In 1994, nearly eight years before Elijah Wood made his Hobbit debut in 2001’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, he helped Frito-Lay introduce its new Wavy Lay’s potato chips to everyone watching Super Bowl XXVIII, between the Dallas Cowboys and the Buffalo Bills.
In the commercial, then-12-year-old Wood schemes his way from the very back of the Super Bowl stadium to the front row by betting people, one by one, that they can’t eat just one chip. If they lose the bet, they lose their seat—and they all lose. Once he reaches the best seats in the house, he flags down Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman. The scene cuts abruptly to Wood, now clad in a Cowboys uniform, trotting out onto the field in Aikman’s place.
Wood wasn’t exactly a showbiz newcomer: By 1994, he already had several substantial film roles under his belt, including as the titular character in Disney’s The Adventures of Huck Finn (1993). But he wasn’t a household name—and he also wasn’t the most famous face in the commercial. That distinction went to former vice president Dan Quayle, who also loses his seat to the pint-sized plotter. (You could make the argument that Aikman was also more recognizable, at least in certain circles.)
While Quayle’s vice presidency had been over for an entire year, he was still considered an active politician; he’d make brief bids for the Republican presidential nomination in both the 1996 and 2000 elections. The appearance of a high-profile politician in a high-profile advertisement was relatively uncharted territory—and media outlets lightly mocked this new coupling of politics and capitalism.
“Advertisers could underwrite whole political institutions: Polident brings you the Senate. Domino’s presents the White House,” Maureen Dowd wrote for The New York Times. (For what it’s worth, Quayle did donate his ad earnings to charity.)
And then there was the fact that in 1992, Quayle had been widely ridiculed for misspelling potato (he thought it was potatoe) while presiding over an elementary school spelling bee. It probably wasn’t a coincidence that Quayle was now endorsing a potato product. “Potatoes have become a big part of my life, but this time I'm enjoying them!” he joked in a statement.
“Dan Quayle can’t spell ’em, but he can sell ’em,” the Chicago Tribune quipped.
Quayle’s entanglement with Wavy Lay’s began and ended with Super Bowl XXVIII, but Elijah Wood’s didn’t. He starred in at least two other commercials for the crunchy snack, one of which also featured acting legend Jack Palance.