the 1930s, things like “snacks” and “nutrition” suddenly became optional rather than expected. Though many food products struggled to cope with slimmed-down wallets, Planters plastered Mr. Peanut on bags of peanuts that sold for just five cents each. Declaring it a “nickel lunch,” the company was able to use the affordability of peanuts as a selling point.

5. Mr. Peanut went to war.


Getty Images

Specifically, World War II. When the U.S. entered the conflict, Mr. Peanut volunteered for service as a character featured on stamps and propaganda posters.

6. Mr. Peanut is a monocle enthusiast.

Food mascots rarely take sides on hot-button issues, but Mr. Peanut made an exception in 2014 when a fashion movement threatened the return of the monocle. After getting wind of men wearing the single-lens reading accessory, Mr. P issued a press release stating that he took notice of the “hipsters” following in his “stylish footsteps” and implied few could pull it off. The monocle has yet to fully re-emerge.

7. Mr. Peanut's Nutmobile predates the Wienermobile.


Planters

Though the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile usually takes most of the engine-driven PR credit, Planters actually introduced the NUTMobile, a shell-shaped portable advertising car, in 1935—a year prior to the Wienermobile’s introduction. A Planters salesman designed and drove the car, adding a decorative Mr. Peanut passenger behind him. (Mr. Peanut did not operate the vehicle because Mr. Peanut is not real.)

8. Mr. Peanut is in the Smithsonian.

How influential has Mr. Peanut been to the food industry? In 2013, the Smithsonian admitted his cast-iron incarnation into its National Museum of American History. The statue was exhibited as part of a series on marketing for the institution’s American Enterprise series; Antonio Gentile’s family also donated his original sketches for posterity.

9. Fans didn't want Mr. Peanut to change.


Planters

For the company's 100th anniversary in 2006, Planters held an online vote to see whether peanut aficionados wanted to see Mr. Peanut experiment with a sartorial change: Fans could vote for adding cufflinks, a bow tie, or a pocket watch. In the end, the ballot determined they wanted to keep him just the way he is.

10. Mr. Peanut has a fan club.

Mr. Peanut has appeared in so many different licensed products in an effort to expand his popularity—clocks, peanut butter grinders, and coloring books among them—that a collector was having trouble keeping track of them all. In 1978, Judith Walthall founded Peanut Pals, a Mr. Peanut appreciation club that circulates a newsletter and holds conventions. You can join for $20—practically peanuts.

11. Mr. Peanut has remained mostly silent.


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Mr. Peanut was already a few decades old when television came into prominence, which afforded him an opportunity to jump off packaging and magazine pages. Despite the new medium, Planters decided they liked him best when he didn’t talk—at all. The mascot was silent all the way up until 2010, when Robert Downey Jr. was commissioned to deliver his first lines. Bill Hader took over voicing duties from Downey in 2013.

12. Mr. Peanut found a buddy.

When Planters unveiled an updated Mr. Peanut for contemporary audiences in 2010, he was sporting a grey flannel suit as well as a new sidekick—Benson, a shorter, single-peanut tagalong. A Planters spokesman clarified to The New York Times that the two are “just friends” and live in separate residences.

13. In the 1970s, Mr. Peanut ran for Mayor of Vancouver.

Amid a burgeoning alternative art scene in 1970s Vancouver, a performance artist named Vincent Trasov decided it would be interesting to run for mayor of the city while in the guise of Mr. Peanut. Hailing from the “Peanut Party” and meant to be a commentary of the Nixon-era absurdities of politics, he was endorsed by novelist William S. Burroughs and received 2685 ballots—3.4 percent of the vote.

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